Recent Work By Tayari Jones

Martha Southgate’s third novel has just been published by Algonquin Books.  It is the story of Josie, a marine biologist who has spent her whole life trying to escape her family back in Cleveland.  While the old saying is “you can never go home again,” the truth is that you can never leave home.  When her beloved brother Tick is released from rehab, Josie has no choice but to return to the place she worked so hard to leave behind.  ESSENCE magazine says, ““With her new book, one of our favorite authors delves into a taboo topic: alcoholism in the Black community … Southgate is one of our most reliable tour guides inside the minds of fictitious Black rebels and outsiders … In a virtuoso balancing act, [she] tells [a] poignant story.”  Indeed she does. –TJ

My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother. In 1968, she was working at the gift-wrap counter in Davison’s downtown when my father asked her to wrap the carving knife he had bought his wife for their wedding anniversary. Mother said she knew that something wasn’t right between a man and a woman when the gift was a blade. I said that maybe it means there was a kind of trust between them. I love my mother, but we tend to see things a little bit differently. The point is that James’s marriage was never hidden from us. James is what I call him. His other daughter, Chaurisse, the one who grew up in the house with him, she calls him Daddy, even now.

How much of this is autobiography? Is your father really a bigamist?

The dedication to my book is: “To my parents, who, to the best of my knowledge, are married only to each other.”  It’s funny—when it comes to memoir, we want to catch the author in a lie.  For fiction, we want to catch the author telling the truth.