English Professor Tayari Jones's third book, Silver Sparrow (Algonquin Books) has sealed her reputation has a major author in early bloom. The book, set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, is a “breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the teenage girls caught in the middle.” The novel about James Witherspoon’s families – the public one and the secret one – led the Village Voice to declare “Tayari Jones is fast defining middle-class black Atlanta the way (John) Cheever did Westchester…”
A long list of literary honors has followed the book’s 2011 publication. Atlanta Magazine book critic Teresa Weaver selected Silver Sparrow as one of the top five fiction titles of the year. The audio version of Silver Sparrow was selected by eMusic as one of the top audio books of 2011, and Silver Sparrow was named to Mosaic Literary Magazine’s “Best of 2011″ list. O Magazine named it one of its 2011 “Favorite Things,” and The Atlanta Journal Constitution selected Silver Sparrow as 2011′s “Best of The South.” Silver Sparrow was nominated for NAACP Image Awards and named a 2012 Honor Book by The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, while the Texas Library Association named Silver Sparrow to its “Lariat List” for 2012.
Jones’ first novel, Leaving Atlanta, was a fictionalized account of an all-too-real chapter in the history of Jones's hometown, now recalled as Atlanta's "summer of death." Jones was only a fifth-grader when the city experienced the first of what would be 28 murders of children and adolescents, in neighborhoods near hers. Not surprisingly, Leaving Atlanta is told from the perspective of three fifth-graders in Atlanta, whose narration reflects both the terror that gripped the city during that period - especially when two of their classmates disappear - and the normal pains of growing up, such as a first crush and playground fights.
That novel went on to win the Hurston/Wright Award for Debut Fiction, and was named "Novel of the Year" by Atlanta Magazine, and "Best Southern Novel of the Year," by Creative Loafing Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post both listed it as one of the best of 2002. In August 2013, Leaving Atlanta was cited as one of the “25 best” debut novels of the 21st Century, by The Book Case, the online blog of the BookPage. The Aug. 6 blogpost named Leaving Atlanta (2002) to its list of “First Fiction: The 25 best debuts of the 2000s.”
A movie version of Leaving Atlanta is in the works.
Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, the University of Iowa and Arizona State University. She is an associate professor in Rutgers-Newark's acclaimed Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Her work has been supported by The National Endowment for the Arts and The United States Artists Foundation. She is spending the 2011-12 academic year at Harvard University as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, researching her fourth novel.