Edward Jones Speaks at UVM

Last week UVM hosted author Edward P. Jones for a series of events, allowing students to get to know the Pulitzer Prize winner. One such event was an informal “lecture” given by Jones to members of the Honors College. Even though it was billed as a lecture, the time was delegated more as a question and answer period, in which almost one hundred first year students of the Honors College asked the writer questions ranging from his writing style to his influences and even about his mysterious middle name. “P stands for Paul,” Jones replied amid light laughter in response to the question. “It was given to me by my old Catholic priest. Someday there will be a saint named Edward though, someday.” That was one of the few questions that was of a lighter tone, for most of the discussion revolved around his novel The Known World, which deals with a plantation owned by a black man in antebellum Virginia. The novel quickly expands to investigate the entire county in which the plantation resides, giving the reader a glimpse into the complex society of southern states in the 1850s. As Jones told the audience, he did not intend for this to be the case. He originally set out with the goal of just writing about members of the plantation, but his story took him elsewhere. Perhaps this unintentional expansion of plot produced an better novel, for The Known World won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. When asked if he wrote it to make a grand point about southern society at the time, or if he was trying to comment on today’s society, Jones replied “No, I just wanted to write about it, because nobody had written about that subject before.” “To be a good writer you have to read,” said Jones, after students asked him about his literary influences. Southern authors, both black and white were cited by the writer and he said that he likes everything, ranging from comic booksto the Bible. Jones grew up in a Catholic family, and many of his writings have religious allusions. Other allusions found in The Known World, however, were not intentional. “That may have been my subconscious,” Jones said after a student asked the him about a complex metaphor he found while reading the novel. After the question and answer forum wrapped up, students had nothing but praise for Jones. “He was very laid back, not at all pretentious,” said Gabe Grant, a first year student in the honors college. “Edward Jones was real. He was straightforward, and gave honest answers,” exclaimed Kenrick Vezina. “I got a lot of good advice about writing,” said Angus Mudge. “I learned that in order to write well, you need to write something that will stick in peoples’ minds.” Edward Jones was born in Washington D.C in 1950. As a young man he attended The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then received his M.F.A from the University of Virginia. After school, he moved back to Washington D.C and eventually got a job working as a columnist for a tax magazine. He had constantly been writing creatively while working as a columnist, having his work published in numerous magazines including The Paris Review, but after being laid off by the tax magazine, Jones began to focus more on his abilities as a fiction writer. In 1992 many of his short stories were published in a book entitled The Lost City, and in 2003 The Known World was published, winning Jones numerous awards and almost unanimous critical acclaim, “The best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years.” Said Jonathan Yardley of Washington Post Book World. Currently Jones has no ambitions for writing another novel, but he does not leave that option out. He is now working on more short stories. Other events Jones participated in while visiting UVM was a luncheon with a select group of Honors College students and faculty on Monday, as well as a public reading of a selection from The Known World on Tuesday.