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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Author of “An American Marriage” Will Kick Off President’s Lecture Series

By Joe Garvey

Tayari Jones never planned to support herself by writing.

"My mentor, the playwright Pearl Cleage, used to say to me, 'You want to be paid for your writing, but you don't want to have to write for money,'" Jones told thecut.com in an interview in March.

She said her first three books netted her little money.

But her fourth, "An American Marriage," became a huge bestseller after Oprah Winfrey selected it for her book club in 2018. Former President Barack Obama shared with his 54 million Facebook followers that it was one of his favorite summer reads, and Winfrey is adapting it for a movie.

Jones will be the keynote speaker for Old Dominion University's 42nd annual Literary Festival as part of the President's Lecture Series. Her talk, scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 10 in the Big Blue Room at Ted Constant Convocation Center, is free and open to the public. The Village Bookstore will have copies of the book available for sale at the Constant Center. Seating is limited, so please RSVP at this link.

"An American Marriage" won the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize), Aspen Words Prize and an NAACP Image Award. The novel, which has been published in 15 countries, follows the wrongful imprisonment of a young black man and its impact on him and his new wife.

The narrative is driven by the letters that the characters write to each other while he is in jail.

"Though they make up less than a quarter of the novel, the letters nonetheless serve as the spine of this crumbling partnership," Tori Latham wrote in The Atlantic. "Everything the reader could want to know about the couple is laid out in these accounts."

The success of "An American Marriage" has brought changes for Jones, who also has received the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Her third novel, "Silver Sparrow," was added to the NEA Big Read Library of classics in 2016.

She moved from an apartment in New York City to a house she bought in her native Atlanta, where she is a creative writing professor at Emory University. A movie could mean even more changes.

"I don't really know what Oprah optioning the book for a movie will mean for me, financially, but the best part about it is the recognition," Jones told thecut.com. "If I say my book is being made into a movie, everyone's, like, 'Wow, really?' Whereas if I say, 'Hey, I've been nominated for a PEN Award,' people are like, 'Good for you. It must be a very nice pen.'"

Nonetheless, she has no plans to give up teaching.

"I've always looked at royalties checks as kind of a sweepstakes, or like a scratch-off lottery ticket," she told the cut.com. "You don't know what it'll be!"

The President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring renowned speakers who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, showcasing authors, educators, business innovators and political figures.

Next up will be retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, a veteran and quadruple amputee who will be the President's Task Force on Inclusive Excellence speaker. His talk is scheduled for Nov. 19 in the Big Blue Room.

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