Thursday, February 7, 2013

Conversations with Edward P. Jones

Here's an irony for you: our next AAL discussion, in which we'll be covering slavery, takes place on February 12th, birthday of "The Great Emancipator" Abraham Lincoln. Weird.

Author Edward Jones has been interviewed many times since writing The Known World: Here are three of the most interesting ones...

An interview with his publisher Harper Collins...

One  you can listen to on National Public Radio ...

And finally, this conversation with poet E. Ethelbert Miller, for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society...

 Some ideas to consider for our discussion Tuesday...

At some point in his undergraduate studies at Holy Cross College, Edward P. Jones learned that a small number of free blacks in the antebellum South had owned slaves. That odd fact, he told an interviewer, connected with a story he had read in high school about a Jewish man who joined the American Nazi party, and coalesced into an interest in people who act in a way opposite to the collective memory and values of the group to which they ostensibly belong . The thought stayed with him for thirty years, becoming the nucleus of his first novel, The Known World.

What is the "known world" in this book? What known worlds do the characters in The Known World inhabit?  

The Known World is ostensibly about the life of Henry Townsend. How well do we know Henry Townsend at the end of the novel? Does the novel encourage any judgments about him?

What does this book seem to see as the price of slavery? Who pays it and in what currency?

Why is historical data about Manchester County incorporated into the novel?

How does Moses's story frame the events of the novel? 

How do Augustus Townsend and William Robbins function as fathers to Henry? Where do they help Henry, and where and how do they fail him?

How are the women's experiences of slavery different from the men's in this book?

Why is the character of Moses significant to the novel? How would you characterize his relationship with Henry and Caldonia Townsend? What about with his wife and child?


What is the significance of the Augustus Townsend character? In what ways is Augustus a victim of attitudes about slavery in the South? In what ways is he a victor?


Were relationships between parents and children notably different during the era of slavery than in the present day? Consider Caldonia, Calvin, and Maude; William Robbins, Patience, and Dora; and Augustus, Mildred, and Henry.

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