Jesmyn Ward lecture regards book on trying times, lessons of strength

Natalie Sharp, Contributing Reporter

Hordes of mostly first-year students packed into Dixon Hall to hear a lecture by Jesmyn Ward, a Tulane English professor and National Book Award-winning author of this year’s Reading Project book, on Sept. 8.

This summer, incoming Tulane freshmen read Ward’s novel “Men We Reaped,” a memoir of Ward’s own experience growing up in DeLisle, Mississippi. The memoir focuses on how the violent deaths of five young men in Ward’s life expose the racial prejudice and discrimination that still plague the Deep South.

By assigning this book, the Tulane Reading Project aims to “create a shared intellectual experience for the first year class through reading and discussion,” Director of Newcomb-Tulane College Programs Trina Beck said.

During the lecture, Ward touched on how literature, especially works focusing on the South, helped her realize that her skill in writing could be a tool in expressing her experience growing up.

“I wanted to insert my writing into the weave of history,” Ward said during her speech.

She went on to describe how when writing “Men We Reaped,” it was important for her to highlight not only the positive traits, but also the hardships and mistakes that shaped the lives and deaths of the five young men featured in her story.

Though much of the lecture was focused around how writing can transport someone to a certain time and place, Beck says that Ward’s message of resilience can apply to any student.

“For the students who aren’t aspiring writers we want them to consider what their personal strengths and talents are, and what ways do they find for building up resilience,” Beck said.