American novel wins top fiction prize

Judges praise 'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones

The novel An American Marriage by Tayari Jones has won the international Women's Prize for Fiction.

American novelist Jones’s portrait of a young African American’s wrongful incarceration, and its devastating impact on his marriage, beat two Booker prize winners to take the prize in London on June 6.

Chair of judges Kate Williams presented the author with the £30,000 (R573,000) prize and the “Bessie”, a limited edition bronze figurine.

“This is an exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice,” Williams said.

“It is a story of love, loss and loyalty, the resilience of the human spirit painted on a big political canvas that shines a light on today’s America. We all loved this brilliant book.”

Jones said the subject matter – the effect on a marriage when a man has been wrongfully imprisoned – was a reality for many African American citizens in her country.

“The key was to keep reminding myself of the golden rule: a good novel is about people and their problems, not problems and their people,” Jones said.

“When dealing with an issue like wrongful incarceration, it’s easy to make the characters symbolic – I could have made Roy [the husband] brave and noble in the face of racism. Celestial [the wife] could have been long-suffering and true.

“But that’s boring and it doesn’t answer the questions of how we live today. So I decided to write them as real as possible. I wanted to ask questions, not make a point.”


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