Edward P. Jones, a renowned fiction author and visiting professor at GW, treated literature buffs to a reading from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Known World” in the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday evening.
The event kicked off a campus-wide reading of Jones’s novel, which will feature discussions led by GW faculty and additional readings throughout the semester.
Set in the fictional county of Manchester, Va., during the mid-1800s, Jones’s novel centers on a freed slave that owns several slaves of his own. The work has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
Jones read two brief excerpts from the novel to a packed auditorium, giving the audience a short glimpse into the book.
During the question and answer period that followed the reading, audience members inquired about Jones’s creative process and dynamic characterization.
“I don’t really think in terms of history or anything else,” he said, in response to a question about how he gives his stories historical authenticity. “Fiction, of course, is a bunch of made up lies and what you have to do is prettify the lies so that people will accept it.”
Jones’s residency, which was made possible through a $700,000 donation from Taiwanese businessman Albert Wang, will last through the spring semester. The donation, which is the single largest gift GW’s English department has ever received, established the Wang Visiting Professorship in Contemporary Literature, of which Jones is the first recipient.
In addition to campus-wide reading events, his residency includes two courses in fiction writing and the discussion of contemporary literature.
University President Steven Knapp opened the event, commenting on the author’s selection for the position.
“I think it’s fair to say that no one writing in America today better embodies the spirit of the Wang Visiting Professorship or the mission of our Department of English than tonight’s speaker,” he said.
Phyllis Palmer, professor of American studies and women’s studies, said that to be in the company of such a fine writer was “an enormous privilege.”
Although she had already read the novel, Palmer said Jones’ reading gave a new and different tone to the work than she had previously understood.
“Listening to him reading his own works, it was incredibly funny,” she said. “Hearing it in the voice of the author lets us discover things that we can’t get as readers.”