Edward P. Jones, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award, gave a guest lecture in the Hubbell Auditorium on Oct. 8. Jones was introduced by alumnus Wade Norwood of the Libraries Advisory Council and the Rochester City Council. In an enthusiastic speech, Norwood explained, “I have been looking forward to being in this room with [Jones] for a long time.” He spoke of the importance of history and storytelling while also incorporating the value of education. “Our [fight] this year is to celebrate the values of an educated life,” Norwood said. The first part of Jones’ lecture began with a selection of readings from “The Known World,” which tells of fictional black slave owners in the antebellum South. The novel is set in 1855 Virginia and follows the trials and tribulations of slave owners as well as Sheriff John Skiffington, who struggles to keep the town together. When Jones was asked how much research he had done to compose the novel, he replied, “Ma’am, there was no research.”Jones explained that he had initially attempted to read many books about slavery, but ended up reading none. “I had learned there were black slave owners in college,” Jones said. “It was a footnote in a text book.”He explained that he only used his imagination to write the novel based on that one fact. “What moves you along is the interaction between the characters,” he said.One of the main features of the novel is that it includes how much the slaves were purchased for and what made their value go up or down. “We have to know there is money involved,” Jones said. When asked about the messages and themes of the novel, Jones replied, “I was just out to write a story. If you don’t know slavery is wrong, I can’t tell you that in a novel.” Others were curious what Jones had learned from writing his novel. He replied, “Writing a book didn’t teach that much.” Jones has no detailed future plans for his prize money. “As for the money, I don’t have any needs,” he said. “I’ll just do what my mother would have told me. Put it in the bank.” Instead of conveying a message, Jones just hoped that readers liked it. “I hope they have read a good story,” he said. But despite the burden and injustice of slavery, Jones felt that the fact of being slaves was not the most important factor in the lives of antebellum blacks. “Even though there were people that were enslaved, they were not an enslaved people,” he said. At the conclusion of the lecture Jones was available for book signings and purchases. Within minutes of the lecture’s ending there was a lengthy line of fans and interested attendees. The audience’s response to the lecture was overwhelmingly positive. Janis Walker, a parent of a senior, thought the lecture was “very good,” she said. “In fact, we received his book as a gift a week ago and now can’t wait to read it.” Anne Leblanc, parent of a freshman, said, “I enjoyed it. I thought he was very interesting. He was very refreshing. It’s nice to hear the author read their own work.”Jones has taught creative writing at George Mason University, University of Maryland, and Princeton University. His work has appeared in Essence, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Callaloo. For his first collection of short stories, Lost in the City, Jones won the PEN/Hemingway Award. This lecture is part of the 2004-2005 Neilly Series, which is a series of guest lectures by prominent literary figures supported by a gift from Andrew H. Neilly ’47 and his wife, Janet Dayton Neilly, and of this year’s Meliora Weekend. The next lecture in the Neilly Series is on November 11th and will feature Roy Blout, a regular panelist of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t tell me, with an introduction by Myra Gelband in the Hoyt Auditorium at 5 PM.Arico can be reached at jarico@campustimes.org.

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