NEW YORK (AP) — The next novel by Jesmyn Ward, the two-time National Book Award winner, is the story of an enslaved teenage girl that the publisher is calling a blend of magical realism, historical narrative and Dante’s “Inferno.”
Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, announced Friday that Ward’s “Let Us Descend” will come out Oct. 3. It’s her first novel since “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” winner of the National Book Award in 2017, and first fictional work set in the distant past. The 45-year-old Ward, the only Black author to receive two NBAs for fiction, has been widely praised for her striking lyricism and deep, uncompromising perspective.
In a statement issued by Scribner, Ward said that she wanted to explore the “hard truth” of her new book’s protagonist, Annis, and what it meant to “have little to no physical agency over her own body.”
“I also wanted to encourage readers to feel with and for Annis, and to recreate her experience as viscerally as possible. It took years and multiple drafts to understand how Annis and enslaved people might have retained their sense of self, their sense of hope, in a time and place that attempted to negate both, day in and out,” she said.
Ward added that she had to take that time to “figure out how to look straight at her life and relay the harshness and terror of her days, but also to recognize her resistance, her tenderness, her imagination, her belief in who she is and what she is capable of, which she retains, even through the deepest darkness.”
Ward, who grew up in Mississippi and has set much of her work in the fictional Mississippi town Bois Sauvage, won National Book Awards for her two most recent novels: “Salvage the Bones,” which takes place around the time of Hurricane Katrina, and the surreal “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” about the struggles of a Mississippi family. She is also a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant and, in 2022, became the youngest winner of the Library of Congress’s Prize for American Fiction, a lifetime achievement honor.
Ward’s other books include the novel “Where the Line Bleeds” and the memoir “Men We Reaped,” a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Prize in 2014. She currently teaches at Tulane University.