by Kathleen Driskell, Chair, Sena Jeter Naslund-Karen Mann Graduate School of Writing, Spalding University
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Novel is the Fall 2023 Naslund-Mann Residency Book in Common.
I am delighted to announce that the 2023 Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature is awarded to Professor Honorée Fanonne Jeffers for her award-winning, best-selling novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, published by Harper in 2021.
The Spalding Prize was established by the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing to honor a work of literature that exemplifies the mission of Spalding University and our community’s core commitment to compassion. The Prize includes a cash award of $7,500 and an invitation to the winner to visit our residency as distinguished visiting writer.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is a complex and wonderfully ambitious novel. Weaving together multi-generational stories of Black American families, Professor Jeffers aimed to write a novel in which “Black women can see themselves.” In a 2021 NPR interview with Noel King, Professor Jeffers says:
I’ve described this story as a kitchen table epic . . . I wanted to tell the story of heroic
Black women and dark-skinned Black women. . . . We don’t really usually see them at
the center of their own world, . . . and to have people consider her [Ailey Pearl Garfield, the main character] beautiful, and I wanted her to be smart. I just wanted to create someone that I grew up around. I grew up around girls like that and girls that we all thought were pretty in the Black community but when we went outside of that community that’s when we were expected to make ourselves small and silent and to consider ourselves not as pretty as white or lighter-skinned girls. (Listen to the full NPR interview.)
Lyric and complicated, Professor Jeffers’s novel presents a genius class in pacing, structure, and style. I’m excited to share this important read with students, faculty, and alumni of our Naslund-Mann community and look forward to discussing this novel with everyone at residency.
Though Professor Jeffers has long been known as a powerful poet and scholar, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is her debut novel and was much anticipated. Upon publication, her novel was lauded as “stunning,” (People), “not to be missed” (Booklist, starred review) and “[a] generational magnum opus” (O, the Oprah Magazine). Jeffers’s novel is an Oprah’s Book Club Pick. (Here you can listen to Oprah Winfrey talk about selecting The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois for her book club.)
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois also earned many accolades from some of our most admired American writers. Jacqueline Woodson writes:
This sweeping, brilliant and beautiful narrative is at once a love song to Black girlhood, family, history, joy, pain . . . and so much more. In Jeffers’s deft hands, the story of race and love in America becomes the great American novel.
Among its many honors and recognitions, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois was longlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction, included on President Barack Obama’s Book Recommendations for 2021, included in “Ten Best Books of 2021” of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and the First Novelist’s Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. In addition to U.S. publication, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois has been internationally published in the United Kingdom and translated and published in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.
Professor Jeffers has also published five books of poetry, including The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan, 2020), based on the life and times of Phillis Wheatley Peters, a formerly enslaved African person who was the first Black American woman to publish a book. The Age of Phillis was longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry and won the NAACP Image Award for Literary Work: Poetry.
Jeffers is Editor at Large for The Kenyon Review, and her writing has appeared elsewhere in African American Review, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Poetry, and The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (One World, 2021), among others. She is the recipient of the USA Mellon fellowship, as well as fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Aspen Summer Words Conference, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress.
She has been recognized with the Harper Lee Award for Literary Distinction and induction into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame. Jeffers is the Paul and Carol Daube Sutton Professor of English at University of Oklahoma, where she has taught since 2002.
At 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 15, Professor Jeffers visits the Naslund-Mann residency to discuss her work with our literary community. Her talk will be presented at the Louisville Free Public Library’s Main Campus on York Street. The public is cordially invited to attend this presentation, a partnership between Spalding University and the Louisville Free Public Library. A book-signing will follow. Free parking is available to the public.
The next morning, Professor Jeffers will attend a Q & A session open only to Naslund-Mann students, faculty, and alumni.
As Fiction is our featured genre for residency this fall, each student and faculty member should read The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois in advance of residency to prepare for our book-in-common discussion and Professor Jeffers’s presentations to our community.
Faculty Books and Scripts in Common for Fall 2023
In addition to reading our residency book in common, all students should read the Faculty Book or Script in Common in the workshop area of their Fall 2023 residency to prepare for the virtual discussion that will take place 3:00 – 4:00 pm ET, Sunday, October 22, just after your virtual introductory workshop session with your faculty leader. Zoom meeting links will be posted in the Thursday Memo the week before our discussions.
The Faculty Books and Scripts in Common for this fall’s residency are
Fiction: Silas House’s Lark Ascending
Poetry: Douglas Manuel’s Trouble Funk
Creative Nonfiction: Maggie Smith’s You Could Make this Place Beautiful
Writing for Children/YA: Nancy McCabe’s Vaulting through Time
Screenwriting: Charlie Schulman’s The Adjunct (pdf available on the portal page)
Playwriting: Kira Obolensky’s play, Forget Me Not When Far Away (pdf available on the portal page)
Students, I hope you enjoy reading and thinking about The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois as well as the faculty books and scripts in common in your residency area. We’re busily planning a wonderfully enriching Fall 2023 residency for you and are looking forward to being with you soon!
Kathleen Driskell, chair of The Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing and Professor of Creative Writing at Spalding University, is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Vine Temple, a title in the Carnegie Mellon University Press’s Cox Family Chapbook Series. Her other collections include Blue Etiquette: Poems, a finalist for the Weatherford Award; Next Door to the Dead, a Kentucky Voices selection by the University Press of Kentucky and winner of the 2018 Judy Gaines Young Book Award; and Seed Across Snow, a Poetry Foundation national bestseller. Individual poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Rattle, River Teeth, Appalachian Review, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, and North American Review and others, and have been featured in anthologies and online at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry. From 2019-22, she served as chair of the board of directors of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the largest professional organization of creative writers in the U.S. Driskell received her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Spalding University’s Mission Statement:
Spalding University is a diverse community of learners dedicated to meeting the needs of the times in the tradition of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth through quality undergraduate and graduate liberal and professional studies, grounded in spiritual values, with emphasis on service and the promotion of peace and justice.