When asked if she enjoys getting a chance to meet her fans, award-winning author Tayari Jones says she prefers the word "readers" rather than "fans" and adds, "BeyoncÃ© has fans."
But after the big announcement last week that her latest novel, "An American Marriage," was selected as a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection, she may start feeling a touch of that BeyoncÃ©-like popularity when she arrives for the Savannah Book Festival.
Readers were first introduced to the Atlanta author with her first several novels, "Silver Sparrow" (2011), "The Untelling" (2005) and "Leaving Atlanta" (2002). Jones is also a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship.
Now Jones is bringing her new book to Savannah as part of her multi-city book tour. You can hear her speak at 2:50 p.m. Feb. 17 at First Baptist Church Sanctuary.
The writer says she loves getting a chance to meet her readers. "When I publish a book, I really feel like I'm sending a letter in a bottle that can end up in anyone's hands, so it's exciting to hear what they think."
"An American Marriage" tells the story of a newlywed couple whose future is abruptly changed when the husband is wrongly identified as a rape suspect and sent to prison. The young wife tries to support him despite her pain and loneliness. The novel not only focuses on his wrongful conviction, but also how that decision affects everyone around them.
This project first began when Jones received a research fellowship at Harvard. She says that at the time, she wanted to write a book about the "the tribulations of the innocent men who languish in America's prison." But she claims her research turned out to be the least interesting part of the story she ended up discovering.
"When you think of innocent people in prison, it's as horrible as you think â€¦ so my research didn't change my understanding of that fact.
"I write to understand something that I don't understandâ€¦ When I write a novel, I try to come with two sides of a storyâ€¦ and what really struck me was the idea of being left behind. When you are in prison, everyone else in your life is moving forward â€¦ and it's not really anyone's fault; life goes on. I wanted to focus on, how do you re-enter your life? That's why so much of the novel is about what happens after he is released."
Jones says she always wants to write a book that she would enjoy reading. Reading and writing have been passions in her life since she was a little girl growing up in Atlanta. But she says she doesn't just want readers to enjoy reading the book, but to also find compassion to those around us who we may not have had compassion for in the past.
"Writing this book showed me that what happens to you doesn't only happen to you. â€¦ What I hope readers go away with is to be more compassionate and more flexible with their feelingsâ€¦ I hope their compassion extends to not only people who have been wrongfully accused of a crime, but to people who have done their time and are out of prison.
"â€¦ Once they get out, they are trying to re-enter society and they deserve compassionâ€¦ We are all God's children. It's easy to empathize with Roy [the main character], but I hope their empathy will grow and be more open to other people's struggles."
So what's next for Jones? She says she's been fortunate to be the recipient of a fellowship in Nevada sponsored by retired judge Miriam Shearing, so she can spend her time touring with her new novel and working on her next project, which will be "another Atlanta novel" about four friends reunited after 20 years.
"I'm excited about this new novel and finding out how these lives, and the world, have changed in the last 20 years."
Book: "An American Marriage"
When: 2:50 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: First Baptist Church Sanctuary, Chippewa Square