Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones. Here is the article that accompanies the above picture.

I am teaching a nine day, three hour class where I am basically teaching students learning strategies to be successful in advanced classes.

One of the main strategies that I am teaching is critical thinking, and I am using literature to do that. Over the past eight days we have analyzed poems and short shorties to practice this very important skill.

One of my favorite short stories that I love to use to teach critical thinking skills is "The First Day" by Edward T. Jones.

Jones is a DC native, who is "The New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton.” (

His short story "The First Day" is about a little girl, who lives in DC, and she is getting ready for her very first day of school. Her mother goes out of her way to make sure that the first day of school is special, and we eventually learn that she wants her daughter to have a better life than she had. We also learn that the little girl eventually “learns to be ashamed of her mother” when she finds out on her very first day of school that her mother can not read. The story is beautifully written, and Jones, with great care, gives an avenue to discuss things such as social class, parents love for their children, devotion, etc.

I did a quick search on Edward P. Jones, and quite a few articles came up. I read quite a few of them, but the one that struck me the most was this very telling article from the Washington Post that I just can not stop thinking about. Read it here. 

When I first read the article, I felt quite sad. Here is this accomplished writer who has earned millions for his gift, and he has "no bed (he sleeps on a pallet), no bookshelves, no couch, nor much to sit on other than a kitchen chair. He does not have a car, a driver's license or any mechanized means of transport, not even a bicycle. He has no cellphone, no DVD player, and his Internet connection is sporadic. Though he loves movies and trash daytime television -- in particular, those judge shows -- he has only a 10-year-old, 13-inch TV and has never had cable. He has never been to a sporting event. He has no deep romantic attachments. He says his closest friend has been Lil Coyne, an elderly woman who for 20 years lived down the hall from him in an apartment building in Alexandria. She died this summer at age 90." 

I have thought about how many of us are shaped by our childhood experiences, and for many of us those childhood experiences continue to creep into our lives. It appears that Jones had a tumultuous childhood. His family moved around eighteen times in eighteen years, and he sort of blocked himself from meaningful relationships, maybe because in his own words "when you move 18 times in 18 years, you learn that the world is forever shifting; you can't be certain of anything... But once you leave your apartment, once you leave your home, then you can't predict anything. It's not your world; you can't control it."

However, I thought, what if Jones would tell himself another story, could his life be different?

What if he told himself that yes, we moved around eighteen times in eighteen years, and my illiterate mother did the best that she could, but I have made millions, and I deserve to sleep in a bed, and I can create stability for myself? What if he told himself that yes, the world is not predictable, and I can not control it, and I will give up trying to control it, and just enjoy it?

What if he told himself that all people are not bad, and God uses people to help us? Or what if he heard, like I heard and believed when Reverend T.D. Jakes stated that “it is impossible to be fruitful alone?” What if he told himself that I have no friends from childhood, but I can establish great relationships with people who will love me and care for me deeply? What if he told himself that I can create a different life than the one that was handed to me?

According to the article, Jones was invited to "Jamaica to discuss his books, and he was told the event would be at a hillside resort. I don't know that I like cliffs," he explained to me, without irony, "and I thought if I was up there, I might just get blown off the side."

Now, he assumed that he does not like cliffs, but he really did not know. What if he actually traveled to Jamaica to give those cliffs a try, and he actually enhanced his life by falling madly in love with cliffs? Or maybe he would hate those cliffs, but at least he could say that I tried them, and I hated them. Also, he thought that maybe he “would be blown off the side.” I wonder what made him think that something so tragic would happen to him?

I wonder if he is allowing FEAR to control him??

So, I guess I am thinking a lot about the stories that we tell ourselves, and if we told ourselves different stories, could we live different lives...

Life is unpredictable, and I guess that we can see unpredictability as scary or exciting, and I guess the way that we view unpredictability could determine how we live our lives....

Edward B. Jones is a very intriguing man to say the least and has given me much to think about!

Here is my review of Edward P. Jones’ All Aunt Hagar’s Children.

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