I attended a reading by Edward P. Jones at Washington & Lee this afternoon. Jones, who was a National Book award Finalist for his first SSC Lost in the City, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Prize and was an NBA finalist for his novel, The Known World. His new collection is due out in 2006.
He read two long passages from the novel (listening to him I detected a substantial amount of "telling" rather than "showing" and reminded myself that all writers find their own balance between the two) and then answered questions, most of which were about craft:
a member of the audience commented that his use of "prolepses" (which I'm not sure is the right term here--he uses a flash forward technique occasionally to reveal future events) was unusual in contemporary fiction; he commented that he hoped it worked and that he had used the technique because it felt wrong to deliver the news too chronologically, yet completeness required the information, and that he felt comfortable using it because he was, after all, looking back from a distance of 150 years and the leaps forward were only 20 years or so;
someone else commented on the large number of characters and he said he had had no trouble keeping them all straight, but that he'd been urged to include an cast list in the paper back edition, which he did;
another audience member asked how long it took to write the novel; he responded that he'd been "writing" the book for 10 years in his head, without taking notes or doing research, but when he sat down to actually write, it took about 3 months;
at one point he emphasized that the book was pure fiction, that none of the people really existed; he did no research into freed men owning slaves--he had heard that it had happened and he just made the rest up from there; and there was one foolish journalist from the Washington Post who had tried to research an individual named in the novel, a Canadian journalist, and said he hadn't been able to learn anything about him--as if the man had really existed.
I was grateful for the opportunity to hear him read.