Jesmyn Ward, heir to Faulkner, probes the specter of race in the South

Ward, who teaches creative writing at Tulane, set her new novel in a coastal Mississippi town

“TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD, YOU MUST FIRST understand a place like Mississippi” goes a line often attributed to William Faulkner. More than half a century later, Jesmyn Ward may be the newest bard of global wisdom.

The writer rocketed to literary fame in 2011 when she won the National Book Award for her second novel, Salvage the Bones, a lyrical Hurricane Katrina tale. As in her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, the characters in Salvage live in the fictional Mississippi Gulf Coast hamlet of Bois Sauvage, which is based on Ward’s native DeLisle. Six years and two nonfiction books later, Ward has returned to fiction, and to Bois Sauvage, with Sing, Unburied, Sing, a mystical story about race, family and the long shadow of history.

Ward, 40, wrote her first

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