Baileys Prize Winner Tayari Jones: Mixing Today’s America With Myths of Old

In her book An American Marriage, Tayari Jones not only illustrates societal struggles in the US, but artfully combines mythology to create a new reading experience.


Image via Amazon


An American Marriage tells the story of newlywed couple Celestial and Roy, whose marriage and loving relationship are rocked to the core after Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit. The novel looks at what happens when justice fails to be served, on race relations in modern day America, and the impact injustice and racism has on communities and individuals.

An American Marriage has been described compelling, moving, intimate, and thrilling, and it’s even been selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club, as well as by former US President Barack Obama, who included it in his 2018 Summer Reading List.


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Oprah Winfrey with Tayari Jones | Image via USA Today


After winning this years Baileys’ Women’s Fiction Prize, Tayari Jones commented in an article from The Guardian, “I wasn’t expecting to win. The shortlist was so strong and I was honoured to be among them but I had no idea whether I would win.”

In discussing how the book came to be, Jones added, “Incarceration is the…boogeyman of black America…I decided to look under the bed and tackle it head on.”


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Winner of the 2019 Women’s Fiction Prize, Tayari Jones | Image via Vidya Bookstore


The novel succeeds at painting a picture of the impact incarceration has on the African American community, but there is also a fantastic side to it that lies in the realm of mythology.

Jones adds the most intriguing reveal that her novel’s heroine, Celestial, is in fact loosely based on the Greek mythology’s Penelope, wife to King Odysseus. According to The Guardian, Jones said “that every novel she has written “harks back to the Greeks”, with Celestial being a twist on Penelope, the faithful wife who waits for years for Odysseus – “only modern, independent and famous for her art”.”



Image via Amazon


In essence, Jones’ novel is a modern telling of Homer’s  The Odyssey with a political twist. The combination of politics, mythology, romance, and drama are sure to capture the hearts and minds of many diverse groups of people. A brilliant way of taking the old and making it new.



Featured Image via WFAE