Two-Time National Book Award Winner Jesmyn Ward to Publish Next Novel Let Us Descend with Scribner

NEW YORK, January 27—Scribner is thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of Let Us Descend, a new novel from Jesmyn Ward, the historic two-time National Book Award winner, MacArthur Fellow, and the youngest person to receive the Library of Congress’s Prize for American Fiction. Let Us Descend will be published on October 3, 2023, and simultaneously as an audiobook by Simon & Schuster Audio. 

A reimagining of American slavery and Ward’s first historical novel, Let Us Descend tells the astonishing story of Annis, an enslaved teenage girl who is sold by her white father after being separated from her mother. Annis is walked from a rice plantation in the Carolinas to a slave market in New Orleans, and ultimately to a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Let Us Descend incorporates elements of Dante’s Inferno, magical realism, and slave narratives. It is a book about grief, resilience, imagination, and kinship, and stitches the Black American experience into the very land, exploring what lies beyond this world: in our lived experiences and after our deaths.

“I wanted to look at this hard truth from our past, to explore what it would have been like for my character, Annis, to have little to no physical agency over her own body,” said Jesmyn Ward. “I also wanted to encourage readers to feel with and for Annis, and to recreate her experience as viscerally as possible. It took years and multiple drafts to understand how Annis and enslaved people might have retained their sense of self, their sense of hope, in a time and place that attempted to negate both, day in and out. It took years to figure out how to look straight at her life and relay the harshness and terror of her days, but also to recognize her resistance, her tenderness, her imagination, her belief in who she is and what she is capable of, which she retains, even through the deepest darkness. It was a gift of an experience, and I hope that it is the same for readers, too.”

“Jesmyn Ward is one of the most magnificent, fiercely original writers working today,” said Nan Graham, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Scribner. “She confirms what fiction can do: allow us to experience lives other than our own. She transforms our understanding of the history of the enslaved with this stunning novel. Let Us Descend will sit on the shelf of masterpieces of American literature for decades to come.”

“As much as Let Us Descend is about slavery and grief, it does another kind of work, too,” said Kathy Belden, Vice President and Editorial Director of Scribner and Jesmyn Ward’s longtime editor. “The artistry is unparalleled. Let Us Descend is deeper, truer, and more profound than anything Jesmyn Ward has written. She is creating her own origin story, asking questions about what it means to have no agency over your own body—and what a richness of the mind Jesmyn has created in this exploration.”

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, the Strauss Living Prize, and the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She is the winner of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.

Kathy Belden acquired World English and audio rights from Rob McQuilkin of Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents.

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Brian Belfiglio
Director of Publicity & Marketing, Scribner