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Founders Day Honorees

Forever Blue: Founders Day
2023 Honorees

Tayari Jones, C'91, 2023 Honorary Degree Recipient

Tayari Jones

Internationally best-selling author Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, most recently An American Marriage. Published in 2018, An American Marriage is an Oprah’s Book Club Selection and also appeared on Barack Obama’s summer reading list as well as his year-end roundup. The novel was awarded the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize), Aspen Words Prize and an NAACP Image Award. It has been published in two dozen languages. 

Artistically, Jones charges herself to “speak truth to power”, but is quick to explain that the people are the real power, and it is to the people that she dedicates her work. She credits this ethos to the influence of her mentors, Pearl Cleage and Johnnetta B. Cole—both of whom she met when she was a student at Spelman College. She has delivered hundreds of lectures, readings and workshops in venues as varied as the Library of Congress in Washington, The Coliseum in Rome, and Rikers Island Prison in New York. Wherever there are readers, Jones wants to meet with them. Celebrated by book clubs and scholars alike, her novels are universally accessible and have developed a diverse and passionate following.

She has served on the faculty of numerous colleges and universities including Prairie View A&M University, The University of Illinois, and Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey. Currently she is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University and the Andrew D. White Professor-At-Large at Cornell University.

Her commitment to service was ignited in her time as a student at Spelman where she served on Student Government and interned at Sisterlove, a public health organization founded by alumna, Dazon Dixon Diallo. In addition to serving on the boards of Girls Write Now and Poets and Writers Inc, she has lead workshops to benefit FEMRITE in Uganda. She counts among her students the writers she encounters at the lectures and classes she presents in jails and prisons in the US and abroad. A champion for the African American writers who have paved the way, Jones has penned introductions for re-issued books by Alice Walker, Anne Petry, Maya Angelou, Randall Keenan and Zora Neale Hurston.

Her latest project is closest to her heart. In 2020, Jones and her classmate Sabrena McBride founded Dream The Boldest Dreams, an endowed scholarship to honor Johnnetta B. Cole, our first Sister President. Currently, the endowment boasts hundreds of alumnae donors and is three quarters of the way to its $1,000,000 goal. The scholarship will support Spelman students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Jones, a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship, and Radcliffe

Institute Bunting Fellowship. Her third novel, Silver Sparrow, was added to the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Her fifth novel is forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf.