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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Visiting author Jones explains reasons for writing

Published: September 13, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

Edward Jones writes because he is compelled to. This year, Brandeis first-years read Jones’s book because they were also obliged to. But perhaps, the shared experience of reading the same book, especially a book concerned with a heavy topic like race relations, has given the class of 2017 knowledge even before they officially begin their Brandeis careers.

While Jones was on campus to lead a question and answer with first-years on Aug. 28, this week The Hoot discussed with the author the reason behind why he writes, and what advice he has for all students, not just for first-years.

“There are two sorts of writers, those who write because they are compelled to and those who want fame and fortune,” Jones said, who has no patience for the latter. “You get a job to pay rent and food bills, and write when you have the time.”

Jones’s 2003 novel “The Known World” was the book chosen this year for the New Student Forum, a program that brings famous authors to campus to converse with first years.

“I was quite surprised [when I heard my book was selected] because the book has been out for several years, and I felt very privileged,” said Jones.

Set in the antebellum south, the novel examines the problems associated with owning slaves. Dealing with a large cast of characters over a long span of time, the story is an epic tale of an area in the south coming face to face with the problem of racism. The tale received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Jones felt his work was well received at Brandeis. “We had a question and answer that lasted a bit over an hour,” he said. “You sort of have a lot of concern when people ask questions, you can tell if they’ve actually read the book. But every single person had read the book and I got very intelligent questions.”

Jones also did a book signing for over an hour after the event, to indicate his gratitude toward the university.

“Brandeis has a choice, they could have chose thousands of novels and they chose mine, the very least I can do is sign every students book,” said Jones.

Jones, who was born in 1951, has penned three novels. But the author did not even know he wanted to write when he entered college. As a student at the College of the Holy Cross, he enrolled in all mathematics courses during his first semester.

“I was very shy, I sat in the back of the classroom and the calculus teacher was horrible,” said Jones. He remembers thinking he would barely pass the course. Musing on his love of reading, Jones decided to pursue an English major.

“I think for anyone that’s contemplating writing, I would take as many English courses as possible,” Jones said.

Jones went on to be educated at the University of Virginia. He now teaches at George Washington University and resides in Washington D.C.

For those Brandeis students who wish to become authors themselves, Jones’ advice is simple.

“The best advice is to just continue with it,” he said. “It is in the blood, so just keep going and going, what keeps you going, you are compelled to it and you can’t help yourself, the most important thing is the writing.”

As Jones enters what he calls a “more leisurely fall” he made one last nod at Brandeis. “I had a good time by the way,” he said.