Silver Sparrow : Tayari Jones
What was your inspiration for Silver Sparrow ?
I think of my writing kind of like I think of love—so mysterious and so wrapped up in my own life and history (and issues!) that I can’t really tell how it began. But I can say that I have always been
intrigued by the idea of “half ” sisters. I have two sisters with whom I share a father, but we each have different mothers. They were born before my father met my mother, and they grew up in another state and led completely separate lives from me and from each other. When I was a little girl, with only brothers, I used to fantasize about having two big sisters far away who would love me, dress me up, listen to me talk, et cetera.
I got from my own personal obsession to this fictional story on a night out with a bunch of friends. We were discussing one of the many cases you hear about—a man dies and the other grieving widow shows up with her stair-step kids. One of my girlfriends looked up from her cosmo and said, “You know, he had to have some help from the inside. You cannot get local bigamy off the ground unless one of the women is willing to work with you.” It was all I could do to keep from running out of the bar to get home and start writing. The first line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” jumped into my head. I sent it to myself on my blackberry so I wouldn’t forget it. (As if I could!)
How did you come to the title Silver Sparrow?
This was really an eleventh hour title. This book went through half a dozen titles before I settled on Silver Sparrow. The reference is to the gospel classic “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” When I was a girl, I took great comfort in the idea that God is taking care of everything and everyone, even a tiny sparrow. (This was especially important because I grew up in Atlanta during a very dangerous time.) The characters refer to the song, and it occurred to me that although Chaurisse thinks of Dana as her “silver girl,” in many ways Dana is the tiniest sparrow in the story. She is flawed, of course, and sometimes she acts out, but she is also “the least of these.”
Like your previous two books, Silver Sparrow is set in Atlanta in the 1980s. Why did you pick Atlanta for the setting, and what role does landscape play in shaping your narrative?
Sometimes I wonder if my imagination just lives in Atlanta. When the story comes to me, the characters tend to be hanging out in all my
old stomping grounds. Atlanta has been such a gift to my work. The “new” and urban South is everchanging, but we still wear our history on our sleeves. This is what makes Southern literature so rich, ultra-specific and universal at the same time.
What do you hope readers will take away from Silver Sparrow?
I hope that readers will come away from the book with a sort of tolerance for people who find themselves in complicated and messy situations. When I started writing this novel, I didn’t really have empathy for Gwen, and I had nothing but sympathy for Laverne. But by the time I finished, I sort of understood the way people get trapped and try to make the best out of bad situations. Both women love their daughters with a bottomless devotion. As Dana would say, “You can’t help but respect something like that.”