MacArthur 'genius' shares her word on empathy at Pa. Women's Conference

October 04, 2019 - 4:00 am
Jesmyn Ward attends the 68th National Book Awards at Cipriani Wall Street.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A MacArthur "genius" and two-time National Book Award winner spoke to the 10,000 women who attended the Pennsylvania Women's Conference this week. 

At 42, Jesmyn Ward has been hailed as the standout writer of her generation. In 2017, she became the first woman and person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction, joining the ranks of William Faulkner and John Updike. 

Her most celebrated talent is writing characters that breed empathy.

"If I write characters who are true enough and who are complicated enough, it means that people who have nothing in common with the people I write about will believe these people are real," she said. 

Ward's "Sing Unburied Sing" was Philadelphia's One Book selection.


It told the story of a Mississippi family tested by racism and poverty, a family not unlike her own. So this week, she shared the story of her success with thousands of woman — the story of the twists and turns, lack of resources and fame that did not come overnight.

"To find my way toward the future that I wanted, I had to work for it and I got lucky and it took me year after year after year after year," she added.

Her stories have changed minds and she's hoping they'll change the world.