Novelist Jesmyn Ward grew up in rural Mississippi in a family with French Creole roots. She overcame grinding poverty, a broken family, and deep-seated racism to attend Ivy League schools, write novels and win major awards.
One of four children, her father left the family when she was young and her mother worked long hours as a maid for wealthy white families to support them. It was one of these employers that paid for Ward to attend private school that put her on a path different to her siblings.
As she reflects on her childhood in her memoir, Men We Reaped, Ward tells the story of five young men in her community who died, including her brother. They died from random things like a car accident, suicide, a drug over dose and even an unsolved murder. But Ward came to believe the deaths were connected. The cause? Endemic poverty and lingering racism.
Here's an excerpt from the book: