Edward P. Jones, the New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Throughout The Known World, you intersperse your fictional account with historical records and data about Manchester County, Virginia. Are these records factual? What was your intent in incorporating them into your novel?
The county and town of Manchester, Virginia, and every human being in those places are products of my imagination. Other counties and towns (Amelia County, Charlottesville, etc.) are real, but were employed merely to give some heft and believability to the creation of Manchester and its people. The same is obviously true of real, historical people -- President Fillmore, for example.
The census records I made up for Manchester were, again, simply to make the reader feel that the town and the county and the people lived and breathed in central Virginia once upon a time before the county was "swallowed up" by surrounding counties. Saying that the census of 1840 shows that there were so many black people, so many white people there, et cetera, affords a hard background of numbers and dates that makes the foreground of the characters and what they go through more real.
How unusual was it for free blacks to serve as slaveholders in the South? How did the idea come to you to ...
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