Excerpt from An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones X
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 320 pages
    Mar 2019, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Print Excerpt

But here I am trying.


Dear Georgia,

Hello from Mars! That's not really a joke. The dorms here are all named for planets. (This is the truth. I couldn't make this up.) Your letters were delivered to me yesterday. All of them. I was very happy to receive them. Overjoyed. I am not sure even where to start.

I haven't even been here three months, and already I have had three cell partners. The one I have now says he's here for good, and he says it like has some type of inside track. His name is Walter. He's been incarcerated for most of his adult life, so he knows what's what around here. I write letters for him but not for free. It's not that I'm not compassionate, but you get no respect when you do things for free. (This I learned in real life, and it's ten times as true in here.) Walter doesn't have money, so I let him give me cigarettes. (Don't make that face. I know you, girl. I don't smoke them. I trade them for other things — like ramen noodles. I kid you not.) The letters I write for Walter are to women he meets through personal ads. You would be surprised how many ladies want to pen-pal with convicts. (Don't get jealous, ha ha.) Sometimes I get irritated, staying up so late answering all his questions. He says he used to live in Eloe, so he wants me to bring him up to date. When I said that I haven't lived in Eloe since before I went to college, he says he has never set foot on a college campus and he wants me to tell him all about that, too. He was even curious about how I got the name Roy. It's not like my name is Patrice Lumumba, something that needs explaining, but Walter is what Olive would call "a character." We call him the "Ghetto Yoda" because he's always getting philosophical. I accidentally said "Country Yoda" and he got mad. I swear it was an honest mistake, and it's one I won't make again. But it's all good. He looks out for me, saying that "us bowlegged brothers got to stick together." (You should see his legs. Worse than mine.)

So that's all I got in terms of atmosphere. Or all that I want you to know about. Don't ask me questions about the details. Just suffice it to say that it's bad in here. Even if you killed somebody, you don't deserve to spend more than a couple of years in this place. Please tell your uncle to get on it.

There is so much here that makes you stop and say, "Hmm ..." Like there are about fifteen hundred men in this facility (mostly brothers), and that's the same number of students at "Dear Morehouse." I don't want to be some kind of crazy conspiracy nut, but it's hard not to think about things in that way. For one, prison is full of people who call themselves "dropping science," and second, things here are so bent that you think somebody must be bending it on purpose. My mother wrote to me, too, and you know her theory — it's Satan! My dad thinks it's the Klan. Well, not the Klan specifically with hoods and crosses but more like AmeriKKKa. I don't know what I think. Besides thinking that I miss you.

I finally got to make my visitors' list and right at the top is you, Celestial GLORIANA Davenport. (They want your full government name.) I'll put Dre on, too — does he have a middle name? It's probably something religious like Elijah. You know he's my boy, but when you come the first time, come by yourself. Meanwhile, keep the letters coming, baby. How did I forget that you have such a pretty handwriting? If you decide not to be a famous artist, you could go be a schoolteacher with that penmanship. You must bear down on the pen because the paper buckles. At night, when the lights are out — not that they are ever really out, because they make it dark enough that you can't read but too light to really sleep — but when they cut the lights off, I run my fingers over your letters and try to read them like Braille. (Romantic, right? Ha ha.)

Excerpted from An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Copyright © 2018 by Tayari Jones. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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