Winner of the 2005 Award
The Judges’ Citation
The Known Worldbegins with the death, at the age of 31, of Henry Townsend, a black farmer in Manchester County, the largest county in antebellum Virginia. Among the property bequeathed to his widow are 13 women, 11 men and 9 children – for Henry, once a slave, was an owner of slaves himself… Edward P. Jones has created a richly imagined novel, in which a multitude of moral contradictions are revealed and explored.
…Jones loops backwards and forward from the day of Henry’s death, in prose that is generally measured and restrained, but with passages of intense lyricism and outbursts of casual savagery. Vividly conceived and profoundly humane, The Known World is a remarkable re-creation of a world we might have thought we already knew.
Judges: Jonathan Buckley, Agnès Desarthe, Rita Ann Higgins, Milan Richter, Nino Ricci. Non-voting Chair, Judge Eugene R. Sullivan
About the Book
Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor — William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia’s Manchester County. Under Robbins’s tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation — as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave “speculators” sell free black people into slavery, and rumours of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.
Ranging seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians — and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.
About the Author
Edward P. Jones won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award for his debut collection of stories, Lost in the City. The Known World, his first novel, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.