Girl at water park
Photo by BarelyFitz used under a Creative Commons license.

Tayari Jones, Leaving Atlanta (Grand Central Publishing, 2003).
As part of her “50 States of Literature” series at the Columbia Spectator, Melanie Jones recommends this novel set during 1979-80, when 29 black children were killed in Atlanta. The story is narrated by three children who

struggle to comprehend their classmates’ disappearances while dealing with the everyday, from divorce and first crushes to unraveling what grown-ups mean by “the truth.” . . . Using [their] poignant innocence, Jones conveys the depth to which atrocity shaped and shook her community. At the forefront of the civil rights movement, Atlanta was dubbed “the city too busy to hate,” and children grew up with little knowledge of the lynchings Jim Crow imprinted into most of the South’s history. Georgia was mythically portrayed as “the red clay” that clung to “inexpensive canvas sneakers” and storms of “growling thunder and purple zigzag lightning” that left the ground cold and hard as pottery. But when fears of “the man snatching you” enter the recess lexicon, that magical world is forever changed. . . . Jones’ novel is bittersweet-an evocation of childhood in her hometown and a reminder of how easily a community can be changed by hate.

Google Book Search has an excerpt and more. The publisher also offers an excerpt. Jones’ site has a bio. Also, she blogs. Here’s an article about Jones and the book. Here are reviews from Melissa Morgan (, Kam Aures (Mostly Fiction), VeTalle Fusilier (Black Issues Book Review), Thumper, Ladylee, Kate Carter (Online Athens), Claire Light, Dolen, and Teej. Frederick Smith recommends it and other Atlanta reads. Here is a brief interview with Jones and a Spelman College literary journal, and here is one with Gene Edwards (.pdf). On Scott Esposito’s blog, Jones writes about being pigeonholed as a “southern writer” or a “black writer.” She addressed related issues in this article in The Believer and in this piece at Maud Newton’s blog about bookstores’ shelving practics.

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