By HILLEL ITALIE
AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Tayari Jones, whose book “An American Union” was picked for Oprah Winfrey’s book club may always remember that telephone call from last October.
She was driving in Las Vegas, expecting to hear from novels editor Leigh Haber of Winfrey’s magazine, “O,” for which Jones has composed reviews.
“But rather than Leigh’s voice coming through the audio system of my car, it was Oprah’s,” Jones, 47, told The Associated Press during a recent meeting. “I would have known that voice everywhere. And I just pulled at a not-so-great part of city. And folks were tapping in my walls, and I was like, ‘Go away, I’m attempting to get the biggest moment of my life.'”
Winfrey’s magazine along with OWN community told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Winfrey had selected Jones’ story of a young, newly married African-American couple and the husband’s shocking arrest and prison sentence – for a crime no one he knows believes he committed which upends their lives. Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Films, is planning an adaptation.
Published Tuesday, the book was among the year’s most anticipated books and had reached the top 1,000 on Amazon.com before Winfrey’s announcement. “An American Union” contains blurbs from Michael Chabon and Edwidge Danticat and was commended by The Washington Post as a compelling story that raises “penalizing queries” and spins them “with patience.” In a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press, Winfrey said Jones’ book made her respond in a similar approach to other functions she’s chosen for her club : She simply had to inform others about it.
“I just get this kind of deep joy from the written word and finding out that other men and women feel exactly the same manner,” said Winfrey. “It is kind of like sharing worth. It is like saying here is an experience that I appreciate and you are trying to find somebody to also enjoy it.”
Winfrey’s meeting with Jones will appear in the March issue of “O,” which comes out weekly. Just like other recent novels, Winfrey will encourage it part through Amazon.com, where a video message from Winfrey is posted along with an excerpt can be read for free on your Kindle e-book device.
Since starting her club 1996, Winfrey has helped put dozens of novels about the best-seller lists from modern works such as Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” to such classics as Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Recent options have contained Cynthia Bond’s “Ruby” and Imbolo Mbue’s “Behold the Dreamers.” Winfrey said during her latest interview which she enjoyed choosing emerging authors such as Bond and Mbue and helping “to introduce them to a wider audience.”
Jones’ previous novels include “Silver Sparrow,” “The Untelling” and “Leaving Atlanta.” She is a longtime Winfrey admirer and says she was once in the studio audience for one of her shows, a broadcast by the early 1990s about homosexual rights. Like countless authors, she had dreamed of being chosen to the Oprah book club but never let herself believe it would occur.
“An American Union” took a long time to finish. According to a research fellowship at Harvard University, Jones knew that she wished to write concerning the criminal justice system, but just had a idea. She needed real people for inspiration. During a visit to her native Atlanta, she overheard a couple arguing.
“And the girl said, ‘You realize you would not have waited ME for seven decades,'” Jones recalled. “And the man shot back, ‘This would not have occurred to you in the very first location.’ And I thought, ‘He’s right and she is also right.’ And that’s when I knew I had a book, once I had a battle between two people and both of them are right.”
Winfrey, too, was drawn to how “An American Union” attached names and lives into an issue distant for most people. She remembered after hosting a program about incarceration and trying hard to get viewers engaged because comparatively few had direct experience.
“It is tough to find a person to understand or link with it,” she explained. “However, when you see a story like this it personalizes it for you.”
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(Algonquin Books via AP). This cover picture published by Algonquin Books reveals “A American Marriage,” by Tayari Jones. Oprah Winfrey has chosen the book as her next book club pick. Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Films, is planning an adaptation.