Book Discussion Forum: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – Opening Lines

If you’re a procrastinator like me, you were/are reading the book right up to the discussion forum.  Here at the TGS Writers’ Book Club, we have a little more flexibility, but don’t put off finishing this month’s selection for too long. The discussion forum for Sing, Unburied, Sing opens today and will remain open until May 30th. Since this is the first time I’ve done this, things might get a little goofy, but we’ll try it out.

canstockphoto31653122That there will be spoilers is, if you have not read the book, a given.

In the next two weeks, I’ll put up more discussion posts. Today’s discussion focuses on opening lines. Following that, we’ll talk about plot, point of view, literary devices, and other elements of writing. Each subsequent discussion will contain links to the other forums related to the work. You can join in whenever you want. The goal is to combine our perspectives as writers and to learn something that will inform our own writing.

June’s reading is a poetry collection called Afterland by Mai Der Vang. I’ve never analyzed poetry from a writing perspective, so I hope we have some poets who can chime in.

32920226Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Opening Lines

I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight.

I’ve read these lines several times, thinking about what it does. As an opener, it establishes the voice and because of its dramatic tone, the reader is immediately in the story. It also serves as a foreshadowing of the event later in the chapter as well as some of the themes in the novel.

A problem I often have as a writer is making the voice seem realistic, especially when it comes from someone young. I wrote from the voice of a 14-year-old in one of the scenes in my novel and the immediate feedback was that he didn’t sound like a 14-year-old. I made him sound too mature. In this novel, the opening voice is Jojo, a 13-year-old boy who assumes some responsibility for the care of his little sister.

When I think of opening lines, one of my favorites is from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. This line, in and of itself, creates questions in the reader, already making them want to know what happened at Manderley. By the end of the book, it is a haunting refrain. The more I think about the opening lines to Sing, Unburied, Sing and how they tie into the rest of the novel, I think they might be lines I remember as well.

Possible Discussion Questions:

What did you think of the opening lines to Sing, Unburied, Sing?

What kind of person did you imagine saying them?

What is one of your favorite opening lines?

Do you struggle with opening lines to your novels, stories, or poems?


Resources for Opening Lines:

American Book Review: 100 Best First Lines in Novels

How to Write Strong Opening Lines

7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel

The June Selection: Afterland by Mai Der Vang

In a couple of weeks, we’ll be discussing Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Thus far, I’m finding it a tough read, but well worth delving into. Please refer to the discussion guide as well as the guides available under Resources. For those of you who read the initial posts, I changed the month for the selections. The month indicates when we’ll be discussing the book.

Please excuse the initial hiccups in setting up this online book club for writers. It’s new to me and it will take a bit to get things ironed out. Thank you – I’m looking forward to our book discussion!


Selection: Afterland by Mai Der Vang29939104

Discussion Forum: June 15-30, 2018

Discussion Guide: How to analyze poetry

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“The 2016 winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Carolyn Forché

When I make the crossing, you must not be taken no matter what
the current gives. When we reach the camp,

there will be thousands like us.
If I make it onto the plane, you must follow me to the roads
and waiting pastures of America.

We will not ride the water today on the shoulders of buffalo
as we used to many years ago, nor will we forage
for the sweetest mangoes.

I am refugee. You are too. Cry, but do not weep.

—from “Transmigration”

Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.”

The May Selection: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Selection: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward32920226

Discussion Forum: May 15-30, 2018

Discussion Guide:  Sing, Unburied, Sing – Reading Group Guide _ Book by Jesmyn Ward _ Official Publisher Page _ Simon & Schuster

Synopsis from Goodreads:

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.”