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Sussex student participates in BBC Radio 4 'Bookclub' with award-winning author

An American Studies student who took part in a BBC radio discussion with an award-winning author described the experience as "honestly really weird".  

Robert Furey was asked to speak to Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage for BBC Radio 4’s 'Bookclub', for an episode broadcasting on Sunday 1 November.  

The third-year student was given the opportunity by his tutor, Dr Natalia Cecire, Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Sussex. 

He said: “I actually was unfamiliar with An American Marriage before Natalia emailed me, so it was a complete surprise. I immediately started reading the book and in doing so, my excitement to talk to Tayari Jones grew. Not just because of its quality, but the interesting approach to its subject matter. With a book like An American Marriage, that’s so strong and so confident, it really speaks for itself.”  

An American Marriage is a novel about a young couple, Roy and Celestial, whose lives are ripped apart when Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Described by Barack Obama as "a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple", it won the Women’s Price for Fiction in 2019.  

Rob said: “The best part about the interview was seeing Tayari talk freely about something she clearly cared so strongly about. Not just the book that she must have sunk so much time and effort into, but all of these issues surrounding race and the US prison system and, of course, modern marriage. 

“The novel is also filled with references to Black American cultural touchstones such as [American TV sitcom] Good Times, Ebony magazine and TV ads for Jordans. I was interested in hearing more about Jones’ relationship with some of the culture that informed her work so I was pleased I could ask her about these references on the show. 

“I think it’s always great listening to people talk about things they’re passionate about, whether that’s creating art or illuminating systemic injustices, but to hear someone talk with such wit and intelligence is always a treat. I felt very fortunate to hear her speak first hand, even if it wasn’t in person.” 

Like most things over the last year, Rob’s discussion with Tayari had to be held virtually, meaning his first time being on the radio happened over Zoom.  

He commented: “Being on the radio was honestly really weird. I was mostly sat in my room on Zoom, listening to the host and Jones speak. Then, all of a sudden, a disembodied voice would interrupt, louder than any voice previously, and tell me that I had to ask this question after Jones had finished answering the previous one. It was very jarring and very strange. 

“The owner of the voice, one of the producers, had said to me earlier that it was a shame Covid had prevented them from allowing myself and the others asking questions into the studio to meet Jones in person. I definitely agree.  

“Everything is just really strange right now. I’m sure we’re all going to look back at 2020 like it was one strange, fatal, fever dream.” 

Asked whether he’d recommend An American Marriage, it’s a definite yes.  

“If you’re not used to confronting some of the subject matter dealt with in the book, I think a lot of it might come as a shock, but that's really all the more reason to read it.”  

You can hear Rob speaking to Tayari Jones on BBC Radio 4’s 'Bookclub' on Sunday 1 November at 4pm.  The episode will also be available as a podcast after the weekend on BBC Sounds: 

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Friday, 30 October 2020

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