|Edward P. Jones, Maryemma Graham, and Kenton Rambsy|
On June 24, 2016, I was in Washington D. C., and had the opportunity to meet Edward P. Jones, a writer I’ve studied for years now. My graduate school mentor and dissertation advisor Maryemma Graham arranged the meeting, and the three of us met at Old Ebbitt Grill’s happy hour.
After placing our orders, Jones described the route he took to the restaurant. His description stood out to me because just like his short stories, he paid keen attention to place-based details by describing streets he passed and specific bus routes.
Jones recalled a time when he saw a movie at the building where we were having dinner.
While Old Ebitt Grill is DC’s oldest bar and restaurant, it has only been located at 675 15th St NW since October 1983. While eating oysters, Jones described how frequently moving around in his childhood made him much more attuned to details about neighborhoods and boundaries. The mention of specific routes and locations during our conversation over dinner reminded me of the significance of place in his writings.
During the course of the dinner, I asked him about how DC’s changing landscape affected his stories. I also talked to him about specific routes he mentions in his stories and notable black landmarks across the district. He was quite responsive to my inquiries and listened to me discuss how I was using digital mapping tools to identify patterns among characters in his stories.
Relatively few literary scholars get the opportunity to meet authors who are central to their research. The chance to have dinner with a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist is even rarer. So I was especially grateful to spend an extended amount of time talking Washington D.C. and teaching black literature with Jones and Graham.
• A notebook on short stories