A dinner this past summer with Edward P. Jones reminded me about how important the notion of place, specifically Washington D.C. is, in his writing. In Lost in the City (1992) and All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006), Jones writes stories about black people set across various, recurring locations in DC.
The geographic boundaries inform a variety of character traits in Jones’s fiction thereby offering a wide spectrum of stories dealing with black people interacting in recurring locales from different social classes and locales.
Take “All Aunt Hagar’s Children,” for instance. The story follows an unnamed 24-year-old narrator recently back from the Korean War, restless with his life in the city. The narrator describes his surroundings with precision mentioning Dunbar High School, Kann’s Department Store, and Shiloh Baptist Church. The narrator reveals an intimate connection with Washington, especially the city’s majority black Northwest quadrant. Through meticulous descriptions and references to landmarks, there is a symbiotic relationship where the setting and protagonist complement, if not make one another.
Explorations of places through D.C.’s Northwest quadrant appear throughout Jones’s stories, including “A Rich Man,” “Old Boys, Old Girls” and “Bad Neighbors,” to name a few. For Jones, short stories provide an opportunity to plot diverse casts of black characters across various geographic locations in DC.
Despite the long history and dense population of African Americans living in or near the nation’s capital, the predominately black quadrants of Washington D.C., have a relatively small presence in literary studies. Thus, I’m looking forward to researching and writing more about Jones’s works, which do quite a bit to place D.C. on the map, so to speak.
• A notebook on short stories