Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Reading Edward P. Jones with Maps

Lost in the City: Story Map

By Kenton Rambsy

In a review of Edward P. Jones’s “All Aunt Hagar’s Children,” John Harrison recommends readers “having a map of the area handy.” Because of the heavy reference to the street plan of D.C., Harrison explains, “Each story traces a journey—planned or unplanned, taken or failed—and an obvious root/route symbolism runs throughout the collection.” This idea has been a guiding principle as I collaborated with various people to transform data related to Jones’s stories into interactive visualizations.

Edward P. Jones published two collections of short fiction, Lost in the City (1992) and All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006) that are set primarily in DC and reference over 200 locations. The references to homes and neighborhoods as well as walking and driving routes can be overwhelming for readers, especially if they are not familiar with DC’s geography.

All Aunt Hagar's Children: Story Map

I collaborated with Kukhyoung Kim to create two story maps for each collection that offered readers a way to interpret Jones’s stories and make sense of the several locations. In these two visualizations -- Lost in the City: Story Map and All Aunt Hagar's Children: Story Map, users are presented with an overview of every single story that plots the DC locations referenced in each story. 

This facilitates a viewers’ ability to literally read Jones’s stories with a map. We also overlayed each map with demographic data from the year 2017 (the year we made this visualization) so viewers can see how population shifts in Jones’s stories.

Coupled with Jones’s writing, this visualization offers an immersive reading experience where the various filters add social and historical context to Jones’s DC settings. As a practice, data storytelling enhances the reading of Jones’s stories by grounding the two collections in geographic specificity.

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