graffiti on a wall uses affiliate links. This means we receive a commission on the sale of certain items. This is at NO additional cost to you. Visit the policies page to learn more.

The cover for the award winning novel SING, UNBURIED, SING

SING, UNBURIED, SING, published in 2017, is a fiction novel by Jesmyn Ward.

SING, UNBURIED, SING won the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction.

“She all right,” I say. “She ain’t paying no attention to us.”


Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

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 thirteen-year-old 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.


Sing, Unburied, Sing is used as an example in the following posts. Check them out!

Past vs Present TenseA comparison of past vs present tense including modern fiction examples. Which is right for your novel?
Present TensePresent tense happens now. Check out 5 times it’s the best choice for your novel.
SubplotsWhat is a subplot and how do you add one? Learn three popular types and three common methods for adding subplots to a story.
Essential CharactersThese are the 6 must-have characters for any novel: protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, skeptic, mentor, and love interest. Learn why with modern examples.
Character RelationshipsLearn the 8 relationship types and why your novel needs them all. Plus, see modern examples.
DialogueLearn how to write dialogue with these 6 tips and tricks.
Chapter OneYour first chapter is one of the most important. Learn 5 must-have elements of the first chapter.


Sing, Unburied, Sing offers a slow-burn slice of life for the characters. It’s a sad tale with strange elements. I’m not really sure how to describe it that doesn’t sound extreme or dull because it’s kind of both those.

What do other people think?

She revives the beast of America’s past, and allows the grotesque creature to walk among us, to tell us its story, to tell us of its life.

– Read Wildness

The heart of Sing, Unburied, Sing lies instead in the thoughts and emotions of its characters as they grapple with the ghosts of their pasts — both literally and figuratively.

– Ink & Butter
a typewriter

Writing Practice

It’s time to practice writing. Check out these writing exercises and prompts that use SING, UNBURIED, SING as inspiration.

Prompt: The Opening Paragraph(s)

Your Task: This is the opening paragraph of the novel. Ignore everything you know about the story and use it as a writing prompt.

Using as much detail as possible, write another 300+ words.

Chapter 1: Jojo

I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks. I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned these thirteen years, so Pop will know I’m ready to pull what needs to be pulled, separate innards from muscle, organs from cavities. I want Pop to know I can get bloody. Today’s my birthday.

Exercise: Mix & Match

This exercise is all about being creative. We’re going to merge LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD with SING, UNBURIED SING.

Your Task: Think about what the two stories have in common. Choose a point and write it. You don’t have to write an entire story, a scene or two is enough.

Alternatively, you could write an outline or plot diagram for an entire story.

Need an Idea?

I would choose a scene of going somewhere – Red & Jojo are one and the same. Such as:

– Red is going to visit (or pick up) her father, instead of visiting her grandmother. The mother becomes the wolf of the story.

– Leonie is sending Jojo to pick up his sister from daycare. A neighbourhood bad person (your choice why) is the wolf.

Exercise: Perspective Change

Your Task: Choose two consecutive chapters – one from Jojo’s perspective and one from Leonie’s perspective. Rewrite both of them as Third Person Limited point of view.

How does this change of point of view change the feel of the novel?

a person in the background (unfocused) and a syringe closer


GenreLiterary Fiction
First Published
Sep 05, 2017
Print Length
(according to amazon)
305 pages
File Size
(according to amazon)
4,038 KB
Goodreads Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
sing unburied sing goodreads rating of 4.04
Amazon Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Sing unburied sing amazon customer review 4.3/5 stars
Buy Now


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of SING, UNBURIED, SING

Have you read SING, UNBURIED, SING?

If so, what did you think? If not, will you?

Like this post? Please PIN IT and follow me on social media. Thanks!

PS. share your exercises in the comments below. I’d love to see them.


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of SHELTER IN PLACE


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of THE STONE SKY

Wait! Get Exclusive Content!

Stay up to date with exclusive weekly writing tips, prompts, exercises, and more!