Author Jesmyn Ward to deliver U-M's Winter Commencement address

ANN ARBOR—Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward will be the featured keynote speaker at the 2017 University of Michigan Winter Commencement.

Ward, a professor at Tulane University and a MacArthur Fellow, is also one of 10 Bicentennial Alumni Award recipients being honored at the ceremony, which will begin at 2 p.m. Dec. 17 in Crisler Center.

Originally from DeLisle, Miss., Ward is known for her lyrical prose and graphic portrayal of the lives of black Americans in rural Mississippi, as well as her deep insight into issues of racism, poverty, family and community.

Her books include "Sing, Unburied, Sing," which recently won a National Book Award for fiction; "Salvage the Bones"; "Men We Reaped: A Memoir"; and "Where the Line Bleeds." She is the first woman to win two National Book Awards for fiction.

"We are proud that a U-M graduate of Jesmyn Ward's talent, intellectual caliber and societal influence has agreed to address our graduates at Winter Commencement," said U-M President Mark Schlissel. "As we close our celebration of two centuries of academic excellence at our university, we're proud to honor the graduating Class of 2017 and welcome their friends and family members for what I am sure will be an unforgettable ceremony."

Ward said she considers it a "great honor to deliver the commencement address on U-M's bicentennial," adding she wants to send a message to students that motivates them to go out into the world and change it for the better.

In 2005, she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from U-M, where she won five Hopwood Awards for her fiction, essays and drama.

In honor of the university's 200th birthday, the university will bestow 10 U-M alumni with Bicentennial Alumni Awards, which were designed in part to highlight the excellence and impact of recent graduates. The university also awarded 10 alumni awards during Spring Commencement in May.

"The varied and multidimensional work of the alumni we are honoring is a source of great pride for the university," said U-M Provost Martin Philbert. "Their contributions in fields including the arts, health sciences, public policy, entertainment and philanthropy exemplify the university's commitment to educating individuals who will act as both servants to and critics of society."

In addition to Ward, the remaining nine recipients are: