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Jonathan Escoffery on ‘Under the Ackee Tree’ and Walking Your Own Path

Ursa Short Fiction cover art and Jonathan Escoffery photo

Hi friends!

This week on Ursa Short Fiction, Deesha and Dawnie chat with Jonathan Escoffery, author of last week’s audio story, “Under the Ackee Tree,” from his acclaimed collection and audiobook, If I Survive You. The linked stories follow Trelawny, a second generation Jamaican American, as he struggles through family tensions, cultural and historical loss and reclamation, and exploration of identity. 

Escoffery talks about his collection and how it came to be—the process of developing characters, tensions, and narrative threads, as well as constructing a complicated family with conflicting generational perspectives on agency, culture, and legacy. 

Escoffery discusses his own writing career journey, and reminds us to remain focused on developing our craft, even when we succeed:

“It’s always great to have community. It’s great to have people around you who might be a half step ahead, two steps ahead, listening to their wisdom. It can be really good for you, but at the same time, nobody can walk your path but you. And so you might be that person who breaks new ground.”

Reading List: Authors, Stories, and Books Mentioned

About the Author 

Jonathan Escoffery is the author of the linked story collection, If I Survive You, a New York Times  and Booklist Editor’s Choice, an IndieNext Pick, and a National Bestseller. If I Survive You was longlisted for the National Book Award, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, the PEN/ Robert W. Bingham Prize For Debut Short Story Collection, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and the Story Prize, and was shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. It was named a ‘best’ book by The New YorkerThe New York Times, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, People, TIME, Oprah DailyGQ, and elsewhere. In 2020, Jonathan received the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize for Fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He was a 2021-2023 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:


Episode editor: Kelly Araja

Associate producer: Marina Leigh

Producer: Mark Armstrong

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