Edward P. Jones was born in Washington, D.C., on October 5, 1950, and raised by his single mother, to whom Jones dedicated his first two books. He grew up well aware of the widespread poverty and desperation in the U.S. capital, particularly among African Americans, and this problem was a frequent subject of his writing in the 1990s and early 2000s. Jones himself was homeless for a period in the 1970s, and he struggled with depression. He did well at school and earned a scholarship to Holy Cross College, and he took care of his mother when she became ill and died in 1975.
Jones went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Virginia, where he studied with authors James McPherson, John Casey, and Peter Taylor. He held a variety of jobs, including summarizing business articles, working as an assistant at Science Magazine, and teaching writing at universities, including Princeton and Georgetown. For most of his life, he has resided in or near Washington, D.C., and for twenty years preceding the publication of The Known World (2003), he lived in the same flat in Arlington, Virginia.
Jones’s first book, a collection of short stories entitled Lost in the City, was published in 1992 to critical acclaim; it won the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and received a nomination for the National Book Award. The stories vividly portray African Americans coping with confusion and decay in poverty-stricken, inner-city Washington, D.C., during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Though they tend to portray bleak circumstances, the stories generate sympathy for their characters, many of whom are warm-hearted. Jones won a Lannan Foundation grant in 1994 and another in 2003, the same year he published The Known World. In 2004, Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Known World.
Jones has published short stories in journals, including the New Yorker and Ploughshares. He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005, and in 2006, he published a collection of short stories, entitled All Aunt Hagar’s Children, which focuses on characters living in Washington, D.C., many of them from the rural South. As of 2006, he continued to live and write in the Washington, D.C., area.