Convinced that most readers had only a narrow idea of what Washington, D.C., was like, because they were familiar with it only through novels that dealt with downtown power and politics, Jones wanted to create a collection of stories that focused on ordinary people in various African American D.C. neighborhoods, as James Joyce’s Dubliners had focused on denizens of the Irish capital. Lost in the City, published in 1992, was short-listed for the National Book Award and won the PEN/Hemingway Award.
Jones has said that after publishing Lost in the City, he spent the next ten years thinking about a story of black ex-slaves who became slaveholders themselves. The result was The Known World, his first novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and the Lannan Literary Award. The following year, Jones was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius award.” All Aunt Hagar’s Children, a second collection of short stories, several of which featured characters introduced in Lost in the City, was published in 2006 and was short-listed for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Widely praised by reviewers and critics, Jones represents a new wave of African American writers who write about individuals rather than about race and about the personal rather than the political.