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What An American Marriage Author Tayari Jones Can’t Live Without

Photo: Nina Subin

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked Tayari Jones, author of the New York Times best-selling novel An American Marriage, about the notebook, body oil, and braiser she can’t live without.

I have this in several colors. It’s a very sleek clutch bag that charges your phone. I charge it at night and I just put it in my tote bag or backpack or, if I’m going to something a little fancier, I use it as a purse. It’s so undignified having to charge your phone in a wall in public. More than once, this purse has saved my dignity. It’s the best thing.

I believe I can cook an entire Thanksgiving in this one dish. It’s good for everything. You can cook in it, you can bake in it. You can do everything from scramble an egg in it to cook paella. It’s easy to clean and naturally nonstick. I use it every day. The people from Food and Wine magazine wanted to cook with me in my home and they had ordered a special pan to cook in, but it didn’t arrive and and they were like “how are we going to make the pineapple cornmeal upside-down cake?” And I said “we can use my Le Creuset braiser.” They were skeptical but it came out like a dream.


I write on typewriters and I also write in pencil. I use a wooden pencil and I like it very, very sharp and crisp. I like to hear it scratch the paper. With this pencil sharpener, every time you get a perfect point. I use pencils because I like to erase and it also helps me get in touch with the very young person I was when I started writing. When I was a kid, children wrote in pencil and adults wrote in pen. When I write, it’s very important that I’m able to access the pleasure and joy of it.


Don’t sleep on the laundry soap. It may only cost $2 but it will change your travel life. I spend my whole life on planes these days, and sometimes you need to wash clothing when you’re in a hotel. You don’t want to travel with liquid because it spills and that’s a catastrophe. I always have this little bar in the bottom of my suitcase and I wash my clothes with it. I cannot endorse this enough. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t use it

Another one because I’m on planes so much and it makes my skin so dry. I put this body oil on after the shower and it makes my skin so moisturized and soft, but not greasy. I don’t know how you can put oil on your skin and not come away greasy, but this works. It has a very herbaceous scent but it’s very mild. I’m from the South and to have someone describe your skin as ashy is the worst insult ever. With this, you will never be ashy again. It was given to me by my mentor at the Radcliffe Institute — that’s what real mentorship is about.

I am fragrance-sensitive. It’s a problem, and it happened suddenly. About ten years ago I discovered I couldn’t wear any of my favorite perfumes anymore. I was told about this parfumerie where most of their perfumes have only one or two notes so that you can find something you can wear. I found this lovely perfume with two notes: vanilla and tobacco. I love it, I can wear it, it’s not that expensive, and they give you an atomizer for travel. I’m an evangelizer for this stuff.

I have this right above my desk. It’s made by a woman artist in her home, so the very existence of it is inspiring. I have all the awards I’ve won for my writing behind me when I write, because I don’t need to look at those. The pennant, “let the work speak,” is the opposite of getting caught up in likes and retweets and outside awards. Being an artist is about the work — from your hard work, comes the work.

Baron Fig is my favorite notebook company. The notebooks come in so many pretty colors and in dot grid, which I like better than lines. I feel like lines are too controlling and the blank page doesn’t give me enough structure, so [dot grid] feels like that nice in-between space. Also, I draw in my notebooks as well as write, and the grid helps me keep everything properly proportional. The notebooks are handsewn, not stapled. Even though everything feels artisanal, they’re not so expensive that you’re afraid to use them or get them dirty.

I first discovered this brand of stationery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Us Southerners, we really like our note paper. I write letters a lot, about five or six letters a week. I like the letter itself to feel like a gift so I love beautiful paper. I wouldn’t describe this stationery so much as formal as beautiful — it can be beautiful and accessible. That’s kind of what I go for in all of my favorite things. I want it to be pleasurable but also functional. I have, in the past, bought stationery that was extremely formal and I always thought, “when will I have an occasion to send this note?” and I would never send it. But with this brand, I use it every day. I always get them personalized but only now that I’ve moved back to Atlanta, my hometown, and bought a house, for the first time I’ve had the envelopes inscribed with my address because I feel like I’m staying put for once.

I love my classic iPod. You can get them all the time really cheap in pawn shops. I like the classic iPod because it only does one thing. I don’t want any emails popping in when I’m listening to music; I don’t want to play Words With Friends and listen to music; I like it to do one thing. You can get your whole collection on there since you’re not competing for space with apps. I have several because whenever I see one at a pawn shop I buy it. I have one only for audiobooks, several for music, so if the apocalypse or anything happens, I’ll still have all my music. I listen to a lot of gospel which is surprising because I was not reared in a religious home, but I love it. There’s something so joyous about it. In these perilous times, I’m always in search of more joy.

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What Author Tayari Jones Can’t Live Without