Joy Jordan-Lake’s varied--and admittedly odd--professional experience has included working as a college professor, author, waitress, journalist, director of a program for homeless families, university chaplain, and--the job title that remains her personal favorite: head sailing instructor.
After earning a bachelors degree from Furman University and a masters from a theological seminary, Joy re-located to Boston, Massachusetts, area where she earned a masters and a Ph.D. in English Literature from Tufts University, and specialized in the role of race and religion in 19-century American fiction, especially in the cultural battle over slavery.
While in New England, she founded a food pantry targeting low-income and homeless families, served on the staff of a multi-ethnic church in Cambridge, worked as a free-lance journalist, and became a Baptist chaplain at Harvard. Her first book, Grit and Grace: Portraits of a Woman’s Life (Wheaton Literary Series) (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1997), was a collection of stories, poems and essays which The Chicago Tribune described this way: “Written with much heart and wit, this little gem of a book touches on the ordinary and profound experiences that make up a woman’s life . . . a poignant and satisfying collection . . . funny and sad, inspiring and awfully surprising.”
During this period, life for Joy and her husband, Todd Lake, was becoming increasingly chaotic with two careers, numerous re-locations for Todd’s work, two young biological children and the adoption of a baby girl from China. Joy’s nearly-manic need to ask everyone around her about how they managed--or not--to balance kids and career led to her third book, Working Families: Navigating the Demands and Delights of Marriage, Parenting, and Career (WaterBrook/ Random House, 2007). Publishers Weekly called the book, “refreshing for its social conscience,” and written with “sharp humor and snappy prose.”
In its review of Joy’s fourth book, Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Alarming Words of Faith (Paraclete Press, 2007), Publishers Weekly again praised the author: “A professor at Belmont University and a former Baptist chaplain at Harvard University , the author mines her personal history…to illumine and interpret ideas such as…hope. Sometimes wry, occasionally stern, Jordan-Lake, with a touch of Southern gothic sensibility…has a gift for welcoming, lucid and insightful prose….”
Joy’s first novel, Blue Hole Back Home: A Novel, won the 2009 national Christy Award for first novel, and was selected as the 2009 Common Book for Baylor University. Inspired by actual events from her own teenage years, explores the tensions and eventual violence that erupt in a small, all-white Appalachian town when a Sri Lankan family moves in. Ultimately, Blue Hole Back Home is a story not only of the devastating effects of racial hatred and cowardice, but more centrally, a celebration of courage, confrontation and healing. Blue Hole Back Home is increasingly being chosen as classroom and summer reading at various public and private high school, middle schools, colleges and universities.
Her second novel, begun twenty years ago--before any of her other books--when she was a young Ph.D. student in New England, finally launched in the fall of 2017. Having focused her doctoral research on the themes of race and religion in 19th-century American literature, Joy became fascinated by Charleston, South Carolina, its turbulent history, it beauty and charm, and the way the past bleeds into the present at every corner. A key component of her research all those years ago was Denmark Vesey, planner of an 1822 slave revolt, and the African Methodist Church where he was a leader--and where, in the summer of 2015, nearly two hundred years later, a brutal, racially charged shooting claimed the lives of innocent parishioners. Like E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, A Tangled Mercy interweaves historical and fictional characters in a tapestry that highlights the rich, beautiful, tragic and tumultuous atmosphere of two summers in Charleston... two hundred years apart. Joy's greatest hope for this book is that it honors the real lives of courage and strength behind its intertwined stories.
Joy's most recent book project is in a genre completely new to her, a children's picture book, targeted for adoptive families: A Very-Much Love. More details and preliminary illustrations will be gradually released, but, meanwhile, she is thrilled for the chance to work with a marvelous new editor and an award-winning illustrator from Spain. Honored to be raising a younger daughter who was born in China, Joy is ecstatic to get to be a part of a book that celebrates the extraordinary gift of adoption.
Having taught at universities in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee, Joy now focuses primarily on writing--though the occasional class or workshop lure her out of her writing cave. Residing just south of Nashville, she and her husband relish getting to share life with their three magnificent kids (the oldest of whom has now launched to grad school), as well as the family’s sweet, needy Golden Retriever.
With friends and fellow readers, Joy values the chances to think about stories--in great literature, in contemporary novels, in sacred texts, in creative writing workshops--and consider how stories challenge, disturb, inspire and change the way we see the world.