A young talent to watch

| September 30, 2013

Sweet Briar’s 2013-2014 Writers Series will continue with a reading by Leslie Jamison at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 7, in the Browsing Room at Mary Helen Cochran Library.

Jamison will read from and talk about “The Empathy Exams,” a 2012 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize winner. The essay collection, due for publication in 2014, is Jamison’s second book. The first, her novel “The Gin Closet,” was written when she was 26 and established her as an emerging young writer to watch. It was a finalist for the 2010 Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award and one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s best books of the year.

The essays in her second book “are about medical acting, ultra-runners, prison, an ultra-runner in prison, parasites, silver mines, gang tours, and — beyond and beneath all else — the possibilities, texture and limits of compassion,” according to Jamison’s biography.

Robert Polito, the director of the graduate writing program at the New School in New York, was an outside judge for Graywolf Press. He suggests her “stylish and audacious” writing can almost make you miss the wounds at its core.

“ ‘The Empathy Exams’ is a book of surprises, and those surprises are so smart, so elegantly arranged, and so various that you almost forget, for instance, that Leslie Jamison’s subject is pain,” he said.

Nell Boeschenstein, who is new this year to Sweet Briar’s creative writing program, is a fan of Jamison’s work and extended the invitation to participate in the Writers Series.

“Leslie’s writing is characterized by a profound curiosity of what it means to be human,” she says. “Her work is deeply intelligent without ever being pretentious, and deeply kind without ever veering towards sentimentality.”

Jamison, who has taught fiction and nonfiction at Yale University, Southern New Hampshire University, Wesleyan University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is looking forward to engaging with Sweet Briar students.

“I hope my writing can stir conversation but also — on some basic level — that it can stir feeling, and perhaps some thinking about how that feeling might be directed back out into the world,” Jamison says.

Raised in Los Angeles, Jamison attended Harvard College and received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is completing a doctorate in American literature at Yale. She also mentors through the PEN Prison Writing Program.

Her work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, A Public Space, The Believer, Oxford American, VICE, Tin House, The Paris Review Daily and elsewhere.

The reading is free and open to the public. For more information, email brown@sbc.edu or call (434) 381-6434.

Jennifer McManamay

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Category: Creative Writing, English