Leslie Jamison’s first novel, The Gin Closet, was a finalist for the 2010 Los Angeles Times First Fiction award, and was named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the best books of 2010. Her second book, a collection of essays called The Empathy Exams, will be published by Graywolf Press in early 2014.
Amoskeag Journal: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue; in what way does your work deal with “identity?” In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?
Leslie Jamison: My story is about a woman who finds herself defined by a tragic situation–the illness of her son–and pushes back against that passive state by defining herself in a new way: the transgression of infidelity. Committing adultery allows her to reclaim a kind of agency, as opposed to simply being constituted by suffering. In this sense, both her pain and her transgression are part of her “identity”–and, in an important sense, the latter is attempt to resist the ways in which pain can threaten to colonize identity entirely.
Amoskeag Journal: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”
Leslie Jamison: “It was hard to believe that her body in this truck, under this man’s hands, was the same body that had made Simon–the nipples he’d fed from, the tissue he’d broken with his newborn body.”
This sentence gives a sense of how–in this moment of transgression—a woman is defined as a sexual object and a mother at once; how uncomfortably these two parts of her identity co-exist.
Amoskeag Journal: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?
Leslie Jamison: When I think about myself as a writer, I think of all the places I’ve written–the small cold kitchens of Iowa City, my sun-struck bedroom in Los Angeles, a mouse-ridden attic or two in New Haven–and the jobs I’ve worked to make that writing possible: not just teacher but baker, innkeeper, tutor, barista. I’ve loved writing since I was little, so it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t define myself as a writer, but the definition is an ongoing process–in some sense, I am always simply what I’ve written that day.
Amoskeag Journal: What lies ahead for you?
Leslie Jamison: I wish I knew! Actually, I’m happy not knowing. Most of the time (except when I’m a neurotic mess about uncertainty) I feel glad that the horizon is a mystery.
To view an excerpt from Leslie’s short story “All The Goats Are Born In The Hills,” click here.