Author Leslie Jamison to read at Prairie Lights


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Some say Leslie Jamison started writing before she was literate.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Jamison often told stories to her two older brothers, who would in turn transcribe her imaginative tales. This enthusiasm for storytelling prior to learning how to write was the first indication of her desire to pursue a career in writing.

“I’ve always wanted to figure out how other people work — what makes them feel afraid, what makes them yearn, what brings them close,” Jamison said.

The 26-year-old author will read selections from her first novel, The Gin Closet, at 7 p.m. today in Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Amber Qureshi, the senior editor at Free Press publishing, found Jamison’s passion for character development rang clear in drafts and detailed discussion about how the book should turn out.

“I’ve never read a writer who allows her characters as much uncanny, unwavering, open-hearted, and effusive dignity as does Leslie,” Qureshi said.

Jamison’s curiosity about the human condition, including that of her family, put into motion the creation of The Gin Closet. The story focuses on the life of a woman named Tilly Rudolph, who abandons her middle-class upbringing to slip into a dangerous world of prostitution and addiction.

When her young niece shows up, a close bond forms between the two as they attempt to build a new life together.

After writing and working in New York at the age of 23, Jamison moved back to Los Angeles to care for her ailing grandmother. After her death, Jamison only wanted to write about the “gravity and fear of living with a dying woman [she] loved,” culminating in the desertion of her novel-in-progress about a museum.

“I have an aunt, like Tilly, who has been estranged from the family for many years,” Jamison said. “I wanted to explore what that kind of rupture can do to a family, and to probe my own sense of loss at my aunt’s absence.”

Her natural writing style includes spending long spans of time in deep immersion, which aided her in finishing The Gin Closet in roughly three and a half years. To her, this felt like a sprint of sorts, yet she still felt fortunate to have extended periods where she did little besides write.

Lately, she said, she is lucky to find that kind of time to devote to intense writing.

During her time in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, her writing style shifted from a “Romantic mode” to one of more stability. Because of this, she now makes herself write whether she “feels like it” or not, because she believes time is too precious not to write.

“I’ve learned to feel energized by the bad writing as well as the good, to see terrible sentences as offerings at the altar of discipline rather than simply failures,” Jamison said.

Some writing communities may take the art of autobiographical fiction to be “tedious” or “aesthetically unambitious.” However, regardless of these “unspoken tests” The Gin Closet may be subjected to as a début novel, Jamison knows this was the novel she needed to write.

“Intimacy hurts, but it’s all we’ve got,” she said.

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