Taking a Look at ‘The Recovering’

The author
Photos courtesy of Leslie Jamison

By SARAH SHMERLING | Managing Editor

Leslie Jamison, born in Washington, D.C., and raised in the Upper Alphabets, has bared her soul through her books.

“Personal narrative is difficult for a number of reasons,” Jamison told the Palisadian-Post. “You are sharing some part of your life with the world, and it’s often emotionally loaded and charged.

“I believe in writing with specificity and granularity, and I very much believe in writing about difficult feelings, so that means I am often recounting incidents that are fraught and hard: fights, drinking in secret, infidelity, times I disappointed myself and others.”

Since the Palisades, she’s lived in Iowa, Nicaragua, New Haven and Brooklyn. She’s worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor and a medical actor.

Jamison attended Harvard College, where she majored in English. She then attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, earning an MFA in fiction, and Yale, where she earned a Ph.D. in English literature.

Jamison’s first works, novel “The Gin Closet” and essay collection “The Empathy Exams,” were joined in April by her latest book, “The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath,” which blends memoir, cultural history, literary criticism and reportage.

Jamison’s latest work

The book covers literary and artistic icons that have a common theme: their lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence. John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday and David Foster Wallace are among them.

In the book, she shared that the first time she drank in secret, she was 15. In her early 20s, she began to drink everyday.

“The Recovering” takes a closer look at the story of recovery, which “can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself,” Jamison’s website reported.

Jamison is wrapping up a book tour, which she described as “amazing.” She brought along her mother and her young daughter.

“During April, my mother and daughter and I traveled all over the country,” she explained. “Eighteen cities, three generations and 10 spare pacifiers. It was exhausting and probably a little bit crazy, but it was also incredible.”

During one leg of the tour, Jamison introduced her daughter to her 100-year-old great-grandfather. Her daughter also got to see her first cactus, her first palm tree and her first slot machine.

“I can now proudly say I’ve nursed in bookstore stock rooms and offices all over the nation,” Jamison shared.

With the success of “The Recovering,” Jamison, who teaches at the Columbia University MFA program, where she directs the nonfiction concentration and leads the Marian House Project, is not slowing down.

“My next book is a nonfiction collection called ‘Ghost Essays,’” she shared, “all about haunting and obsession, how we are defined by the things we can’t quite grasp.”

“Ghost Essays” will include essays about kids with past life memories, people obsessed by “the loneliest whale in the world” and those who live elaborate second lives online. Jamison will also focus on meditations on break-ups, anorexia, war tourism and documentary art.

“I find that being willing to narrate difficult experiences means that my readers will be given a story that helps them feel less alone in the difficult moments of their own lives,” Jamison shared. “I’ve certainly felt that as a reader; it’s part of what I try to give, as well.”