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Who Is Leslie Jamison?

Leslie Jamison has the makings of a terrific novelist--even though she went to Harvard, Iowa, and Yale.

Book Cover Leslie Jamison certainly has some weighty credentials—though I am in a quandary as to which element of her neophytic novelist capsule-bio/gestalt moved me to pick up her debut novel, The Gin Closet (Free Press). I am even considering the subliminal connection to my reading of Dan Okrent’s new tome The Last Call, which provides a history of Prohibition (and mentions a alcoholic beverage entitled Black Cock Vigor Gin—marketed to black Americans in the most venal manner, as if the appellation were not sufficiently degenerate). Or perhaps it was the cover—with negligee and bare thigh in a photo that might have been considered risqué in the States even up until the 1970s.

More likely, as Jamison went to Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and did a stint of education work in Nicaragua (one of my favorite Central American nations) and now is a doing Ph.D. work at Yale, and has been enthusiastically endorsed by writer and Iowa mentor Charles D’Ambrosio, my selecting her tome from various leaning towers of equally promising old-fashioned reading appliances was simply serendipitous.

Then I began to encounter more enticing tidbits, such as an interview in the Yale Daily News, which contained these gems:
Q. Harvard, Iowa and Yale … That’s quite the pedigree. What have you done when not studying at these sorts of places?

A. Between stints at prestige factories, I’ve worked a pretty wide variety of jobs. My first job was as a “juice barista” at Jamba Juice, where I specialized in being benignly degraded by my manager. I was a travel writer in college, as well as an assistant to an immigration lawyer. I’ve also worked as a temp, where I learned the soulless depths of the Citibank building located (unbelievably) at 666 Madison Ave. Temping was only tolerable because it was better than the job I had immediately before it: working as a personal assistant for a writer with limited capacities for empathy or journalistic integrity. She got paid unfathomable sums of money to write “political” pieces that were basically dressed-up New York gossip columns. Both of these jobs (temp and P.A.) showed up in my novel—divided neatly between its two major characters. I think that writing about jobs has felt like a way to redeem them, to search for meaning in what felt meaningless. Right now I’m taking a break from school and working as a baker and barista while I plug away at this new novel.

Q. What are you working on?

A. I’m working on a novel about the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. I’ve been thinking about it for a few years but only started writing it recently. I’ve made a “wall” covered in timelines and photographs—guys in ski-masks roaming the streets of Managua, dictators on horseback. Contra fighters in the jungle. It’s nice to make a wall, I’ve discovered. It keeps me company when I write late at night.
As for Jamison’s debut opus, you can read about it here.
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