Lately, every time I go online I see another article by or about Leslie Jamison. Her essay collection, The Empathy Exams, which won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, was released this spring, and debuted at #11 on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s not often that a collection such as this garners so much attention, even when the author is more established than Jamison, which makes her accomplishments even more notable.
After hearing Jamison speak on a panel about literary reviewing and personal writing at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in February, I was struck by the way she exudes both humility and brilliance. It was clear to me before I even picked up her book that she is a whip-smart writer who isn’t afraid to get personal, a dreamy combination in my opinion, and I made sure to get a copy of The Empathy Exams before leaving the conference. The book does not disappoint. From the opening title essay, which details Jamison’s experiences working as a medical actor, all the way to the final piece in collection, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” each essay left me alternately startled, shocked, relieved, challenged, and any number of other things. My point: these essays moved me, each in its own way. Jamison writes with courage and heart, not to mention a skilled pen and sharp mind.
Some of the essays have been published on their own in various places, but I prefer the book. It is a carefully crafted manuscript, and while each piece works on its own, they add up to an immensely satisfying whole. Read it slowly, taking time between the essays. And when you’re done, Google Leslie Jamison and read her latest piece for the NYT, and enjoy interview after interview in which she continues to reflect on the world with characteristic intelligence and, dare I say, empathy.