Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Leslie Jamison: 3 memoir accounts of poverty

Leslie Jamison grew up in Los Angeles. Educated at Harvard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has also worked as an innkeeper in California, a schoolteacher in Nicaragua, and an office temp in Manhattan. She is currently a PhD candidate at Yale University, where she is writing a dissertation on poverty and degradation in twentieth-century American writing.

The Gin Closet, her debut novel, was released by Free Press in February.

For NPR, she named "three memoirs whose accounts of poverty do justice to both the integrity of their subjects and the extremity of their suffering."

One of the memoirs:
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee

James Agee began working on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1936, while on an assignment (ironically enough) from Fortune magazine, which had commissioned a piece about the lives of sharecropper families in Alabama. Ditching the terms of his article, Agee wrote this 400-page prose poem on the farmer's grueling workdays instead. Framed by the haunting photography of Walker Evans, the book presents these families' dilapidated shacks and empty dinner tables in haunting lyric meditations, all the while struggling with the futility of its own project — the impossibility of understanding the lives of others at all.
Read about another book on Jamison's list.

The Page 69 Test: The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison.

--Marshal Zeringue