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Leslie Jamison ’15PhD:
brave heart

"The essayist is a stenographer of the wondrous," says Leslie Jamison ’15PhD: "a curator of the inappropriate and the surprising, a voice exclaiming protest and indignance, a voice coming from both sides of the confessional booth at once."

That's from the syllabus of "Reading and Writing the Modern Essay," an English 120 class that Jamison taught to Yale undergraduates. It might well describe Jamison's own book of essays, The Empathy Examsreleased April 1 to rave reviews.

"Extraordinary" and "a heart-expanding exercise," the New York Times's Dwight Garner says, adding: "I’ll read whatever she writes, as long as I’m around."

A PhD candidate in English literature, Jamison is writing her dissertation on addiction narratives—a topic she also imbibed in her 2010 novel, The Gin ClosetBut where gin brings numbness, The Empathy Exams "is a book without an anaesthetic, a work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain," Man Booker Prize–winning novelist Eleanor Catton says.

Years ago, a teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop adjured Jamison to “be brave,” she told the Yale Daily News in 2010. "It’s a simple mantra but I come back to it every single day."


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

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