By Jacob Condo, Contributing Writer
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, American novelist and essayist Leslie Jamison read her most recent work to a gathering of literature enthusiasts at the University Club.
The small space was filled to the brim as everyone settled down with their free pizza and beverages, and listened to what had to be one of the greatest things I’d ever heard.
Ms. Jamison told us a story about life; about her mother and her accomplishments in political activism, and how she worried she couldn’t live up to her legend.
As she spoke about her own insecure attempts to help shape the world for the better, she walked us through her own realizations.
She told us about how she walked in the Women’s March, and like so many others, got lost in the crowd.
They hadn’t known it at the time, but it had become the largest protest in the history of the country, at the very least.
They wandered through D.C., in an endless crowd, heard the speeches, shouted the chants, and were just simply there.
The point hadn’t been to be shining pinnacles of justice and patriotism like Martin Luther King Jr., or other movers and shakers.
The real fight is on the ground, taking the train and walking until your feet feel like they’re made of hot lead and you just wanna go home, but you don’t because this is important.
Jamison went on to tell us that she learned that her mother, who was her hero, felt the same insecurities she had.
Her mother who was this rock of confidence questioned herself just as she had.
Even these big figures were just people, who just felt the need to get out there and let their voices be known. “It can feel overwhelming,” Jamison told me after the event, “to do something.”
The point of the essay was that you should try anyway, because even if you’re just one in a million, that million is marching and fighting for change.
Jamison read this essay in a way I never thought words could be narrated.
Instead of witty inflections and conveying a sense that she was wizened and bestowing knowledge upon us mere mortals, or trying to make herself sound profound, she sounded like a real human being.
She was vulnerable, confident, and yet tentative.
The words she spoke needed to be said, and she was determined to say them in a way that was nothing more and nothing less than profoundly human. So much so that her words stuck with me for hours afterwards.
And that was just one event.
The Living Literature Series brings in professional creative writers once per semester to give readings and answer questions.
A lot of students here are aspiring creative writers, and so faculty like Assistant Professor Lucas Mann (who himself is an accomplished writer) reached out to Leslie Jamison.
Calling in people who are actively in the student’s desired field gives them a goal to actively reach for, or an idea of what they do and don’t want to do when they eventually leave school.
They get advice not only on how to get out into the working world, but on tackling problems they might have.
I got a chance to interview Professor Mann, and asked him what the future held for this series.
“What I want to see in the future,” he said, “are non-creative writing students, and even non-English majors. These are great writers visiting our campus, sharing work that deals with some of the most important issues of our times. These events should interest everyone, and I want to do a better job of reaching out across the campus in the future.”
To that effect, next fall Professor Mann hopes to bring in writer and illustrator Kristen Radtke.
I for one am just sad I’m graduating this spring, because having only had a brief look at her work, I’m sure she has much to teach any students who decide to attend her appearance.