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Leslie Jamison is the author of The Empathy Exams, winner of the 2013 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. Jamison and her book are currently gaining some much-deserved attention, and we’re fortunate to have had a dialogue with her regarding not only her new book, but also the crafts of cultivating empathy and writing nonfiction.

Weddings are holiness and booze, sweat under the dress, sweet icing in the mouth. A whaler’s church in the afternoon, sunlit and salted, gives way to the drunken splendor of a barn-ish-space—who knows the names or categories of these spaces, where we gather to celebrate other people’s marriages?—and an entire island is suddenly yours, yours and everyone’s, the whole fucking thing. You feel the lift of wine in you, you feel the lift of wine in everyone, and everyone is in agreement—not to believe in love, exactly, but to want to. This, you can do. You dance with a stranger and think, we have this in common, this wanting to believe. In what, again? In the possibility that two people could actually make each other happy, not just today but on a thousand days they can’t yet see.

I.

The first time I lived in Iowa City, I didn’t have any local numbers in my phone. I didn’t know anyone from Iowa City; I only knew people who had moved there. I knew people who had moved there from Los Angeles and San Francisco and North Carolina and Chicago; from Boston, like me, and Seattle, and Palo Alto—and New York, of course, ubiquitous New York, the 917’s peppered through my contact list between 415’s and 323’s and 310’s and 206’s and 617’s. I was a 617.