I love people that bring a book with them everywhere they go, don’t you? Jessica Handler is one of those smart people. She also has a new memoir out that has received some wonderful reviews. Enjoy this interview.
This truly is one of the most exciting times for you with the publication of your first book, Invisible Sisters. Tell us a little bit about it.
Invisible Sisters is my memoir about growing up as the oldest of three sisters, and knowing that, as my youngest sister said to me, I would be “the only one left.” My sister Susie died of leukemia when she was eight, and I was ten. Our younger sister, Sarah was four when Susie died. Sarah was born with a blood disorder called Kostmann’s syndrome, so rare that it’s only found in about 1 in every 2 million people. She wasn’t expected to live through elementary school. She died at twenty-seven.
Our father was a Civil Rights attorney in Atlanta in the 1960s, and one of the things we confronted, each of us, was how do you live with saving others when you cannot save your own? Invisible Sisters is about learning to live after loss, and celebrates my sisters, my family, and me.
Your writing has received several awards. Does getting recognized in this way change the way you approach writing going forward?
It’s validating, definitely, although I don’t write with winning an award in mind. An award is kind of an “atta girl” for me, and keeps me returning to the desk when I’m in that wobbly draft stage of new work.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
I try to re-read James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men every year, because of the structure of the book, the intimate voice of 1930s Appalachia, the prototypical approach to narrative nonfiction, and the additional imagery of the photos. It’s just amazing, fresh writing, every time.
Lately I’m re-discovering John D’Agata in nonfiction. I will always read Joan Didion, E.L. Doctorow, Adrienne Rich. The list could be endless!
Book you’re currently reading?
There’s a huge stack on my nightstand, another stack in my studio, and always a book in my giant purse for reading on the subway or if I’m waiting in line somewhere. In my studio, Marc Wortman’s The Bonfire. In my purse, Sherman Alexie’s The Summer of Black Widows and on my nightstand, my friend Kevin Winchester’s Everybody’s Gotta Eat.
Where can we learn more about you?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for inviting me!