February 2, 2012

Publicity Contact: Erin Kottke / 651-641-0077

Cover of Sweet and Sour Milk

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Judge Robert Polito calls The Empathy Exams
"nonfiction of the most stylish and audacious sort"


February 2, 2012--The Empathy Exams: Essays on Pain by Leslie Jamison has been chosen as the newest winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. Jamison will receive a $12,000 advance, and Graywolf will publish the collection of essays in Fall 2013.


The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is designed to honor and encourage the art of literary nonfiction, and is given to an outstanding manuscript by an emerging author who has published no more than two previous books of nonfiction. Last year's winner, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness by Kevin Young, will be released on March 13, 2012.


"Leslie Jamison is a bright young writer whose writing embodies every element of the qualities we were searching for when selecting a prize winner," said Graywolf Press publisher and director Fiona McCrae. "These essays have content and style; reading them, you get the feeling that Jamison is a writer on a literary adventure."


The Empathy Exams explores subjects as diverse as slum tourism, parasites, medical acting, sentimentality, ultra-running, and drug wars through the lens of pain. These essays swirl around the physicality of the body and churn through cultural expectations to find a way to represent pain--and the accompanying impulse of empathy--without distorting them through narrative expression.


Robert Polito, well-regarded author and Director of the Graduate Writing Program at the New School in New York, served as the outside judge for the contest.


"The Empathy Exams is a book of surprises, and those surprises are so smart, so elegantly arranged, and so various that you almost forget, for instance, that Leslie Jamison's subject is pain, the root human subject that (of course) you almost can never forget; and her mind is so quicksilver alert, her materials so volatile, that you might also miss her poise, stamina, and authority," said Polito. "Operating at the edges of articulation, and whether essays or memoir, a sly circuit through self or otherness, an anatomy of imagination or devastations, this is nonfiction of the most stylish and audacious sort."


Leslie Jamison, 26, was thrilled with the news. "These essays are the product of years of thinking and writing and rethinking and rewriting, and I'm honored to be working with Graywolf to bring them into a fully-realized collection," she said. "I still remember where I was walking when I heard the news--in a public green, beside a dirty fountain--and the feeling I had in that moment: that the world felt full of possibility and enchantment. I'd just been given the chance, by this wonderful press, to become part of an extraordinary community of writers and readers."


Previous winners of the prize include The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness by Kevin Young; Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays by Eula Biss, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI's Secret from Postwar Japan by Terese Svoboda; Neck Deep and Other Predicaments by Ander Monson; and Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles by Kate Braverman. Graywolf's editors and Polito will consider submissions for the next Nonfiction Prize in August 2012.


About Leslie Jamison

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. Her first novel, The Gin Closet, was published in 2010. More information is available at

About Robert Polito

Robert Polito is a poet, biographer, and critic. His most recent books are the poetry collection Hollywood & God, and The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. Other books include Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography; Doubles; and A Reader's Guide to James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover. The recipient of Ingram Merrill and Guggenheim fellowships, Robert Polito is the Director of the Graduate Writing Program at the New School in New York.


About Graywolf Press

Graywolf Press is an independent, not-for-profit publisher dedicated to the creation and promotion of thoughtful and imaginative contemporary literature essential to a vital and diverse culture. Graywolf has published significant books of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and translations for over thirty-five years, and has become one of the leading literary publishers in the country. For more information, please visit our web site:


The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is funded in part by endowed gifts from the Arsham Ohanessian Charitable Remainder Unitrust and the Ruth Easton Fund of the Edelstein Family Foundation.


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