Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize
“Jamison writes with sober precision and unusual vulnerability, with a tendency to circle back and reexamine, to deconstruct and anticipate the limits of her own perspective, and a willingness to make her own medical and psychological history the objects of her examinations. Her insights are often piercing and poetic.”
—The New Yorker
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others’—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.
Leslie Jamison is the author of a novel, The Gin Closet, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Her essays have appeared in Believer, Harper’s Magazine, Oxford American, and Tin House. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
The Empathy Exams has been adopted for First-Year Experience programs at:
Kalamazoo College (MI); Whitman College (WA)