To Wit: Flash Interviews–Jenny Spinner

Jenny Spinner is professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where she teaches creative nonfiction and journalism and serves as director of the writing center. A senior editor of Assay, she has written essays and essay criticism for Fourth GenreBrevityEssay Daily, Writing on the EdgePedagogyAssay, and NPR’s All Things Considered, among others. She is the author of Of Women and the Essay: An Anthology from 1655 to 2000 (2018) and coauthor, along with her twin sister Jackie Spinner, of Tell Them I Didn’t Cry (2006). 

1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?

Once upon a time, I wanted to be Anna Quindlen. Now, this question is more difficult for me to answer. I’m in the midst of interrogating myself as a white, female essayist, and my own acts of writing and reading essays as a white female essayist. That leads to me wonder how the very idea of wanting to be a certain writer is shaped by how much of ourselves we see in them. And what we see when we see. So, for now, I’ll say that when I grow up, I want to be the sentences that stop me short in essays.

2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

Anything I’ve ever written, in the five minutes after I wrote it.

3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?

I don’t generally have the time to build trust, and outside readers, into my process until I’ve sent drafts off to editors. But, my twin sister is my go-to for any personal writing that has the potential to get me into trouble.

4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Sam Pickering once told me to always end an essay with a detail, a scene, something the reader could look at or hear or taste. He said it would help me resist the temptation to end essays with mind words, platitudes, lessons.  He also advised me never to use the word “very” in my writing. I found this advice to be very valuable and have worked very hard to follow it ever since. 

5. What’s your go to recommendation to read when somebody says “I’m not sure about this whole nonfiction thing?” Why? What do you hope it shows them? What about it excites you?

What excites me about nonfiction is women essayists, period, those who are here— Sinéad Gleeson—and gone—Judith Ortiz Cofer. I dare you to read an essay by Samantha Irby and not laugh aloud. Or an essay by Morgan Jerkins or Roxane Gay or Cathy Park Hong and not rethink the world (or confirm it). Or Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self and not review your relationship with your body. Or Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm and not have a spiritual awakening, or a crisis. You tell me the moment you are in, and I will give you a book of essays by a woman for it. 

Keep Reading

Jenny Spinner, “​The Best American Essays Series as (Partial) Essay History” Assay 3.1

Jenny Spinner, “’What’s on Your Syllabus?’ Decolonizing the Classical Essay Curriculum”

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