New feature in The Atlantic’s Inheritance Project

My essay, “The Louisiana Chemical Plants Thriving Off of Slavery,” looks at the links between the plantation economy and the petrochemical industry in south Louisiana, arguing that “it’s not by chance that 158 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, rural Black communities bear the environmental consequences of Louisiana’s biggest industry.” I’m delighted that it’s included in The Atlantic’s Inheritance Series, a project about Black life, American History, and the Resilience of Memory. I encourage you to read the whole series.

Politics in Louisiana often revolves around industry. “St. James Parish, on its face, is hunky-dory: fifty-fifty Black and white,” Anne Rolfes, the founder and director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit that partners with fence-line communities to advocate for environmental rights, said during the aforementioned bike tour. “However, the African American population is mostly at one end of the parish, in the Fourth and Fifth Districts. And where do you think the land-use plans put all the petrochemical plants?” Lavigne lives in the Fifth District, where nine plants are in operation, two are under construction, and four more, including Formosa’s megaplex—which itself includes 14 unique facilities—are proposed. This concentration of industry is enabled by zoning laws. Typically, land-use plans separate residential areas from industrial ones, but in 2014, the St. James Parish council voted to change river-adjacent sections of the Fourth and Fifth districts from “residential” to “residential/future industrial.” “The council will fight to keep the petrochemical plants out of the white districts, but they roll out the red carpet … when it comes to the Fourth and Fifth” Districts, Rolfes said. “It’s worse than redlining. It’s shocking, really. The council has a written plan to wipe out Black communities.”


A bit of good news!

I’m over the moon that my essay “Upon Impact” won the Twelfth Annual Robert and Adele Schiff Award for nonfiction from the Cincinnati Review. The full essay will appear in their Spring Issue, but here’s what I told them about my writing process.

When I decided to write about my friend Catherine, I made a rule for myself: I would only write what felt honest. For creative nonfiction, honesty might be a given, but discovering my own emotional truth and then replicating it in language was hard work. In the wake of Catherine’s death, a suicide, my emotions ricocheted. I was furious one minute, bereaved the next, and profoundly grateful in the moments when I was able to consider the entirety of our decades-long friendship. When she died, I was six months pregnant with my first child. That juxtaposition—creating a child while losing a childhood friend—created an intense emotional whiplash. I wanted the form of my essay to recreate those collisions. A year earlier I’d drafted a much shorter essay about a car crash Catherine and I survived as teenagers, and revisiting it, I realized that Catherine died nineteen years, to the day, after that crash. The symbolism was uncanny. Rather than structuring my thoughts along a neat narrative arc, I decided to use jumpy transitions and zigzag through time in a way that would, hopefully, disorient and even jostle the reader. Though I’ve found some resolution in the years since, I hope my essay reflects the upheaval of that period.

In other good news, A Studio in the Woods awarded me an Inaugural Writers Residency in their beautiful new Writers Cabin. I’ll be going there for a week in February. I’m honored because the award was given in thanks for my “contributions and dedication to the New Orleans literary community.”

The Solitary Garden



I’m delighted to have “The Solitary Garden,” a profile of prison abolitionist and artist jackie sumell, featured in the Autumn Issue of Orion Magazine.

For more than twelve years, Jesse Wilson has eaten, slept, read, showered, dreamed, and shat in a seven-by-twelve-foot room. His sink sits on top of his toilet. His bed is a concrete slab. His four-inch-wide window is angled so that a slice of sky is all he sees of the world outside. For every twenty-three hours inside this room, he may, or may not, get an hour away— time alone in a workout room so drab inmates nicknamed it “the empty swimming pool.” “Day and night bleed into one long sigh,” he writes in a letter from his cell in ADX Florence, a supermax prison designed to house our nation’s most dangerous prisoners. The complex is located in Colorado, though for Jesse’s purposes it might as well be on the dark side of the moon. “This place is one of extreme soul-crushing blankness. Nothing is alive that’s normal.   No grass, no weeds, no trees. Just concrete and red brick walls.”

Between Worlds

I’m thrilled that my essay “Between Worlds,about members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe who live (or used to live) on Isle de Jean Charles in coastal Louisiana, is up at Orion Magazine alongside Michel Varisco’s extraordinary photos. We were both profoundly moved by the people we met for this project and by the beauty of their vanishing homeland.


“For Hurricane Audrey, I was young,” says Boyo, recalling the largest and deadliest June hurricane in US history, in 1957. “[Audrey] was the first time they had water on top of the land over here; maybe a foot and a half, two foot at the most.” Since then, hurricanes have routinely flooded the island, and for a while residents rode out storms in wash buckets and wooden canoes, called pirogues, that they tied to their houses. When the water rose, the islanders floated. Long-gone forests protected them from the winds.

Since 1998, Terrebonne Parish, which includes Isle de Jean Charles, has suffered a presidentially declared natural disaster every two or three years. Climate change has made hurricanes more dangerous, slower moving with heavier rains and higher winds. Waves wash waist high, breaking gas and power lines and gobbling chunks of the road. Storm surges, no longer softened by barrier islands, run boats aground and sweep furniture into yards. The only safe option is to evacuate, though not everyone does.

“Every time there’s a flood, we lose everything,” says Damian Naquin, a nineteen-year-old tribe member from nearby Pointeaux-Chenes. “We don’t have any valuables. We know, if we get something, the next storm that comes through, it’s going to ruin it. It’s going to carry it away.”

After each big storm, tired of the constant rebuilding and the worry, a few more families go. The homes that remain are perched fourteen feet up on stilts, above the floodlines, but even their time is limited. Scientists predict that by 2050, the island will be gone.

Feeling Froggy


I love the cover of the newest issue of Ecotone. My essay, Metamorph, which appears insidechronicles the life and times of the African clawed frog, from the one my father purchased for his aquarium, to the species’ part in the development of modern pregnancy tests, to my sister’s research on the frog’s role in the global chitryd pandemic. You can read a bit of it here, though you’ll have to buy the journal for access to the whole essay.


Twinless in Twinsburg



Last August I went to the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. My twin sister Maya opted not to come. I wrote an essay about being an identical twin and the surreal Double Take parade with the theme “Twinfinity and Beyond.”

I’m not sure what to expect or even why I’ve decided to come. The website tells me the three-day fete is patriotic and sweet, a massive show-and-tell where the attendees are also the main attraction. Last year, 2,053 sets of twins, triplets, and quads journeyed here from as far away as South Korea and Australia. The revelry includes competitive cornhole, look-alike and un-lookalike contests, talent shows, and a research plaza where scientists collect data from volunteers. My surface excuse for flying out is that I’m a writer, trying my hand at journalism, but even a rookie like me knows the event is far too personal for objectivity. I’ve known about the fest for as long as I can remember, and for most of those years I wouldn’t even consider attending. Lying on stacked bunks in our childhood bedroom well before our age reached double digits, my sister and I put Twins Days somewhere on the continuum between obnoxious and offensive, a gathering of voyeurs looking to celebrate sameness, the facet of our identity that frustrated us most. The best parts of twinhood we knew to be exclusive, shaped by our two unique personalities, shareable only with each other. For us, the festival held no appeal.

More recently, though, I’ve been writing fiction about twins — first short stories, then a novel — and I’ve begun to wonder about experiences far different from my own: why some twins dress alike into adulthood, why some choose to live together while others insist on living far apart. In his article “Same But Different,” the science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee observes: “It is easy to think of twins as comedies of nature. The rhyming names, the matching sailor suits, the tomfoolery of mistaken identities, the two-places-at-the-same-time movie plot — genetics for gags. But twins often experience parts of their lives as tragedies of nature.”

You can read the whole essay at Longreads.

And here are some photos I took at the festival:

Write NOWW!

We’ve launched our website for the New Orleans Writers Workshop (NOWW) and registration is open for spring classes, which start after Mardi Gras. I’ll be teaching a 9-week personal essays class that begins on March 14. We’ll also be offering poetry (with Cassie Pruyn), fiction classes (with Tom Andes, Allison Alsup, and David Armaund), and reading like a writer with Brooke Ethridge. Join us!



Here’s a little bit about us.

The New Orleans Writers Workshop offers a full schedule of multi-level, nine-week creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as other craft-based classes. We also host weekend practicums on topics such as scene writing, book reviewing, compassion, publishing and more.

Why should you be interested? Because all of our courses have the same goals: to strengthen your writing through supportive feedback and connect you with other writers. Former students have gone on to publish work in nationally ranked magazines and to attend top-notch MFA programs with full funding.

Our affordable classes take place in multiple locations: Uptown, Downtown, Mid-City, and on the North Shore. See our Workshops page for the most up-to-date schedule.

If you’re seeking one-on-one consultations, we offer manuscript critiques and editorial services.

Finally, our partnership with the Dogfish reading series enables you to meet local and traveling writers and share your work.

New Orleans Writing Workshop

Dear Writers

We’re thrilled to share our good news: After several wonderful years of collaborating with Loyola University, we’re striking out on our own to create a new organization, the New Orleans Writers Workshop.

Beginning this March, we’ll offer a full schedule of multi-level, nine-week creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. In addition, we’ll host weekend practicums on book reviewing, music writing, compassion, publishing and more.

We’ll continue to offer affordable, community-based classes at all levels. To accommodate the different schedules and needs of our students, workshops will take place in multiple locations: Uptown, Downtown, and Mid-city.

We also plan to introduce new programming, including manuscript consultations and editorial services, as well as a book club and the occasional gathering. Our close partnership with the Dogfish Reading Series will continue, and it’s our hope to organize a reading for our students twice a year.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to reach out. After all, you—the students—make these classes what they are. Your enthusiasm and dedication to writing is what spurred us to start the New Orleans Writers Workshop.

Check out our website and our spring course schedule.

We’re looking forward to writing with you.

Jessica Kinnison

Allison Alsup

Tom Andes

Anya Groner

Support young writers!


Each spring, more than 150 young New Orleans writers in grades 9 – 12 gather on a Saturday to meet authors, take workshops, and celebrate the writing life. For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at LitFest, and the conference means so much to the students who attend. Seriously, they wait all year for LitFest, and they wear their LitFest T-shirts proudly for years afterwards.

2017 marks the 10th annual LitFest, a day-long event with screenwriting, poetry, fiction, comic art, creative non-fiction and story game workshops, spoken word performances, a youth open mic, and a guest keynote writer (TBA). Previous keynote speakers include Ricky Laurentis, Richard Siken, Deb Olin Unferth, and Lorrie Moore.


Though LitFest is a favorite event for young writers, funds are drying up! Please help me raise money to keep LitFest going for an additional ten years.

“LitFest is a great way to explore — with other quirky, imaginative students — different types of writing, like screenwriting and food writing. The minute I stepped out of LitFest last year, I wanted to sign up again!” said high school junior Ryanne Autin.

Another high school student, Clara Souvignier reflected, “There’s never a dull moment at LitFest, and what I gain from all of the lessons and workshops is really priceless. The community that comes together at LitFest is so unique, and you know when you get there that you’ll be making friends.”

The participating artists — including fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, a screenwriter, a documentary filmmaker, a dancer, and a spoken word artist — take the students seriously as writers and people. They treat the students like the aspiring professional artists that they are.

Coordinated by Lusher faculty member Brad Richard and NOCCA faculty member Lara Naughton, LitFest is a fairly inexpensive event to put on. The money we fundraise will be used to pay guest artists and workshop leaders. If we raise enough money before January 1,  we’ll be able to provide lunches for students and offer an additional afternoon workshop. Any additional funds we raise will be used to support future LitFests.

Thank you for supporting New Orleans’ promising young writers!! They are so talented and eager to learn.

Please spread this to friends, book groups, relatives, libraries, and anyone else who cares about teens and writing!

Writing the Personal Essay–9 week course

I’ll be teaching a 9-week course through the Loyola Writing Institute. The course is open to the public and limited to 12 students. The class will meet for two hours every Thursday, beginning on Sept 22, 2016. Feel free to email me with questions.  You can register for the course here.

Writing the Personal Essay: In this course, students of all levels will draw on a combination of research and life experience to produce polished essays on subjects of their choosing. Students will read essays by award-winning authors such as Eula Biss, Joan Didion, Susan Orlean, Leslie Jamison, Kiese Laymon, and John Jeremiah Sullivan and, through class discussion, consider aspects of craft, structure, and content. Short, generative exercises will provide opportunities to practice specific writing techniques including dialogue, pacing, reflection, and characterization. During the last several weeks of class, students will workshop their own personal essays. The course will conclude with a discussion of revision, publishing, and developing a personal practice of writing.