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.”

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

Airplane Reading!



I’m in high-flying company in this beautiful new anthology of airplane related essays, edited by Christopher Schaberg and Mark Yakich. The line up is terrific. Here’s the full author list:

Lisa Kay Adam * Sarah Allison * Jane Armstrong * Thomas Beller * Ian Bogost * Alicia Catt * Laura Cayouette * Kim Chinquee * Lucy Corin * Douglas R. Dechow * Nicoletta-Laura Dobrescu * Tony D’Souza * Jeani Elbaum * Pia Z. Ehrhardt * Roxane Gay * Thomas Gibbs * Aaron Gilbreath * Anne Gisleson * Anya Groner * Julian Hanna * Rebecca Renee Hess * Susan Hodara * Pam Houston * Harold Jaffe * Chelsey Johnson * Nina Katchadourian * Alethea Kehas * Greg Keeler * Alison Kinney * Anna Leahy * Allyson Goldin Loomis * Jason Harrington * Kevin Haworth * Randy Malamud * Dustin Michael * Ander Monson * Timothy Morton * Peter Olson * Christiana Z. Peppard * Amanda Pleva * Arthur Plotnik * Neal Pollack * Connie Porter * Stephen Rea * Hugo Reinert * Jack Saux * Roger Sedarat * Nicole Sheets * Stewart Sinclair * Hal Sirowitz * Jess Stoner * Anca L. Szilágyi * Priscila Uppal * Matthew Vollmer * Joanna Walsh * Tarn Wilson

Books are available for purchase here!


Spring News!

I’m thrilled to have poem in the new issue of one of my favorite journals, Ecotone. This volume is themed around SOUND! The poem, titled “The Ecology of Falling Whales” is the longest I’ve ever written–a whopping 5 pages–and it’s all about visiting my sister, Maya, at  Friday Harbor Labs in Washington State, where I observed her and other biologists study aquatic life. You can buy the journal and read an excerpt here.



I also wrote about sunlight for The Atlantic in honor of daylight savings. Read the whole thing here.

The frustration of lost sleep gives way to the luminous pleasure of a lengthening day. Sunlight extends past dinnertime. Dog walkers, soccer players, and children in playgrounds bask in a later twilight. Though humans organize our schedules around the clock, Daylight Savings reminds us that our lives, like our planet, revolve around the sun.


The lovely Anna Currey interviewed me about sisters, the environment, and writing across genre.

I don’t want to teach anything I don’t believe in. It’s important to talk about making writing entertaining, which is obvious, but doesn’t gets much air time in academic settings. Any piece of writing is competing for a reader’s attention span. It has to be more interesting than someone’s cell phone or television. Entertainment is something I talk about with my students, and something I think about in my own writing. We have to work hard for our readers.



Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did with Chris Schaberg about his newest book The End of Airports. Read the whole thing at Terrain.Org.

It’s a common response that “everything changed” after 9/11. But having worked at the airport during—and through—that time, my overwhelming feeling was that things hadn’t changed at all. It’s just that people suddenly had a scapegoat for all the things they wanted to do, say, and enact around air travel. Racism especially: this became so ridiculously easy after 9/11. But it was already there, in the airport, of course. If the airport is postmodern, it is for the ways it struggles with and against Ezra Pound’s modernist mandate, “Make it new!” On the one hand, airports want you (the traveler) to feel the verve of the new. On the other hand, airports want you to feel—and to perpetuate—all the old comforts of the same, on and on and on.


Five Stories About Espionage


The life of a spy is supposed to be glamorous. James Bond, right? Fancy cars, hot women, top-of-the line technology, and a signature drink. I went looking for those stories this week, then remembered James Bond isn’t, you know, real. There are no standoffs on the top of moving trains, and Dame Judi Dench does not run a secret government agency, unfortunately. The reality of espionage is still exciting, but it’s more complicated. The good guys and bad guys are not so easily differentiated. Today’s spying relies on social media, surveillance, coercion and ambition.

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