Third Place Books is thrilled to welcome Jenn Shapland for a discussion of her new essay collection, Thin Skin, called "a wrenching, loving and trenchant examination of feminism, nuclear weapons production, healthcare, queerness and American life" by Alexander Chee. Shapland will be joined in conversation by author Kim Fu, the local author of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required in advance.
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For Jenn Shapland, the barrier between herself and the world is porous; she was even diagnosed with extreme dermatologic sensitivity—thin skin.
Recognizing how deeply vulnerable we all are to our surroundings, she becomes aware of the impacts our tiniest choices have on people, places, and species far away. She can't stop seeing the ways we are enmeshed and entangled with everyone else on the planet. Despite our attempts to cordon ourselves off from risk, our boundaries are permeable.
Weaving together historical research, interviews, and her everyday life in New Mexico, Shapland probes the lines between self and work, human and animal, need and desire. She traces the legacies of nuclear weapons development on Native land, unable to let go of her search for contamination until it bleeds out into her own family’s medical history. She questions the toxic myth of white womanhood and the fear of traveling alone that she’s been made to feel since girlhood. And she explores her desire to build a creative life as a queer woman, asking whether such a thing as a meaningful life is possible under capitalism.
Ceaselessly curious, uncompromisingly intelligent, and urgently seeking, with Thin Skin Shapland builds thrillingly on her genre-defying debut My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (“Gorgeous, symphonic, tender, and brilliant” —Carmen Machado), firmly establishing herself as one of the sharpest essayists of her generation.
"If My Autobiography of Carson McCullers didn’t convince you that Shapland is one of the most exciting, subversive, and inventive of American writers, a writer with nerve and wide-ranging interests, then the essays in Thin Skin will surely demand your attention like they demanded mine. . . These are eruditely-researched works of journalism tangled with deeply personal memoir, connected and cohesive like a mycorrhizal network. These essays about reproductive rights, poison in America, our many failures to out-engineer climate change, and the literal meaning of life will challenge and educate those seeking a way to articulate the discontents of the Anthropocene. Thin Skin is also a masterclass in pandemic-era writing, swimming in the moment without succumbing to it."
— Spencer Ruchti, Author Events Manager at Third Place Books
“In her introduction, Shapland refers to the ability of the essay to do anything or go anywhere as a part of her love for the form—and in the essays that follow, she shows us she meant it. A wrenching, loving and trenchant examination of feminism, nuclear weapons production, healthcare, queerness and American life unlike any I can think of, in essays that give lessons in pushing this form to the limit. The resulting collection is iconoclastic, electric, illuminating, and the honesty and art in these essays bring with them a series of welcome awakenings. A book to keep for a long time.”
—Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Jenn Shapland's mind is a marvel. In Thin Skin, she puts it to work on our permeability to one another, and the result is a stunning, urgent, and layered consideration of our climate-catastrophe, pandemic-laden day. As each essay considers vulnerability in a different form, Shapland proves herself a brilliant and compassionate guide through loss and the enduring need to find hope. She offers no easy answers, but something far more valuable: deeper, more acute understanding—the best kind of balm.”
—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
“Thin Skin confirms that Jenn Shapland is one of the most exciting American writers working today. She simultaneously crisscrosses and dissects topics as enormous as personhood, colonization, and climate change with such virtuosic verve and control I’m still marveling over how she does it. Thin Skin expands our sense of what essays can be and do.”
—Jeannie Vanasco, author of Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl
“Breathtaking in their sharp synthesis of a variety of ideas and experiences, Shapland’s essays are a truth-telling balm for mind, body, and spirit. An eloquent and vibrantly lucid collection.”
—Kirkus, starred review
Jenn Shapland’s first book, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Lambda Literary Award and the Publishing Triangle Award, among other honors, and has been translated into Spanish, French, and Polish. Shapland has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin and she works as an archivist for a visual artist.
Kim Fu is the author of four books, most recently the story collection Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, which won the Pacific Northwest Book Award and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, as well as a TIME 100 and NPR Books We Love best book of 2022. Stories in this collection were featured on Levar Burton Reads and Selected Shorts, chosen for Best of the Net and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, and optioned for TV and film. Fu lives in Seattle.
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