Meet Fellow Jessica Gross
Jessica Gross writes fiction, essays, and criticism. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Longreads, New York Magazine’s Vulture, Kirkus Reviews, and more. In 2014, she did a test run of a writer’s residency on an Amtrak train from New York to Chicago and back. The response to her Paris Review Daily essay about the experience—which was covered by The New Yorker online, The New York Times, The Atlantic Wire, WNYC, and others—helped spur Amtrak to launch a formal program. Jessica has conducted interviews with novelists, actors, psychoanalysts, chefs, musicians, academics, film directors, cartoonists, a professional live storyteller, and a former spy. She teaches creative nonfiction at the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, and received her Master’s in cultural reporting and criticism from NYU and her Bachelor’s in anthropology from Princeton University.
I am currently at work on a collection of short stories in which characters’ complex or confounding psyches are revealed through their relationships with their own physicality. Throughout this fellowship year, I will continue to work on this collection, completing one or several stories. LABA’s specific focus on human beauty, in particular, is an ideal match for my work, and will hopefully reveal new intricacies in my protagonists’ (often adversarial) relationships with their own bodies.
What drew you to apply to LABA?
I grew up in a Reform, culturally Jewish family that was not tremendously involved in our synagogue or in Jewish practice. It’s only in the past several years that I’ve begun exploring my own spirituality and faith: a remarkable and beautiful process. Throughout, though, I’ve approached “spirituality” quite generally, and have been unsure what to make of my Judaism. Or, rather: I deeply desire a connection to and understanding of Judaism that is my own, but don’t quite know where to start. For this reason, I’m grateful to be able to study Jewish texts with the guidance, and in the supportive community, of LABA. I also read and analyze books constantly — much of my professional nonfiction writing involves reviewing books and interviewing authors — and am drawn to this literary-analysis approach to larger questions. On a more basic level, I’m so moved by the spirit of LABA’s discussions: rigorous but nonjudgmental, with dissenting opinions encouraged.
Why do you want to study beauty?
In childhood and beyond, I struggled deeply with my relationship to beauty: I approached my appearance with a perfectionism that betrayed a deeper rigidity and fear of the unknown. In recent years, I’ve undergone a dramatic shift in this regard: I’ve begun to see beauty as, in fact, the antithesis of perfection. Beauty is the unexpected, the complex, the idiosyncratic. Beautiful art evokes a melange of emotions not through rule-following or flawlessness, but by provoking us to question our worlds, our pat comforts, our selves. I’m eager to more deeply explore this evolving understanding in LABA — and to have it challenged.