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Meet the WritersImage of Jennifer Gonnerman
Jennifer Gonnerman
Jennifer Gonnerman is a staff writer for The Village Voice, where she has reported on the criminal justice system since 1997. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vibe, The Nation, The Source, Newsday, and many other publications. Her stories have won numerous prizes, including the Gold Typewriter Award for Outstanding Public Service from the New York Press Club. Her article on which this book is based won the Meyer Berger Award from the Columbia University School of Journalism as well as the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Jennifer studied at Cambridge University and received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1994. She lives in Brooklyn.

Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.

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In the fall of 2004, Jennifer Gonnerman took time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz.

What are your ten favorite books?

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • Is There No Place on Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan
  • Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas
  • Death at an Early Age by Jonathan Kozol
  • Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz
  • Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
    My favorite type of movie is one where all the characters are played by regular people -- not professional actors. Our Song and Manito fit in this category and are terrific. I also love all sorts of documentaries, including American Dream, Brother's Keeper, Grey Gardens, Paris Is Burning, and Spellbound. As for other types of movies, I really liked Amélie, American Splendor, and Best in Show.

    What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
    I need silence to write -- no music or dogs or traffic -- otherwise I can't get anything done.

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
    American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare by Jason DeParle. This new book tells the story of Clinton's welfare "reform" efforts -- how they were conceived and the impact they had on three women in Milwaukee. It's a great book, and since welfare is such a complicated and controversial subject, there's plenty to discuss.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    I like giving graphic novels -- particularly Persepolis and Persepolis2 -- and photography books. One photo book that everyone seems to like is Milton Rogovin: The Forgotten Ones.

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    I always keep things around my desk that remind me of people who I find inspiring. At the moment, these include a postcard of Georgia O'Keeffe, a mug with Virginia Woolf on it, and a finger puppet of Zora Neale Hurston.

    What are you working on now?
    I'm a staff writer at The Village Voice, so that job keeps me pretty busy -- and I'm also getting ready for the paperback publication in December of Life on the Outside.

    Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. Ho w long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    I got my first job in 1989 -- waiting tables in a pizza restaurant in Chicago. After that, I had three more waitressing jobs -- and got fired from two of them. I graduated from college in 1994, and I decided then that I wanted to be a journalist. For several years, I tried to make a living doing freelance pieces for newspapers and magazines. Along the way, I encountered all the usual hurdles -- editors not calling back, my bank account shrinking, stories getting killed, etc.

    If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
    Y. Blak Moore. He's a young author from Chicago who writes like he's the next Donald Goines -- a former gang member and drug dealer whose novels are packed with the sort of real-life insight that other novelists who write about urban life only wish they had. I really liked his first novel, Triple Take, and now his second book, The Apostles, just came out.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    Follow your dreams and don't let anyone discourage you. I know that sounds like a cliché, but perseverance is probably the most important quality a writer needs.

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  • About the Writer
    *Jennifer Gonnerman Home
    * Biography
    * Interview
    *Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, 2004
    Photo by Nina Subin