A Letter from Leslie Jamison

Letter Leslie Jamison October 23, 2014

Hello Readers,

I’m sitting in Slottsparken, in Oslo—on the stone steps in front of the Royal Palace, in the shadow of a looming bronze king on his looming bronze horse—and I’m thinking about public spaces, how they summon an inadvertent gathering stripped of intention or annotation: a young artist in Converse high-tops holds a baguette in one hand and a splattered canvas in the other; an elderly couple strides by in matching sunglasses, still holding hands after however-many years; a group of children convulses collectively around the fact of a tiny toffee-colored dog; a woman bends over to reach her arm down into a garbage can.

Public spaces gather individual stories into passing relation, and A Public Space gives us glimpses into these private infinities, the engines of desire and fear that might drive them. A Public Space notices the world—in all of its particulars, their odd collection—and delivers this world to us. It makes room for joy—that little toffee dog!—and perpetuity—those sunglasses, those gripping hands. It makes room for strangers and mysteries and necessity; it’s not afraid to include the woman who sticks her hand into the trash. In one recent issue, Ander Monson speculates: “perhaps it’s not too late to rehabilitate your heart, the echo chamber of your voice,” and I think it’s fair to say A Public Space has become a recurring echo chamber: each issue conducting a collection of voices into chorus.

It feels right to write about A Public Space far away from its home on Dean Street, in Brooklyn, because it has always loved roaming far and wide. In its pages you’ll find a Zimbabwean coffin maker and a makeshift outdoor gym in Beijing, a Buenos Aires neighborhood with streets named after famous women, and a glossary of Antarctica slang. (Degomble: to shake the hardened snow from one’s hair).

My own history with A Public Space began in 2006, when I was temping at a large bank in midtown Manhattan—a windowless room full of cubicles, a decidedly un-public space—and the magazine decided to publish one of my stories. It was my first publication anywhere. Hearing that someone actually liked my writing enough to publish it was like a sudden swell of wind. It gave me faith in something beyond the cubicle.

One of the most singular and spectacular things about A Public Space has always its commitment to unknown authors: almost every issue introduces someone who has never been in print. It’s a magazine committed to discovery: to discovering new voices, new places, new layers of feeling and experience.

Years later, under the northern sun of Oslo, far from those dim Midtown cubicles, I’m writing these words to you—you, who are probably a stranger to me, unless you are my mother, who has been a faithful subscriber to A Public Space since 2006 (hi mom!). I’m sitting in a park full of infinite human lives and thinking about communities of readers and writers as public spaces of another kind, and I’m thinking that perhaps, if you have read some of the same words as I, you are not entirely a stranger after all.

It’s precisely this kinship—faceless but not soulless, this kinship of bodies turning the pages and hearts receiving them—that A Public Space has made possible for the past eight years.

With your support, we can keep dwelling in this kind of public space for years to come. Please think about helping to make it possible.

Thank you,
Leslie Jamison

P.S. Contributions at any level help to make A Public Space possible, but if you’re able to make a donation at the $100 level, you’ll receive a signed copy of Issue 3, with Leslie Jamison’s debut story, “Quiet Men.” Donors at the $250 level will also receive a signed copy of her essay collection, The Empathy Exams, which received the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and was a New York Times best seller this year. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

Thank you for being a part of A Public Space.

A Letter from Antoine Wilson

Letter Antoine Wilson October 1, 2013

This letter originally appeared in 2012.

Dear Fellow Reader,

Am I a typical A Public Space reader? I have no idea. I have a television; I watch it. I use the Internet as if it were a second television, boinging my way down the rabbit hole of “related” YouTube videos until I feel gutted through and through. I visit Disneyland; I shop at Target. That is to say, I haven’t sequestered myself in a hermitage or an ivory tower. I live a version of contemporary life in America. As a result, I often despair about our culture and where it’s headed. I recognize that this is typical, that people have always despaired over the decline of culture, that the youth have always been crass, as it were, but I feel it nevertheless, The Decline, and I despair. A Public Space has frequently lifted me from the depths of that despair.

A Letter from Teju Cole

Letter Teju Cole October 1, 2013

This letter originally appeared in 2011.

Dear Reader,
A Public Space has become one of our most remarkable small magazines by being a forum for creativity, tolerance, experiment, and witness. Each piece in the magazine, whether written about domestic affairs or from an international point of view, underscores William Carlos Williams’s faith in the “universality of the local.”

A Letter from Amy Leach

Letter Amy Leach October 1, 2013

This letter originally appeared in 2010.

Dear Fellow Reader,
I used to play the piano for an establishment where the roof began to leak. We had to cover the piano and drums and microphones with tarps and clutter the floor with buckets. New leaks were always springing, new buckets and bucket attendants always being drafted. The roof was repairable but we did not have the money for it; we had to close down and the music gave way to the rain. I found another job, but it was playing the organ instead of the piano, and I am an oaf on the organ; it sounds like I have shoes on my hands. Having a venue where you can play your own instrument is better than having wings. It should not be taken for granted.

A Letter from Yiyun Li

Letter Yiyun Li October 1, 2013

This letter originally appeared in 2009.

Dear Reader,
One of the questions I have been asked most often by aspiring writers is how I began to publish. Variations of the question hint at certain myths about the publishing business—how being at the right place at the right time, or having the right connection to the right people, would be the most important factor in one’s career.

A Letter from Wells Tower

Letter Wells Tower October 1, 2013

This letter originally appeared in 2009.

Dear Fellow Reader,
My first stories made it into print not through the efforts of an agent or a publishing house, but because the slush pile readers at an independent literary magazine took the time to open the manila envelope I’d sent, unbidden, and to read the work according to its merit rather than the cachet of the writer’s name.

A Letter from Nam Le

Letter Nam Le October 1, 2013

This letter originally appeared in 2008.

Dear Fellow Reader,
In 2006 I received an unexpected e-mail from Brigid Hughes at A Public Space. She’d read a story of mine, she said, and she wondered whether it was available for her (as yet unlaunched) magazine. Her e-mail caught me at a low point in my life: I’d been away from home for almost two years, having burned my bridges with my legal career, and—more dispiritingly for me—having announced to my family and friends that I was going abroad to be “a writer.” Eighteen months later, I’d written hundreds of thousands of words and yet I felt the furthest I’d ever been from any viable conception of a writing life.


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