Chloé Cooper Jones on the Exchange of Authenticity Between Memoirist and Reader
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Chloé Cooper Jones (Easy Beauty) joins Jordan to talk about avoiding mandates, presenting authentically with a disability, and finding the neutral room in one’s own mind.
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From the episode:
Chloé Cooper Jones: If you spend 288 pages with me in this book, my hope is that because you’re so accosted by it, by all these people being wrong all the time, all these perceptual shifts, it builds a permission in the mind of the reader to look for those moments in their own lives and not be afraid of them or immediately assign a negative valence to them. The biggest thing for me was is the perceptual shift around talking about disability.
If that’s the lens that other people use to reduce me or dehumanize me, using the disability lens to assign the wrong category to me or to assign pity to me when I don’t need to be pitied, or whatever they’re thinking—if that’s a lens that I’m seen through, then I don’t want to amplify it. And that’s how I thought for most of my life. I don’t want to amplify that lens, so I’m not going to talk about it. I’m not going to study it. I’m not going to write about it.
Maybe you can follow that logic or be empathetic as to why I had that logic, but the problem with that is that I can’t pretend I’m not disabled. I can’t ever not be disabled, and I can’t ever present to another person as not disabled. So if I’m acting as though that part of me—the extremely important, real, intricate part of me—doesn’t exist, then everybody around me knows I’m not being very authentic.
And if I’m not being very authentic or integrated or self-aware when I’m presenting myself to other people, then they don’t respond to me very authentically. But if I do try to be more self-aware, more accepting, and fully engaged in the full reality of myself, my identity, how I present, and to understand what that means in my life… then of course I start to present much more authentically.
Chloé Cooper Jones is a writer based in New York City. In 2020, Chloé was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in Feature Writing for “Fearing for His Life,” a profile of Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the killing of Eric Garner. She was the recipient of the 2020 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant and the 2021 Howard Foundation Grant from Brown University. Both grants were in support of her debut memoir, Easy Beauty. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.