Jillian Lauren on great books and creating a literary community


Jillian Lauren jumped feet-first into her literary life in Los Angeles. First, there was her memoir “Some Girls” about moving from New York’s East Village into the harem of a tremendously wealthy brother of the Sultan of Brunei. She followed that up with a novel, “Pretty,” while also writing publicly about her life as the mother of an adopted son. This year, her writing has appeared in the anthologies “Camp: True Tales of Lust and Love” and “The Moth Anthology,” from the popular reading series. Lauren appears at the Festival of Books at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on the panel “Fiction: Lives on the Brink.”

What books are on your nightstand (and/or your e-reader, tablet or phone)?

“Pulphead” by John Jeremiah Sullivan (which has been there for about a year because I keep rereading it), “A Life in Men” by Gina Frangello, “Bone Black” by bell hooks, “Street Retreat” by Eileen Myles, “The Magic Treehouse #5: Pirates Past Noon,” and some daunting book about food allergies, to which I never get around. I think that’s all of them. There might be something embarrassing that I’m blocking out. I’m at a coffee shop and did that from memory.


You recently organized a literary event for women only. What inspired you to put it together? Did it turn out as you’d hoped?

My dear friend Claire Bidwell Smith and I had been fantasizing forever about throwing an intimate literary salon for women, inspired by Aidan Donnely Rowley’s Happier Hours gatherings in New York. The three of us put our heads together and decided to launch the West Coast version. Eighty women got together in my backyard on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, to nosh and drink wine and talk about writing, life, love, feminism, criticism, community ... all the juicy stuff. The guests were Gigi Levangie and Nell Scovell, in a brilliant and inspiring conversation. Claire and I feel strongly about building a community of women, to both support and challenge one another. It was all we hoped it would be and more. I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

Tell us about a book that inspired you to become a writer.

It’s probably a toss up between Shakespeare, Salinger and Judy Blume. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret,” gave me the gift of my first deep connection with a work of literature. How did some stranger know my heart, when it seemed all the people closest to me were clueless? I read it under my covers at night, by the light of my digital alarm clock. Later, I read “Nine Stories” and “Henry IV,” and my brain caught fire. After that, I knew I wanted to always live in a world of language and narrative and ideas. It took me a while to figure out how to do that.

Have you been to the Festival of Books before? What was that like?

I go to the Festival of Books every year, and I always look forward to it. It’s inspiring to see all those people passionate about literature. Plus, I get to be a fangirl and bug all my favorite authors. I actually met my great friend Heather Havrilesky on a Festival of Books panel, and we’re still continuing the conversation, four years later. This year I’ll be yakking with Rob Roberge, Dan Fante and Seth Greenland, so who knows what sort of trouble will ensue.

What’s the last book that made you laugh (or cry)?

Annabelle Gurwitch’s “I See You Made an Effort” will make you laugh out loud in public. Jesmyn Ward’s “Men We Reaped” requires six boxes of Kleenex.


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