About Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Jenny Yacovissi grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, just a bit farther up the hill from Washington, D.C. Her debut novel Up the Hill to Home is a fictionalized account of her mother’s family in Washington from the Civil War to the Great Depression. In addition to writing historical and contemporary literary fiction, Jenny reviews regularly for the Washington Independent Review of Books and the Historical Novel Society. She belongs to the National Book Critic’s Circle and PEN/America. She also owns a small project management and engineering consulting firm, and enjoys gardening and being on the water. Jenny lives with her husband Jim in Crownsville, Maryland. To learn more about the families in Up the Hill to Home and see photos and artifacts from their lives, visit http://www.jbyacovissi.com/about-the-book.

Articles contributed by this author

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

05-20-2017: A Reader’s Reader

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
                                                          —Jorge Luis Borges

Tom Shroder, the author, and Michael Dirda at the 2017 Washington Writers Conference.

I had the distinct pleasure recently of being on a panel at the Washington Writers Conference with Tom Shroder—author, ghostwriter, journalist, and long-time editor of the Washington Post Magazine—and Michael Dirda, even longer-time book critic at the Washington Post and elsewhere. We were discussing the fuzzy lines that separate memoir, family history, and fiction.

As part of preparing for the panel, I read two of Michael’s several books: his most recent, Browsings, and his memoir of the first third of his life through college, An Open Book. (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

20 March 2017 – Let the Book Speak for Itself: A Review of Hillbilly Elegy

In my last posting, I discussed three books of non-fiction that touched on topics of empathy, compassion, and a shared social contract, and that together, I felt, made some illustrative commentary on the events of that day, January 20th, 2017. One book that I had hoped to include—but which landed on my reading stack a bit too late to make the cut—was another unexpectedly successful work of non-fiction. It, too, highlights some of the themes of my earlier discussion.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is a memoir by a young Yale-educated lawyer named J.D. Vance. He beats his readers to the punch in offering his own wry objection to a 31-year-old’s writing a memoir, but he has much to offer us as he relates his own experience in what is arguably the most forgotten and dismissed segment of the American population.

Elegy has variously been described as the book that explains to liberals the inexplicably successful candidacy and then election of our 45th president; a shameful sellout that feeds into the conservative myth that the poor are poor by choice; and a fresh and welcome new voice in support of right-leaning philosophies. The literary equivalent of a chameleon, Elegy is being used as a sort of shorthand by commentators of every stripe to support whichever underlying philosophy is being argued or promulgated.

That’s a lot of baggage for one slender volume to drag along with it. My recommendation is to jettison all that and read the book entirely for itself, because it is worthy and thought-provoking on its own. More than that, it is a wonderfully engaging story of a family we come to care about and wish the best.

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JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

20 January 2017 – Toward Compassion

Words matter. It would be surprising if I as a writer didn’t believe that to be true, since words are my entire stock in trade. Words have meaning. A shared understanding of the meaning of words is what allows us to communicate and function as a society. Words have shades of meaning, too—nuance—and understanding that nuance allows us all to send and receive exactly the message that’s intended.

There are roughly 130,000 words in the English language. It’s said that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words, which was not out of the ordinary for an educated man of his time. In comparison, modern Americans have a working vocabulary of about 3,000 words. As we continue to pare back our words, nuance is lost. Shades of meaning are jettisoned, the subtle distinctions sacrificed, pounded out into the blunt instrument of whatever fits into 140 characters.

Words affect us. We may teach our children, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” as a lesson in resilience and the mature ability to walk away and elect not to engage, but we also know the power of words to hurt, as well as to heal. Certainly, we expect the leaders of our country, our shared community, to understand that fundamental truth and act accordingly.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in the last year, and wildly more so since early November. Because I knew that I would be posting this essay today, I selected a few books to read that seemed to cut to the heart of the things that keep me awake at night. (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

ellencampbell-headshots-003211-29-2016: Author Ellen Prentiss Campbell is our December 1 Guest Blogger

Since I had the double assignment to post at the end of November and also to invite a guest blogger for the beginning of December, I took the opportunity to make sure our readers enjoy a full introduction to the wit, charm, and wonderful writing of Ellen Prentiss Campbell, who joins us on 1 December as our guest blogger. In the spirit of the holiday season, Ellen shares her childhood memories of the powerful impact of the books selected for her by a very special relative.

Ellen’s debut novel, The Bowl with Gold Seams (Apprentice House Press, reviewed here on 11-20-2016), was inspired by the detainment of the Japanese Ambassador to Germany, his staff and their families, at the Bedford Springs Hotel in 1945. Her short story collection Contents Under Pressure (Broadkill River Press) was a 2015 National Book Award nominee. Her essays and reviews appear in The Fiction Writers Review, where she is a contributing editor, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. Ellen is also a practicing psychotherapist and lives with her husband in Washington D.C. and Manns Choice, Pennsylvania. You can find more from Ellen on her website, www.ellencampbell.net.

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

11/20/16 – Book Review: The Bowl with Gold Seams by Ellen Prentiss Campbell

I’ve written frequently about my admiration for small-press publishing, folks who are driven more by their love of the written word than by any expectation of making a commercial killing. It’s that willingness to simply go with what they love that leads many small presses to build impressive catalogs of work by authors of remarkable talent. This month I’m highlighting another example of this marriage of small press to big talent.

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-4-38-46-pmI originally heard about Ellen Prentiss Campbell from several sources almost simultaneously, one of which was our shared publisher. As small presses go, publishers don’t come much smaller than Apprentice House Press, run out of Loyola University. Of unique note, though, Apprentice House is both non-profit and student-run. Students learn by doing; authors get unparalleled input into the creative process behind bringing a traditionally published work into print. What is perhaps most remarkable is that the students work as a team to choose the projects for which they’d like to offer a contract. Kudos for their selection of Ellen’s novel.

THE BOWL WITH GOLD SEAMS, Ellen Prentiss Campbell, Apprentice House, 2015, 221 pp.

“What is broken is also beautiful.” This is the lesson taught by kintsugi, a Japanese ceramic art form in which objects are purposely broken and then mended with golden joinery, thereby making them even more beautiful and more valuable.

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JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

9/20/2016 – Musings: Writer’s Brain, or, Whose Story Is It?

On a recent trip to Florida, my husband, some friends, and I took a short boat ride out to an uninhabited barrier island. We hiked out to the beach, and they pulled up a seat while I continued on to hunt shells. I was perhaps a quarter mile away when I decided to take a quick dip to cool off. As I turned to go back to shore, a searing pain burned through my foot. I stumbled out of the water, fell onto the sand, and watched as blood pumped with every heartbeat from the top of my foot. The pain threatened to cause a blackout.

Here are the things that went through my mind as I sat there:screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-10-02-45-pm

  • I can’t put any weight on my foot.
  • I have no way to stop the bleeding.
  • I am completely alone on this beach.
  • I wonder how I can use this in a story.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a perfect example of writer’s brain. For all I knew, I was in the midst of a life-threatening situation with no obvious resolution, but that was no reason to delay imagining the fictional possibilities. I could immediately envision all the ways this could segue into great literature: (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

7/20/2016 — Musings: When Your Favorite Author Breaks Your Heart

I’m a frequent reviewer for both the daily Washington Independent Review of Books (WIRoB) and the quarterly Historical Novels Review of the Historical Novel Society (HNS). As an author and avid reader, I find that reviewing offers a host of benefits for me. Not only do I end up reading books outside my normal genre preferences, which is good for me as a writer, it also introduces me to wonderful debut authors about whom I then get to spread the good word. Completely selfishly, it’s also pretty cool to have, say, Viking or FSG quote me in a tweet to their vast legions of followers.

But the cherry on top of the pie is the chance to review my favorite authors’ latest books. I didn’t really consider this perq until just such an opportunity popped up late last year. My A-List of favorite authors is literal — all their first names happen to start with A: Annie Proulx, Alice McDermott, Ann Patchett, and Anthony Marra. When Marra’s second book, a collection of (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

In my last posting, I highlighted Foreword Reviews magazine and its mission to draw readers to the best of independent publishing. What is perhaps most remarkable in the world of indie publishing is the sheer number of presses operating more or less on a shoestring in an industry whose margins continue to shrink. Indie presses typically don’t make fortunes for their owners, so what makes those people keep at it?

Open Country coverIn a word, passion. Okay, perhaps two words, the other being dedication. Both are crucial to persevering in the best-seller-driven world ruled by publishing’s Big Five, but that big-press culture certainly leaves behind underserved readers and underrepresented writing voices, which is where indie presses shine.

Passion, dedication, and perseverance all describe Richard Peabody, the force behind Gargoyle, the Washington, D.C.-based literary magazine now in its 40th year (minus a seven-year hiatus in the 90s), and its publisher, Paycock Press. Peabody is justifiably known for his tireless support of those in the D.C. writing community, and Paycock publishes many local authors.

One such author is Jeff Richards, whose debut novel of connected Civil War stories, Open Country, celebrates its one-year anniversary of publication on May 21st. Several of the stories that appear in Open Country were originally published in various journals and magazines, one of which was Gargoyle. Paycock later published the full novel.

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JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

3/20/16: Celebrating Vibrant Voices in Independent Publishing: 2015 Debut Novelists Caitlin Hicks and Barbara Stark-Nemon

foreword reviews_thumbLast summer, eight debut novelists gathered for 30 minutes in the virtual, electronic community of Twitter to compare first-time experiences, discuss the thrill of (finally!) being a published author, and exchange ideas about how to shift from creator to marketer in order to find an audience for our small, independently published books.

Geographically far-flung and working in a number of genres, we were brought together by a feature article about our eight books in the Summer 2015 issue of Foreword Reviews magazine, a well-respected quarterly periodical and website that focuses entirely on reviewing work published by independent presses—that is, anything not from an imprint of The Big Five publishing conglomerates. After I read the other novels, it was clear to me that, while these folks might be debut novelists, they are fully mature writers. Their books might be from small presses, but there is nothing amateurish about them. That concept is exactly what Foreword Reviews celebrates. (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

1/20/16: E. A. Aymar, author of the Dead Trilogy, Talks Noir and Sympathy

E. A. Aymar, author of the DEAD trilogyE. A. Aymar is a noir kind of guy. He hosts D.C.’s “Noir at the Bar” and just finished up hosting the expanded version, “Noir on the Air”, on 11 January, in which nine noted thriller writers read their work on the Global Radio Network. His short story “The Line” appeared this month in Out of the Gutter, a lit mag known for its dark, edgy content. He’s also the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins, the online resource for beginning and debut thriller writers from the International Thriller Writers Organization. Aymar is best known as the author of the Dead Trilogy, the first two entries of which are I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and You’re as Good as Dead. Fans eagerly awaiting the final installment can get their fix of Aymar’s signature deadpan humor and general take on things in his monthly column “Decisions and Revisions” in the Washington Independent Review of Books. I met Ed through my own participation with the Independent, and asked him to chat with me here about his writing.

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