We are delighted to announce that our Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Granada, Spain Writing Retreat (August 2-6, 2017) Nonfiction Instructor, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has been recently featured in Vogue for her highly-acclaimed memoir, The Fact of a Body. In the Vogue article, Julia Felsenthal writes:
At the start of her riveting new memoir, The Fact of a Body, lawyer turned writer Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich describes a famous case that illustrates the legal principle of proximate cause. A woman named Helen Palsgraf stands on a railway platform, waiting for the train that will take her family to the beach. Nearby, a young man leaps to catch another departing train. A conductor reaches out to pull him aboard; a porter gives him a boost from behind. In the process, a package he’s holding containing fireworks falls from his arms and detonates. Down the track, the explosion causes a baggage scale to fall on top of Palsgraf. It’s a Rube Goldberg–worthy domino effect, but how do we decide who is to blame? “The causes, in fact, are endless,” writes Marzano-Lesnevich. “The idea of proximate cause is a solution. The job of the law is to figure out the source of the story, to assign responsibility. The proximate cause is the one the law says truly matters. The one that makes the story what it is.”
In June of 2003, Marzano-Lesnevich, then a Harvard law student, was beginning a summer internship at a death penalty defense firm in New Orleans, when she encountered a case that altered the course of her life. As an introduction to the firm’s work, a lawyer played the interns a decade-old tape, in which a client, a Louisiana man named Ricky Langley, confessed to the murder of his neighbor, 6-year-old Jeremy Guillory. After that confession, Langley had been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death; then, years later, the verdict had been overturned, his case tried again, and he’d been sentenced by a new jury to life in prison…
There are no easy conclusions in The Fact of a Body, but there are many moments of profound revelation. Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir is a braided narrative, weaving together Langley’s story and her own. She plays with the concept of proximate cause, untangling the long string of events that led her to Ricky Langley, and the long string of events that led Ricky Langley to Jeremy Guillory. But the book is actually something of a tribrid, with a third strand that’s about the act of braiding itself: how a story evolves in the telling; how each storyteller decides which facts are important, projects her experience onto the events and the characters (here, quite literally, the author allows herself to imagine details of Langley’s narrative that aren’t captured in the record). Most provocatively, Marzano-Lesnevich forces us to question how all of those factors work when applied to the legal system. What are cases but stories? What are trials but showdowns between competing versions of the truth? What are lawyers, and judges and juries, but people who do what people always do: superimpose their own perspectives onto the matter at hand? What part can empathy play in a criminal justice system predicated on the delusion that there’s one version of the truth, one set of facts, one story?
Read the complete review & interview on Vogue, and sign-up for our Summer in Granada, Spain Writing Retreat (August 2-6, 2017) with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich by June 1, 2017! Apply here: cww.submittable.com
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s first book, THE FACT OF A BODY: A Murder and a Memoir, has been released by Flatiron Books (Macmillan) in May 2017, as well as from publishers internationally. The book layers a memoir with an investigation into, and recreation of, a 1992 Louisiana murder and death penalty case. For her work on the book, Marzano-Lesnevich received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Rona Jaffe Award, and has twice been a fellow at both MacDowell and Yaddo. Other scholarships and fellowships received include those from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Studios at Key West, Vermont Studio Center, and the Alice Hayes Fellowship for Social Justice Writing from the Ragdale Foundation. Her essays appear in The New York Times, Oxford American, Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, The Rumpus, and the anthologies True Crime and Waveform: Twenty-First Century Essays by Women, among many other publications, and were recognized “notable” in Best American Essays 2013, 2015, and 2016. She was educated at Harvard (JD), Emerson College (MFA), and Columbia University (BA) and now teaches at Grub Street, a nonprofit writing center in Boston, and in the graduate public policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is a nonfiction faculty member at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Granada, Spain Writing Retreat (August 2-6, 2017).