'All Grown Up' by Jami Attenberg


Jami Attenberg is having a moment.

She’s been on a monster book tour across the country for her new novel, “All Grown Up,” and she’s kept writing like a fiend all along.

Look for her in O Magazine, talking about having tea at the Windsor Court, or in Lit Hub, describing “How Working in a Bookstore Changed My Writing Career,” or in The Sunday Times, writing about being the daughter of a motherless mother.

Just weeks ago, she was in The New York Times Book Review with the essay, “Don’t Read my Fiction as the Story of my Life.” She also found time to appear at last week’s Tennessee Williams Literary Festival on a panel about families in fiction.

This is a woman on the move and on a roll. And Attenberg’s new novel deserves all the praise and attention it’s getting.

“All Grown Up” is the story of Andrea Bern, a 39-year-old New Yorker who’s trying to fashion a life on her own terms, assessing her place in her complicated family, including her mother, brother, sister-in-law and terminally ill niece, thinking about work and love. It’s wise, it’s moving, it speaks to the age-old problem of how to "adult." Do we ever feel all grown up?

This novel is her sixth book, following her bestselling, critically acclaimed recent works, “The Middlesteins,” and then “Saint Mazie,” which has been optioned by Helena Bonham Carter for a miniseries.

Attenberg is a longtime visitor to New Orleans who recently put down roots here. “The first time I visited was summer of 1995, when I spent a month crashing on the couch in the home of a few guys from Galactic, and visited here off and on after that,” she said. “I started regularly coming back in 2012.”

Attenberg is a shapeshifter of a writer, giving voice to a variety of characters, skillfully creating worlds of her own. But writing about New Orleans? “Not yet,” she said. “I think you have to earn New Orleans.”

Last year, she bought a house in the St. Claude neighborhood, and she and her dog, Sid, settled in.

“I picked the house more than the neighborhood, though I love the neighborhood, too, where I know lots of other writers and have felt welcome immediately,” she said.

She also loves being on the Chewbacchus parade route. And she’s acquired the perfect Mardi Gras accessory — a sequined beret.

Attenberg has been a generous literary resident. In January, with novelist Adrian Young, she organized the Writers Resist event at the Art Garage. It was a rousing success, with nearly 30 writers reading from inspirational texts, poetry, prose, letters to an audience of more than 200. Attenberg herself read a selection from "Harry Potter."

“I had no idea going in what to expect but was just so absolutely gobsmacked at the turnout and the eagerness of people to lend a hand and participate, in advance and also spontaneously on the day of the event,” she said. “One of my favorite parts of that day was how (novelist) Bill Loehfelm became the de facto sound guy of the event, just because he happened to be sitting in the front row. Lots of folks just seemed to be ready to be all in that day.”

She said she's always amazed by how supportive and tight the community is.

“People show up for each other’s readings and like to socialize together, and it feels supportive and not competitive and like we all have a shared mutual respect.”

Attenberg still has a place in Brooklyn, but she feels most at home in New Orleans.

"It’s where I’m happiest,” she said. “And my dog likes it best, too, with all the sunshine and friendly neighborhood buddies, so that makes me even happier. New Orleans is a great place to be a dog.”

Maybe a recent Facebook post of hers said it best: “NOLA me = best me.” 

Susan Larson is the host of WWNO’s The Reading Life and the author of “The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.”