It has been my feeling for many years that the art of literary criticism has not only dramatically declined but for various reasons has almost ceased being an art. But once in a while someone comes along and reminds us that literary criticism is not only helpful in understanding literary art, it’s fundamental in understanding how we think and communicate. Williams James gave us the term “the critical sense.” We either have it or we don’t. If we don’t, we usually get ourselves in lots of trouble.
This is why I think the prose and insight of Julia Jenkins are so wonderful to discover. She understands nuance in writing, in the same way that Ivor Winters, Cleanth Brooks, Wallace Stegner and Robert Penn Warren understood that magic that turns prose into poetry. Writing is an extension of speech which is an extension of thought. But they’re held together by nuance and a love of words that make certain combinations shimmer with a little of the divine. This is the level of comprehension she takes to her analysis of a work. That’s what literary art is about, and that’s what makes Ms. Jenkins so incredibly good. To borrow a popular term, she “gets it.”
In my view, this lady is a big winner. This is the kind of writer Katherine Porter or Edith Wharton would probably invite to tea. I did a reading once with Annie Proulx. We had never met, and I introduced myself to her before the reading and told her how much I admired her work. She fixed one eye on me as though she were staring down a rifle sight, and said, “You’re pretty goddamn good yourself.” I think Ms. Proulx gets it, just as Ms Jenkins does. It’s the critical sense that Croce and James wrote about. Ms. Jenkins writes fine prose because she thinks well and she belongs to an elegant and eloquent community. If you’re looking for a genuine member of the world of arts and letters, I highly recommend her.
James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke is the author of 22 books (and counting), including the acclaimed Dave Robicheaux series.
Julia Jenkins is the real deal, an open-minded critic who writes with honesty, sensitivity, and discernment. In a literary culture ever more diffuse and democratic, hers is one of those essential voices you’ll want to keep on your radar.
Philip Connors is the author of Fire Season and All the Wrong Places.
Julia’s amazingly wide range of reading and writing equips her to serve as an extraordinarily capable editor. Seeing both the line-edit trees and the overall-argument forest, she provides advice that can bring any piece of writing into sharper focus.
Tassava is working on his first book, with Julia’s editing assistance. He is a professional grantwriter by day.