Personal Essay Symposium 10/03/09: Jonathan Ames

Report by Faine Greenwood:

I never thought I would see a man discussing, ahem, evacuating his bowels in the South of France at an officially Tulane sponsored event. Yet I have: I have seen Jonathan Ames.

Ames, a NYC-based personal essayist, novelist, and screenwriter (among other talents) is a bizarre and neurotic presence, the sort of gentleman who fades into the background until he says something entirely outrageous. His simple, casual-sounding writing has the sensibility of an off-kilter and sexually depraved P.G Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster with a scatological sensibility and a delicately concealed transsexual fetish. Yet Ames cedes to moments of haunting, almost delicious sweetness in his prose and in his stories. He has a surprising eye for important detail and for on-point and hilarious dialogue. He shows us things we would never think to look at (or might, in all honesty, want to look at).

His delivery is utterly deadpan and, on stage, Ames personifies the down-trodden “bald and impotent” figure that shambles through so many of his essays. Yet his calm is what kills the audience dead: there’s something about how matter-of-factly he relates his experiences with a Ugandan colonic doctor. He keeps a straight face even when discussing the aforementioned South of France episode, in which he’s totally humiliated. We’re still laughing with him. That’s a knack.

Jonathan Ames is, at the same time, totally depraved and totally charming, a gentleman who has merely lost his way. He was a pleasure to have at Tulane and did not engage in any socially unacceptable behaviors on campus: I think we should invite him back.

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Filed under Creative Non-Fiction, Creative Writing Fund, Events, Visiting writers

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