MWW Alumni & Faculty Success Story: J.R. Jamison

J.R. Jamison is rocking it out!

J.R. Jamison, MWW alumni and faculty member has exciting news! His memoir, Hillbilly Queer, was selected as one of 20 books (out of 100,000 titles) by Library Journal to receive the distinction as a “Best Audiobook of 2023,” alongside actor Steve Martin and journalist Jonathan Eig. He is the narrator of the audiobook, and the only author/narrator from Indiana to hit the list (only two others are from the Midwest, including MWW faculty alum Kathleen Rooney). The full list can be found here.

J.R. Jamison is an award-winning author and storyteller who hosts the NPR podcast and radio show “The Facing Project.” His nonfiction and fiction writing has appeared in the The Huffington Post, Pangyrus, Beyond Words, Writer’s Digest and various other print and web publications, and his work has been covered by outlets such as The Guardian, Harlem World Magazine, PBS, Runner’s World, and The Statesider, among others.

J.R.’s memoir, Hillbilly Queer, was a bestseller in LGBTQ nonfiction (audiobook, narrated by the author) and received starred reviews from Library Journal and Foreword Reviews Magazine, and was the silver winner of the 2022 Nautilus Book Award for Best Memoir and finalist for the 2022 Indiana Authors Award in the Debut Category.

J.R. lives in rural Indiana with his husband Cory and their dog J.J., and he can be found online at

Q&A with J.R.

MWW: J.R., You have to tell us what it feels like to receive this accolade!

JJ: It feels unbelievable. Seriously, I’m still pinching myself, and I’m grateful to everyone who loved and championed the book. If the book wouldn’t have found its readers in print, the audiobook deal would have never happened and, obviously, it would have never hit this list.

Also, I’ve been a fan of Steve Martin since I was a kid (who doesn’t love Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?!), so to make this list alongside him was a dream come true. But let’s be real: Steve’s probably off on some exciting adventure, while I’m at home in pajamas yelling at my dog to stop eating our indoor plants.

MWW: In your arsenal of talent and experiences, what do you think contributed most to creating such a great audiobook? What kinds of challenges did you face along the way?

JJ: I had to audition to be the narrator (can you believe that?), and there was a chance I wouldn’t be cast to read my own life story. Obviously, I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I reached back

into my “mind arsenal” and pulled out memories from high school theatre and my days on the stage, and I shot my shot as they say. It was six weeks before I learned I’d gotten the part, and during those six weeks I spent a ton of time second-guessing myself. It was quite humbling!

What I think helped the most, though, was my experience narrating scripts for The Facing Project radio show that I host in coordination with Indiana Public Radio and the broader NPR network. It takes stamina and patience to get through the narration of a 300-page book when every line has to be perfectly delivered. There were many line repeats and pick-ups, and I was already used to that due to the radio show.

But the biggest challenge of all? I couldn’t have coffee for three days because it constricts vocal cords. God bless all of the audio engineers who had to greet me on those mornings.

MWW: Before this most recent, impressive distinction you’ve received had a number of writing success over the last several years–you deserve so many pats on the back! Tell us all about the cool things you’ve achieved! 

JJ: I don’t think I’ve done anything more interesting than any other writer, but one of my proudest moments was winning the Speed City Sisters in Crime flash-fiction contest at MWW 2023. I don’t write mystery or crime, and I definitely don’t write flash fiction; but it seemed like an interesting challenge. Let me tell you, I stayed up all night working and reworking that 250-word piece! It was maddening, but I’m glad I did it.

MWW: In what ways have you been involved with MWW, and how has that contributed to your journey as a writer?

JJ: I owe much to MWW. My first conference was in 2015 (when I was 36), and I was terrified. I didn’t have a manuscript, or any project I was working on, but I wanted to put my Creative Writing degree (that I had earned more than a decade before) to good use and get more serious about writing. Even still, I felt like a bit of an interloper; but everyone welcomed me with open arms. That warm reception made the world of difference because I was being accepted as a writer and not as someone who only dabbled in writing. That gave me confidence to keep going!

Also, MWW was the first time I had ever attended a session on the business side of writing. In fact, it was with Janet Reid—the query shark—and she scared the crap out of me, but it was the best crash course on understanding agents and editors and how to best pitch one’s work. I made it a priority to attend just as many business sessions as craft sessions in 2016 and 2017, and both helped as I wrote my memoir that landed me my literary agent and, eventually, my book being sold.

Since then, I’ve attended MWW as a participant and faculty member, and I learn something new each time I attend. The sessions are always top-notch!

MWW: What are your goals for your writing future? 

JJ: There’s so much I can and can’t tell you at this moment. What I can tell you is that I’m working with my agent on my debut young adult novel, and I can’t wait for you to read it someday. Young adult is where I want to spend a good portion of my energy, and my goal is to create stories that I wished I would have had when I was younger as a gay kid growing up in rural Indiana.

MWW: Please give our readers and writers some advice or recommendations that they can use for their own journeys.

JJ: Taste is subjective. Everyone has their own unique style; stick with it, know your voice, and work with others (including MWW) to hone your talent. You’ll find your champions and readers, and ignore everyone else who doesn’t love your work because, again, taste is subjective. Focus your energy on your work, and don’t get caught up in the noise.

MWW: Okay, and now my silly, fun question…if you could be any type of plant, what would you be?

JJ: I love Little Shop of Horrors, and because of that I’m leaning toward a Venus flytrap, but I don’t necessarily want to be a murderous, carnivorous plant like Audrey II (and I promise I’m not trying to tie this back to Steve Martin). I’m fascinated by all plants that show us humans something unexpected. Right now, we have a Brazilian Jasmine plant in our living room, and it’s grown these tentacles that literally move and point and furl and unfurl (I’ve seen it in real time!), and I’m convinced it’s going to strangle me someday. So, my husband and I affectionally call it Audrey III. Anyhow, I digress. I think I would want to be a plant that does more than sprout pretty flowers; I want to be a plant that makes people wonder.


More about Hillbilly Queer:

Hillbilly Queer is a thought-provoking memoir written by J.R. Jamison, who grew up a “hillbilly” and “queer” in a highly homophobic and hillbilly Indiana area. It is an enduring love story between a dad and son who find that sometimes the differences between us aren’t really that different at all.

“. . . One of the most humane and challenging memoirs to come out of the Midwest . . . Indeed, we are all more than heroes and villains, and Jamison does a great job of showing how and where our humanity gets lost between the two.”

— Ashley C. Ford, author of Somebody’s Daughter and host of the HBO podcast Lovecraft Country Radio

“One of those rare books that finds beauty in the irreconcilable. In an age when our politics and our nation can feel broken, Hillbilly Queer shows us the messy glue of love that still holds families together.”

— Samantha Allen, author of Real Queer America

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