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J.C.
Guggenheim Fellow
Award Winning Non-Fiction Author
Travels from: Tulsa, Oklahoma

“Rigorous and innovative. . . .Hallman successfully transforms Anarcha from historical object to subject, and shines a light on the contentious rise of medical ethics in the 19th century. It’s a must-read.”―Publishers Weekly

J.C. Hallman grew up in Southern California. He studied writing at the University of Pittsburgh, the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Hallman’s nonfiction combines memoir, history, journalism, and travelogue. His first book, The Chess Artist, tells the story of Hallman’s friendship with chess player Glenn Umstead. His second, The Devil is a Gentleman, is an intellectual apprenticeship with philosopher William James. In Utopia explores the history of utopian literature in the context of visits to six modern utopias in various stages of realization. Wm & H’ry examines the copious correspondence of William and Henry James. And B & Me is an account of Hallman’s literary relationship with Nicholson Baker.

Hallman has also published a book of short stories, The Hospital for Bad Poets, and edited two anthologies of “creative criticism,” The Story About the Story and The Story About the Story II. Among other honors, Hallman was a recipient of a 2010 McKnight Artist Fellowship in fiction, and a 2013 Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in the general non-fiction category.

In 2015, Hallman discovered the first evidence that proved the existence of the young, enslaved woman known as Anarcha, the so-called first cure of the diabolical “father of gynecology,” J. Marion Sims. In making significant contributions to the histories of slavery and medicine, Hallman’s dual biography, Say Anarcha, excavates and centers Anarcha’s story, and provides a much-needed corrective to the false narrative of Sims’s career.

J.C.'s Featured Titles

Say Anarcha: A Young Woman, a Devious Surgeon, and the Harrowing Birth of Modern Women’s Health

Henry Holt and Co. |
Non-Fiction

A compelling reckoning with the birth of women’s health that illuminates the sacrifices of a young woman who changed the world only to be forgotten by it―until now

For more than a century, Dr. J. Marion Sims was hailed as the “father of modern gynecology.” He founded a hospital in New York City and had a profitable career treating gentry and royalty in Europe, becoming one of the world’s first celebrity surgeons. Statues were built in his honor, but he wasn’t the hero he had made himself appear to be.

Sims’s greatest medical claim was the result of several years of experimental surgeries―without anesthesia―on a young enslaved woman known as Anarcha; his so-called cure for obstetric fistula forever altered the path of women’s health.

One medical text after another hailed Anarcha as the embodiment of the pivotal role that Sims played in the history of surgery. Decades later, a groundswell of women objecting to Sims’s legacy celebrated Anarcha as the “mother of gynecology.” Little was known about the woman herself. The written record would have us believe Anarcha disappeared; she did not.

Through tenacious research, J. C. Hallman has unearthed the first evidence of Anarcha’s life that did not come from Sims’s suspect reports. Hallman reveals that after helping to spark a patient-centered model of care that continues to improve women’s lives today, Anarcha lived on as a midwife, nurse, and “doctor woman.”

Say Anarcha excavates history, deconstructing the biographical smoke screen of a surgeon who has falsely been enshrined as a medical pioneer and bringing forth a heroic Black woman to her rightful place at the center of the creation story of modern women’s health care.

B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal

Simon & Schuster |
Non-Fiction

A funny, frisky, often outrageous book about love, literature, and modern life—and a wink of the eye toU and I, Nicholson Baker’s classic book about John Updike—by an award-winning author called “wonderfully bright” by The New York Times Book Review.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Nicholson Baker published U and I, the fretful and handwringing—but also groundbreaking—tale of his literary relationship with John Updike. U and I inspired a whole sub-genre of engaging, entertaining writing about reading, but what no story of this type has ever done is tell its tale from the moment of conception, that moment when you realize that there is a writer out there in the world that you must read—so you read them. B & Me is that story, the story of J.C. Hallman discovering and reading Nicholson Baker, and discovering himself in the process.

Our relationship to books in the digital age, the role of art in an increasingly commodified world, the power great writing has to change us, these are at the core of Hallman’s investigation of Baker—questions he’s grappled with, values he’s come to doubt. But in reading Baker’s work, Hallman discovers the key to overcoming the malaise that has been plaguing him, through the books themselves and what he finds and contemplates in his attempts to understand them and their enigmatic author: sex, book jackets, an old bed and breakfast, love, Monica Lewinsky, Paris, marriage, more sex, the logistics of libraries.

In the spirit of Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage and Elif Batuman’s The PossessedB & Me is literary self-archaeology: a funny, irreverent, incisive story of one reader’s desperate quest to restore passion to literature, and all the things he learns along the way.

Wm & H’ry: Literature, Love, and the Letters between Wiliam and Henry James

University Of Iowa Press |
Short Story Collection

“J. C. Hallman, with wit and wisdom, maps the now flashing, now somber streams of thought coursing through the correspondence of the James brothers, two of the undisputed geniuses in American letters. . . . In Hallman’s able hands, Wm and H’ry come dazzlingly alive as well-seasoned guides through the depths and shoals of the writing life and of everyday living.”—Eric G. Wilson, author, My Business Is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing and Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise

St. Martin’s Press |
Non-Fiction

In 2005, J.C. Hallman came across a scientific paper about “Pleistocene Rewilding,” a peculiar idea from conservation biology that suggested repopulating bereft ecosystems with endangered “megafauna.” The plan sounded utterly utopian, but Hallman liked the idea as much as the scientists did—perhaps because he had grown up on a street called Utopia Road in a master-planned community in Southern California. Pleistocene Rewilding rekindled in him a longstanding fascination with utopian ideas, and he went on to spend three weeks at the world’s oldest “intentional community,” sail on the first ship where it’s possible to own “real estate,” train at the world’s largest civilian combat-school, and tour a $30 billion megacity built from scratch on an artificial island off the coast of Korea. In Utopia explores the history of utopian literature and thought in the narrative context of the real-life fruits of that history.

The Hospital For Bad Poets: Stories

Milkweed Editions |
Short Story Collection

Full of cryptic twists, philosophical quandaries, and fabulist turns, J. C. Hallman’s stories elucidate an intuitive understanding of the human condition.

An alienated young man discovers the meaning of love in the pages of the biology textbook The Conjugal Cyst, and in the arms of two increasingly unavailable older nurses. As his father deserts his mother, who is subsequently encroached upon by his eligible English teacher, an adolescent boy constructs a wicker man in the garage, to repel successors and to summon his own adult identity. A mother and son witness a father’s backyard fling with a disturbed neighbor who has pruned a leafy cave out of the dividing hedge. A young couple’s romantic consummation is repeatedly interrupted by the intrusion of a narrator commenting on the phenomenon of eroticism.

Richly allusive, these literate and literary stories explore modern riddles with no easy answers.

The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World’s Oldest Game

Thomas Dunne Books |
Non-Fiction

In the tiny Russian province of Kalmykia, obsession with chess has reached new heights. Its leader, a charismatic and eccentric millionaire/ex–car salesman named Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is a former chess prodigy and the most recent president of FIDE, the world’s controlling chess body. Despite credible allegations of his involvement in drug running, embezzlement, and murder, the impoverished Kalmykian people have rallied around their leader’s obsession—chess is played on Kalmykian prime-time television and is compulsory in Kalmykian schools. In addition, Kalmyk women have been known to alter their traditional costumes of pillbox hats and satin gowns to include chessboard-patterned sashes.

The Chess Artist is both an intellectual journey and first-rate travel writing dedicated to the love of chess and all of its related oddities, writer and chess enthusiast J. C. Hallman explores the obsessive hold chess exerts on its followers by examining the history and evolution of the game and the people who dedicate their lives to it. Together with his friend Glenn Umstead, an African-American chessmaster who is arguably as chess obsessed as Ilyumzhinov, Hallman tours New York City’s legendary chess district, crashes a Princeton Math Department game party, challenges a convicted murderer to a chess match in prison, and travels to Kalmykia, where they are confronted with members of the Russian intelligence service, beautiful translators who may be spies, seven-year-old chess prodigies, and the sad blight of a land struggling toward capitalism.

In the tradition of The Professor and the Madman, Longitude, and The Orchid Thief, Hallman transforms an obsessive quest for obscure things into a compulsively readable and entertaining weaving of travelogue, journalism, and chess history.

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The Search for Anarcha

Lecture and slide presentation detailing the search for Anarcha, the so-called “first cure” of diabolical surgeon, J. Marion Sims. The story begins with a 1928 plantation inventory that provides the first evidence of Anarcha’s life that did not come from Sims’s own suspect writings, and travels all the way to the remote forest in Virginia, where Anarcha is buried alongside her husband. The surprising picaresque of Anarcha’s life reveals that the “first cure” of J. Marion Sims was never fully cured, and that her life story eventually intertwined with the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

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The Sims Legacy

Lecture and slide presentation that examines the many claims that Sims and his champions have made in regard to his contributions to medicine. The talk systematically debunks each of Sims’s claims to fame, and situates him as more showman and propagandist than true medical pioneer. The lecture indicts the broader medical establishment that aided and abetted Sims’s fraudulent biographical facade, but also highlights the efforts made by Sims’s greatest critics — often his assistants, also members of the medical community — to question his many false assertions.

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The Women of Say Anarcha

Lecture and slide presentation detailing the many women who play a role in Say Anarcha. Not only is there Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey, and the group of enslaved women who made up Sims’s initial group of experimental subjects in Alabama, there is also the many Irish immigrants who, having fled Ireland’s potato famine on board “coffin ships,” came to be experimented on by Sims in New York City. In addition, there is the story of Woman’s Hospital’s “Board of Lady Managers” (featuring philanthropists Sarah Platt Doremus and Caroline Lane), who fought to have Sims ousted form the hospital he founded in 1855. As well, there is Mary L. Booth, who worked for Sims for a time while also working as a NY Times reporter (and likely betrayed Sims to the state department); Lydia Maria Child, the author and abolitionist; and Maria Jefferson Carr Randolph, a great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson, who was Anarcha’s final owner.

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Sims as Confederate Spy

Lecture and slide presentation focusing on the second half of Say Anarcha, which becomes a Civil War narrative. Brand new to the book is the revelation that Sims worked as a spy on behalf of the Confederacy in Paris during the war, serving as an informal contact between the South’s formal diplomats in France and Napoleon III. This lecture delves into the intrigue of the war as France and England considered entering the conflict on the side of the Confederate States, and returns to the story of Anarcha when her enslaver, William L. Maury, is given command of one of the South’s “privateers,” which were eventually permitted to dock in French ports for repairs. Sims’s time as a spy during the war has gone completely overlooked in both Civil War history, and his own biographies.

Anarcha Archive Link

Say Anarcha YouTube Channel

J.C. Hallman Other Writings Link

Honors, Awards & Recognition

McKnight Fellow, 2010
Guggenheim Fellow, 2013

Media Kit

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