Jersey City Author Reclaims Painful Narrative

In "Being Lolita," Alisson Wood challenges the perceptions of romance and consent in Vladimir Nabokov’s "Lolita"—and in her own past.

being lolita alisson wood
Photo of Alisson Wood by Christie Spillane

Alisson Wood wanted to reclaim her own narrative. With her debut memoir, Being Lolita, she does just that. 

In Being Lolita, Wood tells of her experience at 17, when her high school English teacher took advantage of her vulnerability and his position and shifted their connection from teacher-student into a sinister romance. 

Eight years her senior, “the teacher,” as she often refers to him, gave Wood a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita, reading it to her and using it as an outline to their relationship. 

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Now, more than a decade later, Wood uses the structure of the same novel to challenge the perceptions of romance and consent in Lolita and her own past. “Nabokov’s novel is written to seem like a beautiful story about love, in which a 12-year-old is the ‘temptress.’ But it’s very clearly about an older man grooming, kidnapping and abusing this young girl,” says Wood. Her memoir reveals how the manipulation and abuse present in Lolita were mirrored in her own relationship.  

When writing Being Lolita, published in August by Flatiron Books-Macmillan, Wood plunged back into her adolescent mind by reading dozens of journals she filled during that time. The research was difficult. “I constantly found myself wanting to yell at 17-year-old Alisson,” says the Jersey City resident. Now a professor of creative writing at NYU, Wood has a new empathy for her younger self and a deeper understanding of how egregious her teacher was to take advantage of a student.

“Teaching has given me a clearer point of view,” she says. “I cannot understand the mindset of a teacher who would cross that line.”

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