The Healing Diaries: Writing about Illness
Virginia Woolf said in her famous 1926 essay, “On Being Ill”: "Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind… the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.”
In our time, the body in pain has come into its own as a subject. From Joan Didion to Cheryl Strayed, Oliver Sacks to John Green, Edwidge Danticat to Kazuo Ishiguro, Leslie Jamison, Eula Biss, Sarah Manguso, Roxane Gay and Esmé Weijun Wang, tales of illness and survivorship are more than a preoccupation, they are page-turners. In this online class, we will explore the nature of writing about illness through published excerpts from both classic and contemporary literature (including the authors above, and memoirs by Keah Brown and Haben Girma). Weekly writing exercises will cover topics such as the human face of illness, exploring backstory, the genetics of generations, the central images and metaphors of the body and medicine, and the anatomy of moments, breaking down scenes to describe the indescribable—whether that be the experience of shock, or the sensation of a life flashing before us. We’ll also discuss elements of craft like voice, dialogue, scene development, self-examination, and situational irony (the sticky situations which arise in the lives of our characters and our familiars in the midst of the body—or the brain’s—inevitable changes).
Students will also have the opportunity to submit 2-3 pieces for instructor and peer feedback. Students can expect to come away from the class with a portfolio of new scenes and starting-points for essays or stories as well as a bibliography of resources for writing about illness and disability, including publications open to submission.
Any and all writers who are writing in the field of narrative medicine, whether composing first-person accounts, or crafting fiction dealing with disability, disease, acute and chronic illness, are welcome.
*NOTE that while our handy dandy "Schedule" tab states a 6-7pm class time, there are actually no live meetings for this class! Weekly lessons and assignments open each Wednesday. Students will receive an invitation to Wet Ink, our online class platform, before 5pm on the first day of class.
Thanks to the excellent literary citizenship of our donors, scholarships are available for all GrubStreet classes. To apply, click the gray "APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIP" button. In order to be considered for a scholarship, you must complete your application at least one week before the start date of a class. Please await our scholarship committee's decision before registering for the class. We cannot hold spots in classes, so the sooner you apply, the better. Scholarships cannot be applied retroactively.
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