Sickness, Wellness, Life and Death: Writing about Medical Peril

How do you balance, for the reader, descriptions that contain extraordinary suffering or pain with a sense of forward momentum or narrative tension and vitality, even joy, in the prose? As we describe the unbearable can we simultaneously pull the reader onward? What role does humor, however black, play within a narrative voice that describes illness? Whether you are writing a memoir that chronicles a deep personal loss, physical pain or a medical mystery – there are limitless ways to pace and leaven the intensity of the material so that the reader stays inside your story. In this workshop, we will look to the examples of Elizabeth Alexander’s All the Light of the World and Abigail Thomas’ A Three Dog Life, as memoirs which successfully lead the reader through a writer’s personal hell, and out again — toward a sliver of, if not hope or redemption, a deeper way of knowing the world. Please read both. If you wish to submit something you are working on in advance, please no more than two pages. We will look at your work in class, if you are willing and time allows.

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