I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Friends of the Hatch Library author series at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Mass. — where I teach in the MFA in creative nonfiction program, a program from which I graduated in 2017.
I discussed my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, read an excerpt that took place in Martha’s Vineyard aloud, as well as fielded myriad questions about writing, research, and inspiration.
Fast-forward to early February 2021: I was contacted by MFA Program Director Leanna James Blackwell and asked if I could take over the already-in-progress Intro to Narrative Medicine class because Suzanne had to take a temporary leave due to an injury. (This is such a weird confluence of events, an injury preventing her from teaching narrative medicine.) Luckily, I was already familiar with the Canvas learning management system which they utilize — also used by Northeastern University where I teach journalism classes — and had already read one of the main texts.
Now as I plan to have my second evening Zoom class with a group of seven writers, I finally feel as though I’ve got a handle on the class and its rhythm, and cannot wait for the rest of the semester to unfold as we devour Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks, Bodies of Truth edited by Dinty W. Moore, Erin Murphy, et al., and engage with the students’ creative nonfiction work about issues of illness and trauma.
Meanwhile, we’re sending healing vibes to Suzanne!
I’ll be joining award-winning author, Bay Path University writer-in-residence and faculty member, the wonderful Suzanne Strempek Sheaon June 1 for a free webinar where we’ll discuss “Narrative Medicine and the Art of the Medical Memoir.”
Writer Michael Carlton said in Yankee Magazine,Songs from a Lead-Lined Room “is one of the most moving and important books ever written about the extraordinary pressures the disease places not only on the victim, but on family and friends as well.”
Strempek Shea and I worked together at the Springfield, MA daily newspaper, The Republican, and she has written blurbs for a number of my books. It was our connection that resulted in my attending and graduating from the Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, which she was instrumental in creating.
Please join us for a warm conversation between friends about the craft of writing about the innately personal topics of illness and medicine.
For the past two years, an increasing number of my university students have been asking me whether what they’re seeing transpire between White House officials and members of the national news media is, for lack of a better word, “normal.”
They often refer to the death threats journalists like White House reporter April Ryan has received after being singled out by the president for verbal attacks. They talk about how the commander-in-chief routinely labels news reporters as the “enemy of the people” (a phrase applied by dictators like Stalin, as NPR’s Scott Simon said “to vilify their opponents … who were often murdered.”). They are aghast that the president once joked about killing journalists and routinely calls those who practice journalism as “fake.” During the presidential campaign, a Trump supporter wore a T-shirt to a Trump campaign rally suggesting that journalists be lynched.
I wrote a piece for the Inside Higher Ed website exploring my struggles with teaching students how to be savvy news consumers when things like basic facts are under assault.
The book talk/signing at the Southborough Library finally — finally! — happened after being rescheduled three times following snowstorms and a bout of the flu.
Parents of current and former Trottier Middle School students who attended the reading at the library (see video below) told me they were mentally and emotionally brought back to the days when our children roamed the halls of the middle school, when some of the kids played music for Mr. Clark, and when all of the students mourned the loss of their friend, Eric Green.
Two days later, Mr. Clark and I chatted about Mr. Clark’s Big Band with music fans at the Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the season, a season in which music educators were celebrated.
Some current Trottier Middle School students attended the show in Milford’s historic town hall and stopped by to greet Mr. Clark, who couldn’t play the trombone with his pals in the Claflin brass section because he recently had elbow surgery (see the sling he’s sporting in the photo below).
Several folks also paused at the book table to fondly remember former Algonquin Regional High School music director Dennis Wrenn, the man who helped Mr. Clark get his job in the Southborough school system and who is mentioned several times in Mr. Clark’s Big Band.
It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.
And my first sneaker.
And a slightly sweaty palm.
Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)
Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.
Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.
The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.
I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.
If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.
The trio that make up the Hopkinton Coffee Break hosts — Darlene Hayes, Colleen Wright, and Patricia Duarte — recently invited me to dish with them about my writing, my kids, and journalism during their lively half-hour weekly talk show.
The League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area recently posted the video of the late-2017 panel of journalists and news media educators discussing the importance of media literacy and how to combat the scourge of “fake news.”
The 33-minute video above is of the second half of the panel discussion, the academic portion in which I participated as a faculty member at Northeastern University’s Journalism Department. Joining me were fellow panelists Chris Gilbert, Assumption College assistant professor of Communications, and Mary Robb, Andover High School civics and media literacy teacher.