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.
The Republican — the daily newspaper for which I used to work way back in the day, back when it was called The Union-News –ran a feature story about my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, and my experiences with MS.
Fatigue hit her hard while she was watching her son at a Christmas musical event at the high school in Southborough where she now lives. “Quite quickly, my thinking became foggy and my legs were on the verge of giving out,” O’Brien recalls. “I had to ask my husband to drive me home immediately. I spent the next several days in bed, unable to do what I wanted because my body needed the rest.”
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.
Bay Path University played host to its 16th Writers’ Day this past weekend, as scribes talked about how to effectively read one’s work aloud in front of a crowd (Charles Coe, All Sins Forgiven poet and author extraordinaire!) and how to turn family documents, handwritten letters, and memories into an intergenerational memoir (the fabulous Patricia Reis, Motherlinesauthor).
The final panel was packed with tales from three writers–Kinship of Clover’s Ellen Meeropol, This is How It Begins’ Joan Dempsey, and yours truly (see above photos)–who discussed how we used events in the world and in our own lives to inspire our writing, as well as how we folded current events into existing narratives on which we were working. My presentation focused on the real life events in my town of Southborough that inspired Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and how I worked events such as the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing into my book about a middle school jazz band.
Thank you to author and educator Suzanne Strempek Shea for putting these panels together and for affording us the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking about one of our favorite subjects: writing.
The first panel is slated to be led by author, visual artist, filmmaker, and therapist Patricia Reis: “Mining the Personal for your Nonfiction.” According to the itinerary: “Topics will include using personal elements and materials in nonfiction rather than fiction, how resources can be gathered, what it’s like to present a relative’s story–and your own–so candidly, and dealing with family reactions while a project is in progress and after it’s published.”
The second panel is scheduled to be anchored by award-winning poet and singer Charles Coe: “Standing Your Ground: Thoughts on Reading in Public.” Coe plans to “describe tools and techniques that can help in preparing and delivering a reading. He’ll also work with a few volunteers willing to read before the group and be coached on their presentations.”
The third and final panel–from 4:10 – 5:25 p.m.– will feature Ellen Meeropol, Joan Dempsey and me for, “Swimming with the Current.” Panelists will “discuss how current events in their hometowns and in the larger world have inspired their engrossing fiction and nonfiction. Incorporating topics including cults, racial diversity, the Boston marathon bombings, human trafficking, and a community in grief, the trio’s work will get you thinking about how to use current events as your own springboard.”
The rapidly growing MFA program, in which I enrolled in the fall of 2014, is staffed by a number of writers and editors with real-world experience who provided support and encouragement to the graduate students, something for which I remain grateful.
D’Aries, who will become the coordinator of Western Connecticut State University MFA program this fall, introduced me at the MFA event with generous and gracious remarks. (Photo right.) D’Aries offered valuable feedback as I worked on Mr. Clark’s Big Band — published in May 2017 — and workshopped large swaths of the narrative nonfiction work in his classes.
Meanwhile, Braver, my thesis adviser, was instrumental in helping me sculpt and develop my medical memoir into a richer and more reflective work. I am currently developing the memoir.
After completing the creative nonfiction program, I was more than happy to share my thoughts about it for the Bay Path MFA program’s website, where a number of my classmates also weighed in on their experiences.