teaching narrative nonfiction with bay path university’s mfa program

A beloved colleague of mine from my western Massachusetts newspaper reporting days — Suzanne Strempek Shea, with whom I used to work at the Springfield, Mass. newspaper — designed a wonderful Narrative Medicine area of study for Bay Path University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program.

It’s a new track in the MFA program (I earned my MFA in creative nonfiction there in 2017) and is also offered as a stand-alone certificate program. Last June, I participated in a Bay Path MFA webinar to discuss my 2020 medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, where Suzanne and I talked virtually about the book as well as narrative medicine.

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!

springfield (ma) paper features ‘uncomfortably numb’

Screenshot 2020-05-25 19.09.33The 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.

Here’s how it begins:

In her new book, Uncomfortably Numb: A memoir about the life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis,” West Springfield native Meredith O’Brien describes how she went overboard one Christmas season after a semester teaching ended and she proceeded to tackle “a ton of activities, too many, actually.”

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.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

Thank you to editor Cynthia Simison –who was my bureau chief in the Westfield, MA bureau — and to writer Cori Urban for the piece.

The article includes a plug for my June 1, 1-2 p.m. webinar with Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction to discuss “The Art of the Medical Memoir.” Sign up for the free webinar here.

Image credit: The Republican.

 

june 1: free webinar on ‘narrative medicine and the art of the medical memoir’

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I’ll be joining award-winning author, Bay Path University writer-in-residence and faculty member, the wonderful Suzanne Strempek Shea on June 1 for a free webinar where we’ll discuss “Narrative Medicine and the Art of the Medical Memoir.”

Hosted by Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction program, the one-hour webinar, from 1-2 p.m., is open to the public. Register here.

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Strempek Shea is the author of many books including Songs from a Lead-Lined Room: Notes — High and Low — From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation, a memoir writer Anita Shreve called, “one of those books that changes your life forever.”

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.

Image credits: Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, Amazon.

writers’ day panel at BPU talks current events & nonfiction

bay path writers day 2017CBay 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, Motherlines author).

bay path writers day 2017BThe 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.

Image credits: Suzanne Strempek SheaSuzanne Strempek Shea via the Bay Path University MFA Program.