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.
New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt and podcaster/book enthusiast Robin Kall recognized that — amid the coronavirus shut-downs — authors with new books being released (*raising my hand*) are having their events canceled.
On Twitter, they initially made a call for authors to record videos of themselves talking about their book, discussing the authors who influenced the writing of that book, and to cap it off by giving a shout-out to local independent bookstores.
I enthusiastically agreed to join their virtual author series and recorded my awkward video (see above) while praying Max and Tedy wouldn’t start howling outside my office door.
In the video — the link to which I’ve emailed Leavitt — I give a shout-out to Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, where I hosted my book launch and from where you can purchase signed copies of Uncomfortably Numb.
My husband Scott kicked off the event at Tatnuck Bookseller — shout out to independent book stores! — as he comically lamented the lot of those who are married to writers and who ultimately see bits of their lives used as grist for books and articles. (He’s a very good sport about it.)
After detailing how I came to write the memoir, I read a few excerpts and later signed copies.
I was honored to meet two fellow MS patients who shared their experiences with me. Hopefully I’ll meet many more as I continue to promote Uncomfortably Numb.
My daughter Abbey and her college roommate Stephanie helped out at the book table, where we collected donations for the National MS Society. (My son Casey, it should be noted, surprised me by coming home from school to celebrate the release.)
I’m looking forward to the next book event: March 28 at 1 p.m. at the Holyoke, MA Barnes & Noble.
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.
Award-winning writer Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of nine books, including novels and works of nonfiction, praises Mr. Clark’s Big Band:
With a journalist’s commitment, a teacher’s passion and a mother’s heart, Meredith O’Brien brings her readers to a community leveled by sudden loss then bundled in music’s ability to heal. As well as illustrating the author’s stellar talent, Mr. Clark’s Big Band shows her radar for a timeless story, one that underlines in gold the power of the unsung heroes all around us.
Strempek Shea teaches creative writing in the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program, and is the writer-in-residence and director of the creative writing program at Bay Path University.