Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies

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The Book

This edited anthology, which includes poems, essays, short stories, and other creative forms (e.g., a radio diary, a letter to a social service agency), is organized into sections that include Body and Self, Diagnosis and Treatment, Womanhood, Family Life and Caregiving, Professional Life and Illness, and Advocacy. Most works found their way into this collection through a call for submissions, although a few selections are well known, such as Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “So You’re Going to Have a New Body !,” or an excerpt from Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom (see annotations). In addition, the anthology also includes essays by scholars such as Arthur W. Frank and Rita Charon, who theorize gendered illness narratives.

This is a remarkable and useful anthology of stories of illness and healing. Going well beyond the usual focus on breast cancer, reproductive issues, and eating disorders, the book is a rich examination of a full array of health matters confronting women over their lifespans, including arthritis, incest, abortion, multiple sclerosis, food allergies, and manic depression; it even contains a wonderful meditation on the placenta. Also included are narratives of women who care for others, usually husbands, children, or aging parents.

About the Authors

Sayantani DasGupta, MD, MPH, is a faculty member in the Division of General Pediatrics and the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. She teaches classes on illness narratives and narrative genetics at Sarah Lawrence College and is a prose faculty member in an intensive summer seminar on “Writing the Medical Experience.” Marsha Hurst, PhD, is Director of the Health Advocacy master’s program at Sarah Lawrence College, where she teaches courses on the history of health care and women’s health.

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