Nov. 19, 2007
UI 'Patient Voice' participants present free reading Nov. 29
Participants in the University of Iowa "Patient Voice" program, which provides writing resources and mentoring to people with chronic illnesses, will present a free reading at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.
The project was the brainchild of writer Austin Bunn, when he was a graduate student in the UI Writers' Workshop, and was launched by the UI Arts Share program in collaboration with the UI Hospitals and Clinics, through support from the office of the Provost. The project later was awarded grants from Johnson & Johnson/Society for the Arts in Healthcare and Humanities Iowa.
Bunn recruited other Writers' Workshop students, who teach free individual and group classes with a variety of patient populations, including people with cancer, mental illness, digestive diseases, AIDS and Huntington's Disease.
"Often, the chronically ill are the bearers of a 'broken story,' one that has a clear beginning followed by an ocean of middle with little sense of closure or personal choice," Bunn explained. "The premise of this project is to bring our training at the Writers' Workshop to bear on the challenge of studying and repairing this broken story.
"I know about the 'broken story' from personal experience. As a kid, I was a patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and after two surgeries there I hungered to make sense of the experience. But no one I knew, from my parents to friends, was able to listen to a story that I was, in truth, incapable of telling. Now, I feel like the 'Patient Voice' is a great way to see how writing can actually help people.
"This is not distraction therapy," he stresses. "Actually, it's the opposite. It brings intense focus on their experience with illness, and their experience as patients."
The ambition of the program is to explore the therapeutic benefits of writing for those struggling with chronic mental and physical pain, to address what medical sociologist Arthur Frank calls the "narrative wreckage" caused by serious injury or illness.
The classes, held at the Iowa City Public Library, are informal and low stress. All "Patient Voice" participants receive writing utensils, journals and a binder of reading materials and exercises. A typical "Patient Voice" class includes creative writing and visualization exercises, paired with readings, all with an eye on helping the students to study and "story" their experiences of illness.
Arts Share is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Writers' Workshop is a graduate program in the college.
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