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April 17, 2019 post – Community Writing Class

Hello readers! Hannah Nuss here, current Assistant Editorial Intern for the Drake Community Press. Over the course of completing our publication, I’ll be keeping you updated on the many facets and faces that make up this wonderful project! My first blog entry is focused on the Community Writing class taught by Carol Spaulding-Kruse, the Director of DCP. I’m fortunate enough to be employed by the press and be enrolled in the class, allowing me to see our publication from many angles of operation.

As you’re probably aware, DCP is partnering with Above + Beyond Cancer for our upcoming book, telling the stories of those affected by cancer in the Des Moines community. The class then is an opportunity for students to refine their writing skills while also connecting with the narratives of those in their community. The Community Writing class has spent much of its time thus far examining the cannon of cancer literature in an effort to prep students for when they’ll be writing cancer other people’s narratives.

We’ve read some fascinating stuff so far! Two of the more notable titles have been memoirs When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and In The Body of Everything by Eve Ensler. I especially enjoyed Ensler’s writing for the raw and riveting qualities of her prose. The details of her cancer journey relayed themselves in my mind long after reading them:

“What if, instead of being afraid of even talking about death, we saw our lives in some ways as preparation for it. What if we were taught to ponder it and reflect on it and talk about it and enter it and rehearse it and try it on? What if, rather than being cast out and defined by some terminal category, you were identified as someone in the middle of a transformation that could deepen your soul, open your heart, and all the while-even if and particularly when you were dying-you would be supported by and be part of a community?”

Enlser’s writing advocated for viewing cancer and the prospect of illness from a new lens. Lately, our class has been learning about the budding concept of Narrative Medicine. If this idea is unfamiliar to you, no worries, most of us had never heard of it either… Narrative medicine, put simply, is “a medical approach that utilizes people’s narratives in clinical practice, research, and education as a way to promote healing.” In other words, it is the practice of medical professionals listening to their patients and recognizing their stories. This process extends itself to validate the experiences of the patients while also prompting physicians to be more reflective of their role as healers. Narrative medicine then emphasizes the support of a community in a similar way to Ensler’s quote.

“It’s so interesting to read and write about cancer in a positive and transformative way, not just a tragic way,” student Marisa Morris said. Marisa is a good friend of mine and a fellow member of the Community Writing class. Together, we’ve enjoyed learning all the complexities involved in telling stories, especially the stories of others.

Our class being equipped with the wisdom from prominent cancer writers like Enlser helps us to understand how to tell a story. The knowledge from narrative medicine helps us to know the value of telling a patient’s story. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see this group’s progress!

Dr. Deming at the Community Writing Class