“Those moments when you find resonance in someone else's voice or someone else’s experience that you thought you might have nothing in common with, are so powerful and so deeply human.” - Suleika Jaouad
Emmy Award-winning writer, speaker, activist, and cancer survivor Suleika Jaouad spent the spring trimester teaching creative writing to a group of Thacher seniors in a class titled The Stories We Carry.
According to Ms. Jaouad, she wanted to create a creative writing class that adopts the MFA graduate in writing model: “My hope was to give them a glimpse of what creative writing at a college level or a graduate level would look like and hopefully to interest some of them in pursuing creative writing more seriously in college.” In designing the class, she “wanted to create opportunities for students to talk to writers with very different backgrounds, with different kinds of writing, and to actually hear not only what it is that they do, but how it is that they’ve gotten to where they are.” Because for her, as an aspiring writer, her interactions with actual writers during her high school and college years were some of her most influential experiences.
To that end, Ms. Jaouad arranged for the students to study the writings of and have discussions with seven published writers: 2016 Pushcart Prize winner, Jordan Kisner; author of The New York Times best seller, This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jerkins; author of a recently released memoir of loss, Once More We Saw Stars, Jayson Green; Ellen Adams CdeP 2005, whose work has appeared in several literary journals; musician and songwriter, Jon Batiste, who has also written for The New York Times; Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias, and her debut novel, The Border of Paradise; and Melissa Febos, author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart and the essay collection, Abandon Me. “I try to make the week a self-contained unit that’s modeled after some aspect of the writer’s work,” said Ms. Jaouad.
Katherine Halsey co-taught the class and was impressed by the quality of the guest speakers: “She [introduced] them to rock star authors who are blowing up on the current literary scene.” Ms. Halsey, head of the Voices and Perspectives Committee that organizes Thacher’s calendar of visiting speakers and performers, invited Ms. Jaouad to Thacher as an Anacapa Fellow. The Anacapa Fellowship is offered to a qualified scholar or artist eager to engage in the intellectual and social life of the School for eight to ten weeks.
This is Ms. Jaouad’s third and longest visit to campus. In 2013, she was part of a weekend program, called The Power of Story, which brought a documentary filmmaker, a songwriter, an actor, a poet, an experiential designer, and Ms. Jaouad, a non-fiction writer, together to share their creative experiences with Thacher students. She returned to interview Katherine Halsey as part of a project to connect with people with whom she had been corresponding over the years. Ms. Halsey’s appreciation for Ms. Jaouad was rekindled during that visit and she began looking for a way to bring the writer back to Thacher to work with creative writing students. Ultimately, The Anacapa Fellowship was the perfect vehicle, and the timing was right for Ms. Jaouad, as her time at Thacher gave her a chance to teach and to complete the final edits for her upcoming book.
While the class was designed with future writers in mind, Ms. Jaouad sees long term benefits even for the students who don’t intend to become writers: “I think writing is so fundamental to everything. It doesn’t matter what you go on to do. I think it’s one of those skills that’s always important to be developing and crafting. When I was little, what made me want to be a writer was that it’s a different way of observing the world and your place in it.”
We spoke with Ms. Jaouad as her time here at Thacher was coming to an end, and asked about her experience. “Coming from New York, Thacher is like an exotic tropical vacation—climate wise,” she said. “I’ve been amazed by what a welcoming community this has been and so impressed with the students…. I’m really blown away by the caliber of the students here. Their willingness to be uncomfortable. To interrogate new ideas, To be open.”
More About Suleika Jaouad
Suleika Jaouad wrote the acclaimed New York Times column “Life, Interrupted” and is the subject of the accompanying video series, which chronicled her journey with leukemia throughout her twenties. She has written reported features, essays, and commentary for New York Times Magazine, Vogue, NPR, National Geographic, Glamour, and numerous other publications. Her highly anticipated debut memoir, Between Two Kingdoms, is forthcoming from Random House.
She received her B.A. with highest honors from Princeton University. Suleika’s career aspirations as a war correspondent were cut short when, at age 22, less than a year after graduation, she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia. After nearly four years of chemotherapy, a clinical trial and a bone marrow transplant, she is now in remission. She began writing the “Life, Interrupted” column from the bone marrow transplant unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and has since become a fierce advocate for those living with illness and chronic pain. She served on Barack Obama's Presidential Cancer Panel, and sits on the national advisory boards of Family Reach and The Bone Marrow Foundation.
She has appeared on The Today Show, NPR's Talk of The Nation, PBS documentary The Emperor of All Maladies, CBS News, The Paris Review, Vogue, Into The Gloss, The Los Angeles Times and Darling Magazine, among others.” (Source: http://suleikajaouad.com)
View Suleika's TED Talk from April 2019.