Edited Collection: An Illness of Her Own: Women and Their Writing Processes and Products
An Illness of Her Own: Women and Their Writing Processes and Products
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, iconic feminist scholar Susan Gubar turned to writing to produce her 2012 Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer, depicting her “life-in-death” (188) illness with brutal honesty. Gubar emphasizes a “telling [of] the truth about the experiences of the female body” as her illness destroyed her understanding of self (31). Her autopathography is one example of many illness narratives—a genre that has seen a steady rise—from increased publications to developed scholarship across literary studies and the medical humanities. As G. Thomas Couser underscores in “Body Language: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing,” the genre peaked this past century, and his “informal tally” documented a wider range of conditions being narrated (3, 5). From anorexia to chronic fatigue to obsessive-compulsive disorder to Tourette syndrome (to name a few), Couser stresses that authors are sharing their private stories of illness in all shapes and forms.
Women writing their illnesses is but one sub-category worthy of exploration. In 2007, Sayantani DasGupta and Marsha Hurst offer “a variety of women’s illness narratives—poetry, essays, short fiction, short drama, analyses, and even transcribed oral testimonies” in their edited collection Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies. Told through memoirs, poems, short stories, graphic novels, photo essays, hybrid genres, and more, these personal journeys add insight into communal stories and social structures. Yet scholars such as Martha Holmes points out that there remains “substantial critical controversy” associated with illness narratives, primarily “the difficult balance between individual experience and larger social issues” (11). In addition, while Kathlyn Conway, author of Beyond Words: Illness and the Limits of Expression, acknowledges that “[illness] narratives…have important cultural significance,” she aptly notes that too often the focus remains on what Arthur W. Frank has labeled as the restitution narrative, or what she describes as narratives of triumph, overshadowing “the more difficult aspects of illness and disability…[and] the limits of language and literary form for representing pain, suffering, and awareness of mortality” (3-4). Conway’s text asserts that “while illness is now an acceptable topic of discussion, the difficulties of serious illnesses are often not” (8). Gubar’s memoir accentuates this lack in the literature, this absence of textually capturing the harsh realities when the subject is women and their illnesses.
This collection focuses on these marginalized stories that address women’s difficult truths and raw experiences when illnesses threaten their sense of self, when stories may not be triumphant by societal standards, when women question their worlds and bodies as they knew them. Informed by and grounded in trauma studies, this collection will add to existing scholarship when links between illness narratives and trauma studies have been largely overlooked (Couser 9). The goal of the collection is to illuminate ways in which both narrative product and writing processes enable women to create spaces, through their writing acts or genre selected, where she can work with, around, and (sometimes) through her illness, the diagnosis and the different complexities that may arise. The collection solicits scholarly and hybrid pieces that bridge body studies, women’s studies, and trauma studies in ways that focus on how women write their illness and how writing processes and narrative products establish “spaces” of their own. Pieces may focus on a range of authors, topics, or approaches; some areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to, the following:
- how women write their illnesses in relation to their identity (re)constructions
- the challenges of women representing illness and stories of illness within or beyond the triumphant tropes (or other common illness tropes)
- possibilities and/or limitations of women writing illness
- links between private stories and their extensions (or lack thereof) to larger, social connections
- genre(s)/medium(s) or writer(s) and writing acts in conjunction with one’s healing (or lack thereof)
Frontloading women’s writing process and narrative products, this collection becomes an exploration of women’s life-writing and how her writing process and narrative product foster spaces for her not only to interrogate her illness, changing body, identity fragmentations, and social structures but also to (re)create and (re)present the trauma of her illness in whatever story and manner she pleases.
Proposals should include author’s name, brief biographical statement, one-page CV, and a 500-word abstract and should be sent to RnSpear@gmail.com. Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, has expressed interest in considering the formal proposal of this collection.
Proposals Due: February 15, 2019
Conditional Acceptances: March 15, 2019
Manuscripts Due: June 15, 2019
Rachel N. Spear, PhD
Assistant Professor of English and
Francis Marion University
Conway, Kathlyn. Beyond Words: Illness and the Limits of Expression. University of New Mexico Press, 2007.
Couser, G. Thomas. “Body Language: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing.” Life Writing, vol. 13, no. 1, 2016, pp. 3-10, doi:10.1080/14484528;2016.1132376.
DasGupta, Sayantani, and Marsha Hurst, eds. Stories of Illness: Women Writing Their Bodies. Kent State University Press, 2007.
Frank, Arthur W. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Gubar, Susan. Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
Holmes, Martha Stoddard. “Embodied Storytellers: Disability Studies and Medical Humanities.” Hastings Center Report, vol. 45, no. 2, 2015, pp. 11-15, doi:10.1002/hast.426.