Life in Context:
Creative Non-Fiction and Engaged Public Health Practice
How might public health storytelling differ, ethically and practically, from long-form narrative journalism or patient-centered narratives? At the core of public health lies the recognition that individual lives are lived within communities. As readers and writers, we will explore how elements of creative nonfiction illuminate contextual and community factors such as culture, equity and marginalization that both impact our health and well-being as individuals and inform our interactions with others. Examining literary and academic texts, we will focus on broader questions of theme as well as technical aspects such as point of view, vivid language and scene-setting.
In an environment where health and science information is accessible to the point of being overwhelming and we often filter data according to political identity, true stories of real people represent a way to break down barriers and convey the human dimension of health policy. This seminar session will explore how compelling character-based narratives are constructed, as well as important ethical questions around the ownership of stories, the representation of vulnerable communities by storytellers and the meaning of consent in the digital age.
Lise Saffran, MPH, MFA is the Director of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Missouri where she teaches Storytelling in Public Health and Policy. She has degrees in public health from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health (now the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health) and creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa. Her research and teaching focus on the ways in which storytelling can enhance self-awareness and cultural humility in public health practice and improve communication around significant issues of public concern. Her academic papers and creative nonfiction have been published in the Journal of Medical Humanities, Medical Humanities, Academic Medicine, Scientific American, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Journal of Applied Arts in Health, Poets and Writers, Orion and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Hedgebrook Community of Writers, she has published short fiction in the Crab Orchard review, Gulf Stream Magazine, Puerto del Sol and the Granta Books anthology FAMILY WANTED. Saffran is the author of the novel JUNO’S DAUGHTERS (Penguin/Plume 2011), which examines the joys and hazards of parenting teenaged girls in an eccentric island community amidst a summer production of The Tempest.