Last week I returned from Iowa City, Iowa where I attended the Examined Life conference. Little did I know that Iowa City is one of the only UNESCO City’s of Literature in the world! The Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa pioneered the teaching of creative writing. Writers like Flannery O’Connor and John Irving passed through. Teachers have includes 17 Pulitzer Prize winners and six U.S. Poet Laureates. As someone who grew up training in the sciences, this small city filled with literary history was unknown to me. It wasn’t until recently that I have started to identify as a “writer” and not just a “blogger.”
Some of you may know that I am working to complete my Master’s by December. While it is technically a Master’s in Health and Medical Sciences, I have customized it to be a Master’s in Narrative Medicine. Particularly, I have focused on illness narratives. For my thesis I have constructed a series of 25 essays (from my published work and blogs) to investigate my journey entering medical school as a patient turned medical student, to present-day as a medical student turned patient.
The work I am doing is a rather niche topic, so when I stumbled upon the Examined Life conference, I was excited how closely it aligned with my interests and goals for the work I had completed.
The conference focused on the intersection of medicine and the arts (written, visual, etc.). Most of the attendees were healthcare practitioners, but there were also experts in literature, rhetoric, and a whole variety of fields.
I put together a display to share my work and made some wonderful connections with other participants, including those with experience in putting together books, which is one of my goals post-Master’s. I also read one of my essays in front of all the attendees.
Aside from sharing my own work, I was fortunate to attend several fantastic workshops including some related to writing exercises that I would love to bring to the young adult patient communities I am a part of as well as medical student classes.
Finally, I had the opportunity to meet Stephanie Foo who is a journalist and producer for “This American Life.” This was awesome since her story on people who remember every single detail in their life was my first “driveway moment” (i.e. when you don’t get out of the car once you get home because you want to finish the radio segment). Also, Ali, my housemate, is obsessed with her, “This American Life,” and everything podcast related.
Overall, my first trip to Iowa was fantastic. I met a wonderful community of people. For the first time, when I shared my thesis topic, no one questioned: “Really? You can do that?” Instead they said: “Tell me more!”
I’m sure I’ll be back to Iowa soon.