Friday Speak Out!: Writing Prompt: If you could write the definitive book on any topic, what would it be?

Friday, November 02, 2018
by J. Green

Don’t think that this definitive book has to be non-fiction. For those fierce fiction writers, what would be your genre-defining book? What would its title be? Who would be the major characters? Where would it take place? For the non-fiction writer-goddesses out there, what is your main area of expertise? What topic keeps you up at night? What story did you see in the New York Times or the local paper that you just can’t help thinking about during a quiet period in your day?

I’ll tell you about my (imaginary for now) book that I can only hope one day defines a sub-niche of a sub-niche of a genre. Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective disorder shares many of the symptoms of schizophrenia (voices, hallucinations, delusions, social isolation), but it also includes an affective (mood disorders) component. After my diagnosis, I read many of the most popular memoirs written by women who dealt with at least one mental health issue. An Unquiet Mind (Jamison), The Center Cannot Hold (Saks), Prozac Nation (Wurtzel), Marbles (Forney), I read them all.

The one thing that was missing from this treasure trove of hard-fought experience and wisdom were the tales of women of color with a mental health issue. Yes, women of color have written about their battles with mental health over the years. But when most people who have knowledge on this topic get asked about the best mental health memoirs written by female authors, the same names inevitably come up: Kay Redfield Jamison. Elyn Saks. Elizabeth Wurtzel. Susanna Kaysen. Jenny Lawson. Carrie Fisher. None of them look like me. Most of them have financial resources and support from loved ones that I could only dream of.

There are plenty of mental health memoirs by WOC that are more than worth reading. But the women who read these memoirs (I include myself in this number) have to do a much better job of seeking out new and different perspectives. I’m not saying that a mental health diagnosis won’t devastate a cisgender woman who’s white, wealthy, and well-educated. But we need to hear from authors from all walks of life. I hope to one day be an author that puts her book into the ring of mental health memoirs written by strong, unflappable women.

My Must-Read List: Mental Health Memoirs by Women of Color

1. Willow Weep for Me: by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah (depression)
2. My Body Is A Book of Rules: by Elissa Washuta (sexual abuse, bipolar disorder)
3. Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia - by Stephanie Covington Armstrong
4. 72 Hour Hold: by Bebe Moore Campbell (bipolar disorder)

* * *
J. Green has worked as a freelance writer for over eight years. She is a Massachusetts native, born and raised. An aspiring memoirist and novelist, J. devotes a lot of her free time to discovering new literary voices, developing her own artistic voice, and trying not to sweat the small stuff. What J. hopes to accomplish with her non-fiction work is to inspire more people of color to write about their battles with mental health issues.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

J. Green--This is the month for you. It's NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month. Make this month the month you start that much-needed book, and make this next year (2019) the year you finish it.

One of the main ways you will see that book is if you write it...

Unknown said...

Thanks for your kind comment, Sioux.

You're right. Those "somedays" will add up unless I sit my behind down and write the book. With all that I have going on this month, I'm not sure that NaNoWriMo 2018 is doable for me. But I'll definitely think about NaNoWriMo 2019.

Thank you for the much-needed kick in the rear!

Angela Mackintosh said...

J. Green ~ I totally feel this post! We need diversity in memoirs because I read a study that said most readers seek out memoirs to find answers for their own personal situations. I'm constantly on the lookout for mental health memoirs written by Asian women, and there's so much silence about mental illness in Asian culture that it's hard to find anything. (Please let me know if you know of any.) When I was growing up, it made me wonder if there was anyone else on the planet like me. I decided to do NaNo this year for the first time to write my memoir. I know you're not doing NaNo, but I hope you do write your story. It's important, and I, for one, would love to read it. My mother suffered from hallucinations, delusions, and social isolation, and let's just say, it did not end well because she didn't get help. I was thirteen when she passed away and didn't know how to help her back then, and I carry that with me all the time and constantly seek answers and try to understand her situation and what she was going through. I've also suffered from my own mental health issues for many years, and I think it's important to talk about it to break the barriers and social stigma associated with mental illness. Thank you for this thought provoking post, and your memoir recommendations! Keep up the excellent writing! :)

Unknown said...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for the praise. I really appreciate it. I actually came upon a couple of mental health memoirs written by Asian women after a Google search. The first is by Yiyun Li, who suffered a breakdown in 2012. The book is called "Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You In Your Life" Unfortunately, the next book, by Esme Weijun Wang, won't come out until February 2019. It's called "The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays" You can pre-order it on Amazon. I'm especially excited about that one.

Good luck with NaNoWriMo. I did it in previous years (never a winner) and I know how hard it can be to keep up the momentum. I hope you publish your memoir one day. I think your story would help a lot of families and individuals in similar situations.


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