Writing about Chronic Illness and Crafting the Hybrid Memoir

About Writing about Chronic Illness and Crafting the Hybrid Memoir with Jennifer Lunden


Author Jennifer Lunden shares her struggles with chronic illness, the challenges of writing a hybrid memoir, especially when you’ve not trained in science writing, and the grit all writers, but especially writers with disabilities, need to cultivate. 



Transcript for Writing about Chronic Illness and Crafting the Hybrid Memoir with Jennifer Lunden

Please note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and flow.

Lisa [0:00] 

When I heard Jennifer Lunden speak at the 2024 AWP Conference about her battle with ME/CFS, I knew we were soul sisters. Then I read her book, American Breakdown and discovered she had a mental health background just like me. We had so much to talk about in regards to her memoir. American Breakdown has been praised by the Los Angeles Review of Books and Washington Post, and called a genre bending masterpiece by Hippocampus Literary Magazine.  Jennifer, who prefers to be called Lunden, is a pushcart nominee who was recognized as notable in Best American Essays. To learn about her many publications and awards, please see the show notes.

During our episode, Lunden and I explored the challenges of writing about illness, decisions she made while structuring her hybrid memoir, and the grit all writers, but especially writers with disabilities, need to build in order to write their books.

Before we get to our interview, I have a few questions for you. Are you a writer with a disability? What practical struggles have you faced, like brain fog, mobility, finding the right assistive technology or having enough energy to write? How has your work been received? If you’re able-bodied, what thoughts do you have about chronic illnesses and illness narratives? Are any of you trying to write a hybrid memoir? If you are, what challenges have you faced? I hope you’ll ponder these questions as you listen along.  Now, let’s get to my conversation with Lunden.  

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Show Notes for Writing about Chronic Illness and Crafting the Hybrid Memoir with Jennifer Lunden

Author, Jennifer Lunden, shares her struggles with chronic illness, the challenges of writing a hybrid memoir, especially when you’ve not trained in science writing, and the grit all writers, but especially writers with disabilities, need to cultivate.  

Jennifer Lunden Bio: Jennifer Lunden (she/her) is the author of American Breakdown: Our Ailing Nation, My Body’s Revolt, and the Nineteenth-Century Woman Who Brought Me Back to Life, which was praised by the Los Angeles Review of Books and Washington Post, and called a “genre-bending masterpiece” by Hippocampus. Her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Orion, River Teeth, DIAGRAM, Longreads, and other journals; selected for a Pushcart Prize; and recognized as notable in Best American Essays. She has been awarded grants from the Maine Arts Commission, the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Canada Council for the Arts, and was the 2016 recipient of the Bread Loaf-Rona Jaffe Foundation Scholarship in Nonfiction. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and former therapist, in 2012, she was named Maine’s Social Worker of the Year. She lives with her husband, the artist Frank Turek, in Portland, Maine.

Resources Mentioned During This Episode

Episode Highlights

  • 7:11 Feedback We Get When Writing About Illnesses
  • 12:00 Structuring a Hybrid Memoir
  • 22:00 The Two Types of Grit Writers with Disabilities Need
  • 31:07 The Three Kinds of Stories We All Have
  • 39:48 Jennifer’s Best Writing Advice

Connect with Jennifer

Connect with your host, Lisa:

Sign up for Psychology of Character Development for Memoirists: https://janefriedman.com/the-psychology-of-character-development-for-memoirists-with-lisa-cooper-ellison/

Produced by Espresso Podcast Production: https://www.espressopodcastproduction.com

Note: Jennifer’s headshot was taking by Melanie Lunden 



About Your Host

Lisa Cooper Ellison is an author, speaker, trauma-informed writing coach, and host of the Writing Your Resilience podcast. She works and writes at the intersection of storytelling and healing, and combines her personal experiences with suicide loss and CPTSD with her clinical training to help writers turn tough experiences into art. Her essays and stories have appeared on Risk! and in The New York TimesHuffPostHippocampus Literary Magazine, and Kenyon Review Online, among others


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