Flowering and Decay: Leslie Jamison and Lauren Henschel Talk About Isolation, Illness, and Creativity in the Pandemic Era
Five years ago, writer Leslie Jamison and artist Lauren Henschel met as part of a panel discussion about empathy, pain, and compassion inspired by the essays in Jamison's collection, The Empathy Exams. Henschel was a Duke University senior at the time, completing her Documentary Studies thesis project exploring visible and invisible scars and the stories behind them. Later, she credited the engagement with Jamison as a turning point in her artistic practice, one that gave her the courage to dive headfirst into her own experience with the illness, guilt, and pain she has experienced with psoriatic arthritis, a disease she shares with her father. The result of this exploration is "Fibers of Being," her thesis project for the MFA|EDA program at Duke, which she was in the final stages of completing when the University canceled all public events due to COVID-19.
Leslie Jamison described the 2015 panel discussion with Henschel and Duke professor Jehanne Gheith as one of her "most powerful experiences as a writer." Her work since then — 3 books and many essays — continues to explore questions of empathy and morality in writing and in life. Her recent pandemic-inspired essays demonstrate her unique ability to observe people, things, and experiences in all their specificity and nevertheless invite readers to connect with feelings and thoughts that are broadly human.
In this discussion, Jamison and Henschel once again engage with each other's work and invite the audience to explore with them how the pandemic has affected their thinking about isolation, illness, and creativity.