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Grief & Catharsis: Writing It Out in the Pandemic

After losing her husband, musician Alan Merrill (writer of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”) to Covid-19, Joanna Lisanti told a reporter, “People don’t even know what it’s like to grieve alone. You have no one to hug, no one to touch; no one can help you. That’s the difference with this epidemic. That’s what this virus is doing. It’s not just punishing the people who die; it’s punishing the people who are left.”

Lisanti has come to recognize what many of us have: grief is the shadow epidemic afflicting us.

With all of the physical work that must be done to survive this protracted period of quarantine, many of us are unable to sit down with our more complicated emotions, sift through them, or put them down on paper.

In this class, we will try to release and ritualize our grief in writing. Working off selected readings about loss and mourning (“On Witness and Respair” by Jesmyn Ward, "Notes on Grief" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Obit by Victoria Chang, Blue Nights by Joan Didion, and Funeral Diva by Pamela Sneed) and prompts inspired by the readings, we will produce writing that honors our own experiences and perhaps helps to make them more livable. 

Instructor: Michelle R. Smith is a writer, educator, cultural facilitator, and native Clevelander. She is the programming associate for Literary Cleveland and a working artist for Lake Erie Ink. She is the author of the poetry collections Ariel in Black (2015) and The Vagina Analogues (2020). She has been published in poemmemoirstoryMeridians: feminism, race, transnationalismThe Normal School, and The Gasconade Review. She has been a featured reader, instructor, and panelist at The Lakewood Public Library, The East Cleveland Public Library, The Cuyahoga County Public Library, The Cleveland Museum of Arts, Cleveland Drafts – Brews + Prose, PNC Fairfax Connection, Case Western Reserve University’s Writers House, and Literary Cleveland’s Inkubator Conference. She is also the creator, co-producer, and director of BLAX MUSEUM, an annual performance showcase for Northeast Ohio artists open to all forms and dedicated to honoring notable black figures in American history and culture. Michelle’s favorite novelist is Toni Morrison, and she splits her “favorite poet” title between Ntozake Shange, Sylvia Plath, Victoria Chang, and Saeed Jones.

Details: Grief & Catharsis: Writing It Out in the Pandemic takes place every two weeks on Saturdays April 17 and May 1, 15 & 29 from 10:00am-12:00pm remotely through Zoom.

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