When Lori Jakiela returned to The University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg after a battle with breast cancer, she decided to start a series of courses on writing and the healing arts.
“Because I had seen the students around me struggling with anxiety — they were so stressed, I had never seen anything like it — I decided to design some classes for people that were going to be useful in their lives, in ways that move beyond the page,” said Jakiela, an educator and author. “The first sequence in that series of classes was writing childhood, and then the pandemic hit.”
The next class Jakiela said she built and planned on teaching was one on writing about trauma — so when Chautauqua’s Director of Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime asked Jakiela what she wanted to teach for her week-long workshop, she didn’t hesitate.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” she said. “Writing about trauma is timely. We’ll be trying to find a place where we can write when we need to write, trying to find a way to write when it seems impossible, trying to find a way to say what you need to say while doing the least amount of harm possible.”
At 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 16, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, Jakiela will give a free reading to a virtual audience as the Chautauqua Writers’ Center’s Week Eight prose writer-in-residence. Jakiela, the author of the memoirs Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe and Miss New York Has Everything, will read from her latest memoir-in-progress, Say You Want To Live And Be Beautiful, which details her struggles with breast cancer.
“I’m really more interested, not in the typical cancer journey, but in what happens in between the time you’re waiting for the call about your cancer diagnosis and when you get the call,” she said. “I’m interested in the things that you think about in terms of mortality.”
Jakiela said that the title for her new memoir came from the process of deciding what she wanted to do about her diagnosis.
“It was like, ‘Well, what do you want from this?’” she said. “I decided I wanted to live, and that I wanted to live a beautiful life. Coming up with this title was a little different from my other books because all my other titles came from inside the book. I’d go back on a final read-through and say, ‘OK, what is this really about?’”
As Jakiela prepares for the fall semester amid the coronavirus pandemic, she said one of the things that keeps her going is a devotion to writing.
“One thing that I tend to do when I’m supposed to be doing something else is: I want to write,” she said. “It’s the rebel in me. I start to feel this absolute urgency that, though I’m going to devote this much time to trying to prepare to teach in an environment that is impossible, I’m also going to steal as much time as I can for my writing because it’s going to keep me balanced.”