Faculty of Health professor places third in Kalanithi Writing Award contest

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The intersection of health and the humanities, especially creative writing, is a rich place for research and pedagogy. York University Associate Professor Lucia Gagliese has been recognized for her work in this area, earning third place in the Kalanithi Writing Award.

Lucia Gagliese
Lucia Gagliese

Gagliese, a faculty member in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, was one of more than 300 to be considered for the prize.

Now in its third year, the Kalanithi Award considers unpublished short stories, essays and poems that address patients and providers facing chronic or life-limiting illness. It was created in honour of Paul Kalanithi, a physician, writer and neurosurgery resident at Stanford University who used creative writing to search for meaning through his own terminal illness, and wrote the bestselling memior When Breath Becomes Air.

“This is the first time a York faculty member has made the shortlist for this prize,” said Gagliese. “It highlights the interdisciplinarity (of York) and the motto of ‘the way must be tried’ that makes York special.”

Her story, titled Broken, deals with the burden of caregiving.

“Informal caregivers are increasingly called on to care for dying family members and this is associated with high burden, including psychological distress,” she said. “My story examines the complex issue of balancing the needs of a dying partner with one’s own needs, an issue often not considered.”

Gagliese uses creative writing for both teaching and knowledge dissemination about aging and living with chronic and/or life-limiting illness. She says it is increasingly recognized as a valuable tool for teaching about health and illness, and is associated with increased understanding and empathy.

She has presented at two conferences on short stories exploring late life depression and the transition to long-term care, and has delivered creative writing workshops to palliative care workers at an international congress.

The prize for this award is a certificate, a signed copy of When Breath Becomes Air and a monetary honorarium. Her story will also be considered for publication in Stanford’s literary magazine, Pegasus.

In addition to her work at York University, she is a senior scientist for psychosocial oncology and palliative care and an Ontario Cancer Institute staff scientist in the Department of Anesthesia, University Health Network and Mount Sinai Hospital; an assistant professor in the departments of Anesthesia and Psychiatry, University of Toronto; and an affiliate scientist in the Division of Behavioural Sciences & Health Research, Toronto General Research Institute.