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Flowering and Decay


Jul 28 2020


8:00 pm - 9:00 pm


Free Zoom Conversation

Flowering and Decay

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 — 2 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.

Free and open to the public. Zoom registration required. Sponsored by the Forum for Scholars and Publics.



By Leslie Jamison

Other Voices, Other Rooms

By Leslie Jamison | The New York Review of Books

People told me motherhood would feel like deprivation — losing time, losing sleep, losing freedom — but in the beginning it felt more like sudden and exhausting plenitude.

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‘Since I Became Symptomatic’

By Leslie Jamison | New York Review of Books

The only person I have touched in a week is my two-year-old daughter. Every selfie I take of us is a photograph of me trying to inhale her. The streets outside are empty, the ambulance sirens constant, the sunshine an insult. Beyond our windows, the city is running out of ventilators.

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When the World Went Away, We Made a New One

By Leslie Jamison | The New York Times Magazine

I lost many things during the quarantine. But there can be an unexpected abundance inside a state of loss.

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Leslie Jamison is Waiting For the Emergence of a Different World

From the Thresholds podcast, hosted by Jordan Kisner | Lithub Radio

Leslie Jamison discusses her recent essay collection Make It Scream, Make It Burn, the experience of being alone with her daughter during the quarantine, and the stories we tell ourselves to keep our lives manageable.

Listen to the Podcast

Leslie Jamison Online

I was born in Washington DC and grew up in Los Angeles. Since then, I’ve lived in Iowa, Nicaragua, New Haven, and (currently) Brooklyn. I’ve worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. Every one of these was a world; they’re still in me.

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By Lauren Henschel

Fibers of Being

By Lauren Henschel

What happens when what is most familiar becomes alien?

Through a synthesis of sound, organic matter, and hand-processed 16mm films, this living, breathing experiential installation questions the body as both a genetic inheritance and mortal vessel.


Infusion No. 1

By Lauren Henschel

INFUSION NO. 1 is a performance of a single take of my weekly infusion of medication. The film itself has been treated in chemicals and medication. This work examines the body, film as body, and the medical gaze.




On Lauren Henschel

Lauren Henschel MFA EDA ’20: “Fibers of Being”

By Katy Klune | Duke Arts

Lauren Henschel was finishing her thesis exhibition — a complex, multi-layered installation that speaks to mortality — just as the whole world was confronted by its theme: how our bodies fail us.

Read the Article

Documenting the Scars of Others

By Elizabeth Van Brocklin | Duke Magazine

A student explores the manifestation of pain as she grapples with her own.

Read the Article

Lauren Henschel Online

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Lauren is currently based in Durham, N.C. She holds a B.A. in Visual Media Studies, a certificate in Documentary Film, and a minor in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University. Her work has been displayed at numerous venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Miami Art Museum.

Visit the Website



Revisit the 2015 conversation


Leslie Jamison

Columbia University

Leslie Jamison is the author of three nonfiction books — The Empathy Exams, Make it Scream, Make it Burn, and The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath — as well as a novel, The Gin Closet. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and teaches in the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University.…...

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Lauren Henschel

Duke University

Lauren Henschel is a visual artist working primarily in 16mm film and installation. Her work interrogates questions around guilt, illness, disability, shame, and mortality and seeks to defy or alter an audience's expectations of what art can reveal about the experience of inhabiting a body. She graduated from the Master…...

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