Narrative in the Age of Distraction

Thursday, November 7 & Friday, November 8, 2013
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

Narrative in the Age of Distraction is a conference on the role and importance of narrative in the age of increasing technological and attentional distractions.   It is the premise of the conference that the primacy of narrative—narratives which demand their due consideration, and which unfold over time—is potentially under threat.  It is also the premise that storytelling is a critical pathway to understanding the world, and that embracing narrative in its various forms can lead to a number of gains, both practical and aesthetic.

There will be two “tracks” for the conference:

Healing Letters,” which will address the health and psychological benefits of narrative, both for practitioners and patients.

Narrative in the Age of Twitter,” in which leading practitioners of the narrative arts—long-form journalists, novelists, filmmakers, and screenwriters—will discuss their adherence to their craft in an increasingly fragmented and distracted marketplace.

For each track, we will hold a single session for all participants, followed by smaller concurrent breakout sessions/discussion groups around specific interests and topics.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Rita Charon, Director of the Program for Narrative Medicine at College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.  Rita has pioneered the teaching of literature and brought in Writers in Residence at the medical school, and championed the need for “narrative competence” for medical students—the skills necessary to better understand and be empathic to patients’ stories.

Other speakers include Shadd Maruna, a criminologist, who contrasts the dramatic differences in the stories that people who stop committing crimes tell about their lives compared to those that continue criminal careers;  Arthur Frank, a cancer survivor, sociologist, and author of The Wounded Storyteller, which analyzes the typologies and uses of illness narratives;  Guy Story, Chief Technology Officer at Audible; Lisa Weinert, publicist and publisher, Lisa Weinert Consulting; Cami Delavigne, screenwriter of Blue Valentine; Jennifer Gonnerman, an award-winning journalist, author, and contributing editor of New York magazine; Michael Rowe, Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Yale School of Medicine; Tom Barber, Associate Professor at the Boston University Medical School; Michele Klimczak, Director of Connecting Children and Families, The Connection’s therapeutic foster care program; Judi Hannan, author of Motherhood Exaggerated; John McElwee, fiction coordinator at The New Yorker; Uzoamaka Maduka, founder, editor and chief of the highly acclaimed literary magazine The American Reader;  Molly Barton,  Global Digital Director of Penguin Random House; Jimmie Briggs, award-winning journalist and human rights advocate; Noah Rosenberg, Founder, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of Narratively; and Mary Gaitskill, author, essayist, and National Book Award finalist.

The conference is sponsored by The Connection Institute for Innovative Practice, Wesleyan Writing Programs, the College of Letters (COL), the Science in Society Program (SISP), Lisa Weinert Consulting, and