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Picture of Laocoön and his sons found in the Baths of Trajan, 1506; Sixties / seventies era floral print wallpaper by Dominic Alves
Original image credit: Laocoön and his sons found in the Baths of Trajan, 1506; Sixties / seventies era floral print wallpaper by Dominic Alves

The Body Electric, Memoir-Style with Andrea Avery

Date(s): Tuesdays, October 2 - 23, 2018, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Piper Writers House, 450 E Tyler Mall, Tempe, AZ 85281 (view map)
Generative Workshop, Seminar, Workshop
Genre and Form(s): Creative Nonfiction, Memoir

$225 Regular, $202 ASU, $175 Student

About the Class

In this course, participants will be invited to "sing the body electric" (thanks, Whitman) ... in memoir. Through in-class exercises, discussions, and group workshop of manuscripts, each participant will attempt to locate his, her, their body's story and history. Through our writing and mentor texts, we will trace how what we think, what we believe, and who we are has grown out of our embodied experiences. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that reason "is not, in any way, a transcendent feature of the universe or of disembodied mind. Instead, it is shaped crucially by the peculiarities of our human bodies, by the remarkable details of the neural structure of our brains, and by the specifics of our everyday functioning in the world.” So, too, is memoir. All kinds of bodies welcome.

Meet Your Instructor: Andrea Avery

Picture of Andrea Avery

About Andrea Avery

Andrea Avery is the author of Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano, which describes her experiences growing up as an aspiring pianist even after a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis at age 12. Her writing has been published in Ploughshares, Real Simple, The Oxford American, and The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. She was the winner of Real Simple’s 2010 essay contest and a finalist in Glamour magazine’s essay contest. She holds a BA in music, an MFA in Creative Writing, and a doctorate in education from Arizona State University. She teaches English at Phoenix Country Day School and is an active volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation.

More about this Instructor

"Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano.Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2017.

But as much as this is the story of Avery’s mind and psychology, it is even more so the story of her adjustments to her traitorous body, to how people perceive her, that composes the capacious heart of this narrative. Through it all—her body’s betrayals, the numerous and various surgeries—we see a bright, determined person trying to come to peace with herself and with a world that is not always kind.

Avery, Andrea. "Beauty in Motion." Life Lessons Essay Contest, Real Simple, 2010

I’m 33, and I have my very own walker. I keep it in the garage with my old schoolwork and the Christmas decorations. It’s a nice model―a collapsible platform style, with gray vinyl arm rests and joystick-style hand grips. I got the walker in 2004, when both my knees were replaced in a single operation. Having been diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis at age 12, I knew better than to think I could get rid of the walker once I had healed.

---. "I was going to be a concert pianist. And then rheumatoid arthritis appeared." Andrea Avery, The Washington Post (June 20, 2017).

In this “before,” I was going to be a pianist. I was not crazy to think so. By some magic of genetics and environment, the keys rose to meet my fingers and music came. And then, too soon, by some inverted miracle of genetics and environment, rheumatoid arthritis appeared. The keys still rose to meet my fingers, but my curling fingers recoiled. For too long, I tried to be arthritic and a pianist. For too long, I refused to believe that I could not be both.

Voss, Chris. "Pain and Piano: The Story of Andrea Avery." WCRB, June 30, 2017. Includes audio.

Where most kids have to be prodded and bribed to practice their instruments, Avery couldn't walk past a piano without plopping down on the bench and playing it. It was a need, and she practiced ferociously, devouring everything she could get her hands on, from Mozart to Barry Manilow. Piano was her everything.

Then her body took her in another direction. Rheumatoid arthritis (R.A.), like multiple sclerosis or lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body to misread its own instructions and to attack itself. It has no cure, and cruelly, especially for a budding pianist determined to be the best, it takes aim at the joints.