In her powerful memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion writes: “Life changes in an instant. The ordinary instant.” Jessica Penner, author of Shaken in the Water, talks about what she is learning about the art of memoir-writing and the need for a writer to make an ordinary extraordinary for the reader. She also reads an excerpt from her Pushcart Prize-nominated essay, “Mustard Seed,” which documents her brain surgery on September 11, 2001. The full text of Penner’s essay can be found here. Dr. Danielle Ofri, Editor-in-Chief of Bellevue Literary Review, wrote about the essay: “I was taken by it from the very first. (And not just because I was also working in the hospital on 9/11, trying to take care of my regular patients at Bellevue.) It’s quite unusual to have an essay deal with religious belief in such a nuanced way.”
Chapel begins with a short video clip by students from the current chapel video series, “Where have you seen God?”
Penner released her debut novel-in-stories, Shaken in the Water (Foxhead Books), in April 2013. She has been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Center for Mennonite Writing, Rhubarb and the anthology Tongue Screws and Testimonies. She won an honorable mention for the short story “Homebody” in Open City’s RRofihe Trophy contest and an honorable mention for the essay “Mustard Seed” in Bellevue Literary Review’s Burns Archive Prize for nonfiction.
Penner earned a BA in theater and English at EMU and a MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She previously taught English to international students at James Madison University and currently resides in New York City.