Mental Illness Through a Literary Lens

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REGISTRATION FULL: Please email Amy.Freeman AT, including your preferred workshop title, to be added to our wait list.

The Writer’s Center presents Lead Artist Melanie Figg in a groundbreaking symposium addressing the subject of mental illness in literature and popular culture, offering free creative writing workshops followed by a panel discussion. In addition to Melanie, featured writers include Abdul Ali, Rocky Callen, Jenny Chen, and GG Renee Hill, with an introduction by Mark Cymrot and moderated by Patrick Corvington. The symposium concludes with a reception for all attendees.

All events are FREE and open to the public. Limited space, registration required. The workshops are simultaneous, so please only sign up for ONE. Scroll down to register!

REGISTRATION FULL: Please email Amy.Freeman AT, including your preferred workshop title, to be added to our wait list.

The Workshops | 1:30-3:00pm

Please register for ONE workshop using the form below. Workshop registration includes admission to the panel discussion and reception.

  • Writing through Madness | Workshop Leader: Abdul Ali
    Living with mental illness can be challenging. Writing, whether poetry or prose, can be a powerful tool for unraveling one’s own thoughts. This mixed genre workshop will give you the chance to explore what you think and feel, and how to get it onto the page.
  • The Spaces Between Us: Reading Experiences that Bridge Understanding | Workshop Leader: Rocky Callen
    In this workshop, we will dive into exploring how form and textual nuance impacts our understanding of character, in particular characters with mental health conditions. By doing so, we open up the conversation of how we can portray their unique experience on the page beyond the prose. We will look at the spaces between and around the words to understand how things like white space, strikethroughs, and a variety of forms and textual nuances add texture, feeling, and honesty to the character’s experience. While these devices and techniques can be applied to any character or genre, it is important that we take special care as we construct these populations so that way we can build a bridge of understanding.
  • Re-connecting the Fragmented Self: Healing Trauma Through Writing| Workshop Leader: Jenny Chen
    People dealing with traumas, both big and small, often experience a disconnection from their memories. Those memories stay frozen in time and locked away, unprocessed. One of the tools people can use to reconnect with those memories and process them in a healthy way so that they are no longer frozen in a person’s subconscious is to write about them in a gentle, objective, and connected way. In this workshop, writers will use several prompts to journal about past memories in a way that helps them reconnect with them. This workshop is only recommended for those who have had enough distance from their traumatic events and feel ready to deal with emotional subjects. Please be aware that it may be triggering for some. 
  • Friends & Family: Writing About Those You Love Who Have A Mental Illness | Workshop Leader: Melanie Figg
    Loving someone with a mental illness can include a range of feelings: loss, hope, frustration, worry, humor, etc. Writing poems and creative prose that express our unique experience can help us understand better, remove stigma, and create powerful work. If you’ve been waiting for “permission” to write about this topic—or want to explore it deeper—please join us for some writing exercises, close-readings to guide us, and discussion.
  • Healing through Storytelling | Workshop Leader: GG Renee Hill
    We have a choice to be empowered or disempowered by our experiences. In this workshop, writers will identify positive and negative experiences they’ve had with mental health and illness. In the spirit of healing through storytelling, writers will choose two personal stories to write, share and discuss with the group.

The Panel | 3:15-4:15pm

To attend the panel and reception, please register for one of the workshops listed above.

  • Following a special introduction by The Writer’s Center’s Board Chair, Mark Cymrot, our workshop leaders are joined by  moderator Patrick Corvington for a discussion on the way the literary community addresses mental illness, how we get it right, and where we need to do better. Reception to follow.

The Participants

Abdul Ali is a poet, literary activist, and educator. His debut collection of poems is TROUBLE SLEEPING, which won the 2014 New Issues Poetry Book Prize. Ali works as a program coordinator of a Humanities initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Community College of Baltimore County. He curates a traveling monthly salon, Works-in-Progress, and often teaches writing workshops at The Writer’s Center.

As the daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant and political advocate for immigrant communities, Rocky Callen has experienced and witnessed the silence around mental health issues and the dire need for open communication. Rocky Callen has grappled with depression and aims to dispel the stigma with her voice and stories. She worked as a behavioral therapist for over ten years before receiving an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A BREATH TOO LATE is her debut YA novel about suicide, depression, and domestic violence and the tragedy of silence and secrets.

Jenny Chen is a writer of nonfiction and poetry with works appearing in The Atlantic, Guernica,, NPR, and more.

Patrick A. Corvington is the Executive Director of ConnectED, an organization that insures that all children, particularly low-income children have access to a high quality education.  Previously, he served in President Obama’s administration as the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (the Federal Agency that administers AmeriCorps and VISTA).  Mr. Corvington was also a Senior Vice-President with Habitat for Humanity International where he created a management and deployment infrastructure for the over one million Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Of Haitian origin, he took particular interest in HFHI’s development efforts, assisting in managing a large-scale housing construction project and over four hundred volunteers who built 250 houses alongside President Carter, in Haiti. Mr. Corvington served as Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation has co-authored publications such as Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out and Next Shift: Beyond the Nonprofit Leadership Crisis.

Mr. Corvington received his BA in Sociology from the University of Maryland and earned his MA in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University where he received the National Minority Leadership Fellowship from the Kellogg Foundation. He also received an honorary doctorate from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and as a naturalized citizen was most privileged to receive the Outstanding American by Choice Award while serving in President Obama’s administration. Mr. Corvington is fluent in French and French Creole and speaks conversational Spanish.

Lead Artist Melanie Figg has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, and more. Her writings have been widely published. Her award-winning poetry collection, TRACE, explores many traces by writing about visual arts, memory, myth, mental illness, identity, and forgiveness. As certified professional coach, Melanie offers writing retreats and works one-on-one with writers and others.

GG Renee Hill is an author, speaker and advocate for self-discovery through writing. She has published a free-verse memoir about heartbreak and healing, a book of short essays for quiet women who want to be heard, and a mindfulness workbook for self-reflection and personal growth. She brings her experience as a blogger, memoirist, ghostwriter, and creative coach to the courses and workshops she offers on her website,

Thank you to our supporters!

This event is supported in part by a Creativity Grant from the Maryland State Arts Council (