A photo of an open book on a wooden floor with yellow background.

Can writers prevent disease?

15 June 2017
When science and the arts unite

Author Charlotte Wood, playwright Alana Valentine and Professor Stephen Simpson discuss how, together, science and the arts might create a new understanding of preventable disease.

The causes and consequences of chronic diseases are more complicated than biology alone. Psyche, education and cultural norms all play a part in the rising burden of chronic disease.

A free VIVID event hosted by the City of Sydney Library and Inspiring Australia – part of the Curious Science series – will investigate how writers and scientists can co-create a new understanding of preventable disease.

At the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, scholars from a range of disciplines explore the interconnectedness of our environment, food and health in order to ease the global burden of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions through innovative research and teaching. 

Last year the Centre announced author Charlotte Wood as its inaugural Writer in Residence. Accessing conversation, seminars and research supported the award-winning author in the development of characters with uncommon depth in the novel she is currently working on.

The Centre announced acclaimed playwright Alana Valentine as one of two new Writers in Residence last month. Alana was already associated with the Centre, developing a script about brides and grooms preparing their bodies for their big day.

Together with Academic Director Professor Stephen Simpson, they will explore their collaboration, the hurdles and triumphs as well as the scope for similar alliances in future.

“Having Charlotte at the Charles Perkins Centre has been revelatory for us both,” said Professor Simpson.

“Interactions with our researchers have subtly imbued and shaped Charlotte’s work without intruding or imposing upon her process. In turn, she has shown our scientists what it means to tell a compelling story that is based on evidence as well as creative imagination. 

We have far more in common than the naïve caricatures of scientists and artists would suggest.
Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director, Charles Perkins Centre

“I’m looking forward to reading Charlotte’s novel and Alana’s plays immensely – and to discovering how both our new writers in residence embrace the experience.”

During her residency Ms Wood explored the realities and challenges of ageing, from friendships that over the years can become strained, to dealing with heath issues that many people face as they get older.

“Conversations with researchers at the Charles Perkins Centre triggered the insight that old age cannot be seen as one phase of life – there are many stages and styles and ages within ‘old age’ and the complexity provides a rich source for narrative,” she said.

Ms Valentine intends to use the Greek myth of Cassandra to draw parallels between some scientists’ struggles to have their findings heard and believed.

“I believe that theatre provides a unique way to mobilise community interest in science in provocative and entertaining ways and to animate a number of inventive approaches to the problems we face as a community,” she said.

The Charles Perkins Centre Writer in Residence Fellowship was made possible through the generous support of University of Sydney alumna and patron Judy Harris.

Rachel Fergus

Central Media Manager

Curious Science

Can Writers Prevent Disease?

Thursday 22 June 2017
6.00pm - 7.30pm
Customs House, Barnet Long Room, 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, Sydney
Registrations required

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