J’Lyn Chapman with Suzanne Scanlon on The Conversant


Toward the end of the Spring 2013 semester, Introduction to Critical Theory undergraduate students at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School read Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women (Dorothy, 2012) through the lens of feminist and gender theories from Susan Bordo and Judith Butler. Over the summer months, Scanlon engaged with our questions about gender and mental illness, as well as questions about her practice as a writer.

Interviewed by Alexandria Bull, David Chrem, Jacob Cohen, Lauren DeGaine, Charlie Epstein, David Hall, Elizabeth Kichorowsky, Anna Meiners, Jade Quinn, Georgia Van Gunten, Chey Watson and Indigo Weller.

The Class: We are curious about research that may have gone into Promising Young Women. The experiences of Lizzie and her fellow patients are specific and realistic—did you conduct interviews or observations of women in mental health facilities?

Suzanne Scanlon: On the one hand, I didn’t do much direct research for this book. On the other, the book is concerned with my ongoing obsessions, among them: so-called mental illness, the pathologization of emotion, female experience and spiritual/artistic seeking. I’m often reading and teaching books related to (female) experiences of institutionalization, as fiction or nonfiction, and I know many people, myself included, who have suffered severe bouts of depression and other debilitating conditions. But also, I suppose I wanted to bring in something true and culturally specific about mental health facilities, here related to 1990s New York City, and to remove the barriers we normally place between the healthy and unhealthy. I’ve long felt the dominant medical-model framework for emotional experience to be lacking—and yet, necessary. I’ve also long been interested in literature that deals with madness, from fictional unreliable narrators (“The Yellow Wallpaper,” Turn of the Screw) to straightforward memoir about madness (Styron’s Darkness Visible or Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted).

Read the full article here!