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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Mar 8, 2009

My younger son has just finished reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and commented that it was not only an extraordinary literary work but also, of course, a source for rare insight into the complications of mental illness. This reminded me  of a conversation (not so much a formal interview, you understand) I had a few years ago with the fabulous and extraordinary author, Joanne Greenberg, who as Hannah Green wrote I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

This work is a fictionalized depiction of Joanne Greenberg’s own treatment experience decades ago at Chestnut Lodge Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, during which she was in psychoanalytic treatment with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. The book takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s, at a time when Harry Stack Sullivan, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Clara Thompson were establishing the basis for the interpersonal school of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, focusing specifically, though by no means exclusively, on the treatment of schizophrenia.

Greenberg has written that :-

"I wrote [I Never Promised You a Rose Garden] as a way of describing mental illness without the romanticisation that it underwent in the sixties and seventies when people were taking LSD to simulate what they thought was a liberating experience. During those days, people often confused creativity with insanity. There is no creativity in madness; madness is the opposite of creativity, although people may be creative in spite of being mentally ill."

(From the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy website)

At the time of recording, Joanne Greenberg's just published novel was 'Appearances'. In this conversation, she also discussed not just mental illness, but also creativity, the role of 'Underwood', how she creates her stories, how she writes 'sex', personal memories of a vicarious brush with Sylvia Plath, and a great deal more.