Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Author of 'This Fragile Life' to visit KU

Wed, 03/20/2013

LAWRENCE – Charlotte Pierce-Baker, an author and professor at Vanderbilt University who wrote about her son’s bipolar disorder and the challenges it presented her family, will visit campus for a book-signing and reception for “This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son.”

At age 25, Pierce-Baker’s son seemed to have his life on track as a successful postgraduate student. When her high-achieving son ended up handcuffed, dirty and in jail, Pierce-Baker and her family were confronted with the reality that her son had bipolar disorder. In “This Fragile Life,” Pierce-Baker seeks to break the silence that surrounds mental illness in families. She traces the evolution of her son’s illness and the long, difficult journey to recovery.

Individuals with bipolar disorder often go undiagnosed, doing and acting out violence against others, said Maryemma Graham, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English. Graham said that Pierce-Baker speaking from her own point of view as a mother brings readers to the heart of a difficult matter that concerns us all.

“Dr. Pierce-Baker has been a crusader for women and families, helping to open up a national dialogue about violence against women, but also about how we perpetuate that violence through silence,” Graham said. “In her new book, she tackles one of the major issues of our times, mental illness, with the same commitment to force us into dialogue with each other as families, communities and institutions.”

Pierce-Baker is a professor of women and gender studies and English at Vanderbilt University. She teaches courses that include cross-cultural feminisms, black language and culture, and trauma. Her first book, “Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape,” was a first of its kind, providing a forum for the previously muted voices of African-American women surviving the trauma of rape. 

“Surviving the Silence” led to a series of lectures around the country on issues of black women and sexual assault. She continues to travel for lectures on those issues and has taken the topic of rape into the classroom with her course on women and trauma.  Finding and creating a language is, for her, the first step in acknowledging and documenting the “colonization of the body of woman.”

The event is set for 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, at Jayhawk Ink in the Kansas Union. It is sponsored by the Departments of English, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Project on the History of Black Writing, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Emily Taylor Resource Center and Jayhawk Ink, and the Office of Diversity and Equity.

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