A Culture of Health captured in fiction

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) works with organizations across the United States to build a healthy future where everyone has the opportunity to live their healthiest life possible. RWJF calls that vision: a Culture of Health. Each year, through our partnership with RWJF, TEDMED has been able to share with the TEDMED Community some of the ways in which that Culture of Health vision is building momentum and influencing change.

This year at TEDMED, the Foundation is giving the TEDMED Community a sneak peak of a forthcoming anthology of short stories by some of today’s most thought-provoking futurist and fiction writers. This inventive book, titled Take Us to a Better Place: Stories of Health, Hope, and Healing, offers a creative way for readers to imagine what a healthy future might look like. The stories explore some of the opportunities and risks that reside in that future.  As Michael Painter from RWJF observed, “The invitation to these amazing writers was a broad one, without real requirements. Well, just one: use your imaginations and make us think. Help us imagine what a Culture of Health might be.”

We are excited that the Foundation is sharing a glimpse into this imaginative look at a future Culture of Health. Not only will we learn more about six of the stories, but we will meet five of the short story authors. The five authors will be with us this year to provoke conversation about the topics and themes of their stories. Below, we’re teasing you with just a bit about each of the stories we will share at TEDMED this year – we hope they spark some inspiration about a Culture of Health! If you’re joining us at TEDMED this year, we can’t wait for you to meet the authors, engage in conversation about their work and visions, and read a preview of their story.

Take Us to a Better Place: Stories of Health, Hope, and Healing will be released Spring 2019. Sign up to explore this collection of new, original stories: https://rwjf.ws/2S0STb0

“The Flotilla at Bird Island,” Mike McClelland
“The Flotilla at Bird Island” is set in near-future Atlanta, a city plagued by rising temperatures and large racial and financial divides. The ice caps have melted, leaving Atlanta as the most significant city in the Eastern United States and the capital of the “New Coast.” Every Atlantan carries an inhaler, wears protective jumpsuits and surgical masks, and requires a monthly cocktail of injections to fight the waves of new, aggressive diseases that have appeared as a result of the hotter, wetter world. But, on nearby Bird Island, life of all kinds is thriving, showing what is possible.

“Brief Exercises in Mindfulness,” Calvin Baker
“Brief Exercises in Mindfulness” is the story
of a group of recent college graduates
who have moved to Brooklyn and the
long-term residents they have displaced.
The story revolves around an apartment occupied by Dean, a fledgling technology entrepreneur, consumed by the ambition
to succeed at all costs, including his own
well-being, and his roommate Harry, a
public school teacher torn between the
desire to be of service to the world and his own neuroses.

“Return to Omelas,” Nayomi Munaweera
“Return to Omelas” is Nayomi Munaweera’s response to the questions raised in the legendary writer, Ursula K LeGuin’s famous short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” LeGuin’s story imagines a utopian society in an unspecified country. Every citizen lives free of the slightest sorrow; their lives are without sadness. Yet each of them knows that this perfect happiness is based upon the absolute suffering of one of their own. A child has been locked up in a dark room. The child is meant to suffer, and it is the reason for the city state’s perfect happiness. How long can it continue?

“Paradise,” Hannah Lillith Assadi
“Paradise” is a story about Rita, a
Syrian refugee, who lives in a low-income housing complex in Phoenix, Arizona with
her father and older brother. Before the story begins, Rita’s mother was killed in Aleppo
and Rita is plagued by troubling visions at night. Before going to bed, Rita often tries
to visualize paradise, following from a
proverb her mother often said to her about paradise residing beneath the feet of
mothers, but rather than paradise, Rita sees visions of the war.

“Viral Content,” Madeline Ashby
When Tacoma, Washington’s local high school football star, Tyrone Weathers, dies of an unknown illness, Glory, a young reporter, is determined to identify the cause of his death and inform the community. In her mission to report the story, Glory finds herself competing with special interests – the local sports culture, monopolistic media outlets, and capital – to cover this potentially deadly disease before it spreads any further. Glory persists in her investigation despite the challenges she faces, and she discovers that the source of the illness that took Tyrone’s life is a secret darker than any she could ever imagine.

“The Sweet Spot,” Achy Obejas
As if managing the day-to-day responsibilities of work and two young kids isn’t stressful enough for married couple Isa and Louise, a lover appears on the scene, Esther. Told from Isa’s point of view, “The Sweet Spot” by Achy Obejas traces the erosion of a once strong romantic relationship in a way that mirrors Isa’s gradual loss of hearing.