On Tuesday, Sept. 16, a crowd of writers and well wishers gathered to celebrate the release of Going Hungry, a collection of 19 personal essays on the process of overcoming eating disorders. The book, edited by 28-year-old Kate Taylor, includes pieces by the poet Louise Gluck, acclaimed young adult novelist Francesca Lia Block, Francine du Plessix Gray, Jennifer Egan, and Joyce Maynard, along with work by a diverse group of emerging writers.
Ms. Taylor, who currently writes about culture for the New York Sun, began work on the project six years ago, having just graduated from Harvard (she took time off during her junior year to seek treatment for anorexia). Recalling her hospitalization, she said, “I didn’t want to admit that I was sick. I had this scary, negative stereotype of anorexics as these lifeless cheerleader types—frightening and boring and superficial and all white and rich. And instead, I got to the hospital and the women in the program were not at all what I expected. There was such a range…I thought their life stories were just so moving and they made me have so much more sympathy for the illness and for myself. So, I thought someone should write about the incredible breadth of stories…I thought I’d like to put something together with these different stories.”
Assembling the collection was a long, organic process, she said. “I started just with people I knew, from treatment, from life. Like, I was interning at the Paris Review and Priscilla Becker [who was also in attendance] was their poetry reader. She was the first person I asked to write the essay and that was in 2002—I think she’s amazed by the reality of it!”
Surveying the scene, Clara Elliot, who is currently a senior at Yale, said, “I’ve never been to anything like this before. I sort of feel like I’m undercover–I feel small and big at the same time.” Ms. Elliot, who mostly writes poetry, told us her essay is her first published piece of prose, but is currently at work on “a cookbook for people recovering from eating disorders. The whole idea is it’s about how to get in touch with your appetites and intuitions with food. So, in learning how to cook you learn to intuit.”
Also in attendance was Maya Browne, whom Ms. Taylor contacted after having come across a piece she wrote as an undergraduate for Essence magazine about eating disorders and women of color. At the time [around 1993], “There really weren’t any studies about women of color and bulimia and anorexia. And I knew from my own experience that there were a lot of women! So I thought, You know what? I need to go find a way to prove this because it’s true.”
The magazine ended up co-financing a study on the subject, the results of which Ms. Browne cited in her piece, one of the first of its kind. Ms. Browne, who currently finances films—she was partially responsible for 2004’s Ray and recently fully financed her own film, American Fork—was initially reluctant to participate in the project: “I was like, I don’t want to go down that road. I worked really hard to get over my eating disorder and I didn’t want to put that in jeopardy by spending so much time dwelling on it.” But, in writing an expanded version for the collection, she explained, “I realized I’d felt sort of isolated, and I never really came to terms with it until I wrote this piece…Thinking of that first article so many years later has actually been a great experience.”
We also spoke with Maura Kelley, who contacted Ms. Taylor after reading a piece of hers in Slate. Ms. Kelly, a prolific freelancer, described her eating disorder as a method for coping with the loss of her mother, who became ill when she was four and died when she was eight. After a hospitalization at 13, she continued to struggle throughout high school and into adulthood. “It’s really a mindset,” she explained. “Even when you overcome the weight issues, you don’t really you don’t really lose the mindset…So,” she laughed, “Now I have healthy obsessions, like writing.”