Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins is an exploration of the boundaries of narrative within health and healing in the context of trauma and homelessness. It draws upon scholarly research across a range of disciplines, and is informed by Ensign’s thirty years’ experience as a nurse providing health care to people marginalized by poverty and homelessness, by her personal journey through homelessness as a young adult, and by her experience teaching critical reflective practice to health science students. Soul Stories deepens our understanding of homelessness; trauma and resilience; gender-based violence; the role of narrative in health and healing; and ways in which we can humanize health care for patients, providers, and communities. It contributes to civically and community-engaged scholarship in the health humanities.
Foreword by Arthur W. Frank, Ph.D. Professor University of Calgary, Canada and VID Specialized University, Norway. Author At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness and The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics
“In these writings, her (Ensign’s) political concerns are not with organizing local responses to specific issues, though she works that territory, too. Here, her concern seems to be offering her readers a way of seeing the relations between privilege and radical need without our usual resistances. We resist recognizing privilege for what it is because that would require questioning our own privilege. And we resist recognizing others’ need because that would obligate us to respond more expansively than we usually choose to.”
Advance praise for the book Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins:
“Ensign’s wide ranging stories ask us to look with new eyes at how we interpret the meaning of suffering and trauma, how we create narrative out of catastrophe and chaos, and how we might use such narratives to heal ourselves even as we attempt to heal others.” —Cortney Davis, RN, ARNP, author of Taking Care of Time and winner of the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize
“Without stories there is no heart to health and social care. In her compelling book, Soul Stories, Josephine Ensign challenges us all to rely more on narrative knowledge and experience. In fact, she reminds us that without stories we are all truly homeless.” —Paul Crawford, Professor of Health Humanities, The University of Nottingham, UK and co-author of Health Humanities.
“Josephine Ensign has written an unusually rich and deeply-considered book centered on her life’s work as a nurse practitioner caring for people in homeless shelters and the path that led her there. Soul Stories is a valuable contribution to the growing field of Humanities and Healthcare.” Laurie Barkin RN, MS, author of The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit and winner of the 2011 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award.
Multi-media companions to Soul Stories:
Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins is a writing, photography, sound recording, and digital storytelling (DS) project with the following additional components.
“Soul Stories: Homeless Journeys Told Through Feet” is a brief DS video I made to accompany a show of my photographs and poems/prose. “Homeless Professor” digital storytelling video with excerpt/adaptation from Catching Homelessness is linked here.
I am working with groups of people experiencing homelessness, as well as with health science students working on community-based service-learning projects that include homeless people, and I am helping them to make some of their own videos (and with their permission I will post their DS videos on this site). I completed a participatory digital storytelling video workshop in August, 2015 with a group of homeless youth through the Zine Project Seattle. With their permission I share links to two of their videos here: “Harm Reduction is Good” and “Tug of War.”
DS refers to short video segments (typically 3-5 minutes in length) personal narratives that incorporate digital images, music, and voice-over narration by the person making the video. They are typically created within a workshop-based process that includes a Story Circle to share, critique, and refine stories-in-progress. Developed in the early 1990s by media/theater artists Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert and promoted through their Center for Digital Storytelling/Story Center, DS has been used for public health research, training, and policy campaigns (such as the Silence Speaks campaign); community building (such as the BBC Capture Wales program); literacy programs; and reflective practice with health science students. DS is increasingly used as an innovative community-based participatory method that is especially effective at informing program planners and policy makers about the lived experiences of marginalized people. A brief overview of some of the ethical issues with DS is included on the Story Center website under “Ethical Practice in Digital Storytelling.” And here is an excellent overview by Kelsen Caldwell (formerly in the University of Washington School of Medicine, Health Sciences Service Learning and Advocacy group) of ethical considerations of storytelling in health advocacy work with communities: “The Ethics of Storytelling.”
The following DS videos (not made for the Soul Stories project), are good examples of personal stories of people positively impacted by service-learning and by meaningful community service: “Knowing” by Mai Vang; “Finding” by Darius Gray; “Sankofa” by Jemila Sequeira; and “My Food Justice Story Starts Here” by Daryl Marshall. And here is one of my favorite DS videos about homelessness by Wayne Richard: “Sofas.”
Way Out; Way Home/The Meaning of Home:
As part of my Soul Stories project I am doing a public art project, “Way Out; Way Home.” Here is a short spoken word video performance of “Way Out; Way Home” using a haibun (poetry and prose) I wrote in conjunction with a series of mixed-media pieces and photographs I made to accompany the haibun.
As a component of “Way Out; Way Home” I facilitate workshops with groups of people with a final reflective exercise on the meaning of home. I invite them to write or draw their own answer to the question, “What does home mean to you?” on strips of colored paper. With their permission, I am adding their responses to a Community Blue Tarp Tapestry, which will be displayed in a variety of locations throughout Seattle, as well as displayed/added to through photographs on this website page. In addition, in some workshops I have asked people to then write an American Sentence (a type of haiku with 17 syllables) based on their top response to the meaning of home.
Here are links to terrific Seattle-area homeless shelters/agencies I work with. Your donations to them will be well spent!
- ROOTS Young Adult Shelter in the University District
- YouthCare multi-service agency for homeless teens and young adults in Seattle
- Elizabeth Gregory Home in the University District, day shelter and support services for women
- Mary’s Place shelter and services for homeless and marginalized women and children–in downtown Seattle
- Downtown Emergency Services Center shelter (DESC) and services for homeless adults/Seattle
Here are links to publications of my essays (and a fiction piece) from my Soul Stories project:
- Ensign, J. (February 23, 2018) “Chaos” mixed media art published in Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (February 7, 2018). “Witnessing the Power of Story” in Columbia University’s Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Crossroads.
- Ensign, J. (Fall 2017) “Witness: On Telling” in Columbia University’s Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (November 2016) “Listen, Carefully” in Electric Literature/Okey-Panky.
- Ensign, J. (Fall 2016) “Way Out; Way Home” in Raven Chronicles Journal vol. 23: Jack Straw Writers Program, 1997-2016. Link to essay: ensign-proofs-copy
- Ensign, J. (Spring 2016) “Medical Maze” in Columbia University’s Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (Winter 2015). “Listen Carefully” 55-word story included in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Special Issue: Diagnosis, Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 32.
- Ensign, J. (June 19, 2014) “It Was Time to Proclaim Myself a Wounded Healer” (repost of essay below). KevinMD.
- Ensign, J. (May 30, 2014) “No Place Like Home(less)” essay published in Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine. Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Reprinted on KevinMD
- Ensign, J. (Spring 2014) “Steps to Footcare” (fiction) published in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. Columbia University Program of Narrative Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (May 17, 2013) “On the Road” essay published in Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine. Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (May 2013) “Soul Story” essay published in Jack Straw Writers Anthology, volume 17. Jack Straw interview and reading here.
This project was supported, in part, by an award from 4Culture. Additional support for the audio portion of the DS videos comes from Jack Straw Productions. My Soul Stories project is also funded, in part, by the University of Washington Simpson Center for the Humanities, the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.