What Novels and Medical School Have in Common

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Joanna Pearson is a doctor, poet, and — as of this week — published novelist. Her first young adult novel, The Rites and Wrongs of Janis Wills, was released by Scholastic this week, and is already racking up rave reviews. It’s a “laugh-out-loud debut” according to Kirkus; Publishers Weekly deemed it “rewarding, honest, and quite funny.” We caught up with Pearson to get the scoop on her book — and its release party, which happens this weekend.

Tell us about the novel.
It’s about a high school girl in North Carolina; she’s an aspiring anthropologist, and she uses anthropology as a way of coping with the quirks and challenges of small town life — including the annual Miss Livermush pageant that her mother is forcing her to enter.

You took a couple years off from Hopkins Med School to pursue your MFA in poetry. These days, you’re a psychiatry resident at Johns Hopkins Medical School — and you wrote a young adult novel. How do the medical and writing worlds intersect for you? Or are they opposite impulses?
I’ve always been interested in people, in trying to observe and understand people –I think it’s probably true for all writers and all doctors. In internal medicine and psychiatry, you’re really constructing a narrative. Good doctors are trying to understand a person, understand their life story. [When you’re writing,] you’re trying to understand what your character might do when faced with a given challenge or desire; [as a doctor,] you’re kind of trying to do the same thing with patients.

What are you working on next?
I’ve had an idea brewing for a while — something about a fifteen year old girl whose older brother might have a serious mental illness. I’d also love to do another more light/comic YA novel, too.

What’s the book release party on Saturday going to be like?
It’s going to be fun! My brother Lane is DJing, and I’m also very excited about the three guest readers. Mike Scalise is one of the most hilarious readers and writers I’ve ever encountered. Jessica Blau is well-beloved in Baltimore. And Jeff Colosino is another fantastic reader who’s prepared some new material. [All the readings] are very loosely based on the idea of adolescence. [The release party is at the Metro Gallery in Station North from 4-7pm. It’s free.]

Check out some of Pearson’s poems here, here, and here.

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