Discipline: Literature

Lucy Grealy

Discipline: Literature
Region: New York, NY
MacDowell fellowships: 1994, 1996, 1999

Lucinda Margaret Grealy was an Irish-American poet and memoirist who wrote Autobiography of a Face in 1994. This critically acclaimed book describes her childhood and early adolescent experience with cancer of the jaw, which left her with some facial disfigurement. In a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose conducted right before she rose to the height of her fame, Grealy stated that she considered her book to be primarily about the issue of "identity."

Grealy was born in Dublin, Ireland, and her family moved to the United States in April 1967, settling in Spring Valley, New York. She was diagnosed at age nine with a rare form of cancer called Ewing's sarcoma. Treatment for this often fatal cancer led to the removal of her jawbone, and over the following years she had many facial reconstructive surgeries. In her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy describes her life from the time of her diagnosis and how she weathered the cruelty of schoolmates and others, suffering taunts and stares from strangers.

At 18, Grealy entered Sarah Lawrence College where she made her first real friends and nurtured her love of poetry. She graduated in 1985 and went on to study at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In Iowa she lived with fellow writer Ann Patchett. Their friendship is the subject of Patchett's 2004 memoir Truth and Beauty: A Friendship.

In 1991, she was awarded a Bunting Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, where she completed her memoir. In 1995, the book won Grealy a Whiting Award, given to young writers of exceptional talent.

She published a collection of essays in 2000, As Seen on TV: Provocations. She taught writing at Bennington College and New School University.

Following her final reconstructive surgery, Grealy became dependent upon her prescribed painkiller, OxyContin, as she had earlier with codeine. She died of a heroin overdose in New York City, at age 39.

Her sister, Suellen Grealy, was opposed to Ann Patchett's timing in publishing Truth and Beauty. While she claims that Patchett and the book's publisher Harper Collins stole the Grealy family's right to grieve privately, she acknowledges that "Ann was a far better 'sister' to Lucy than I could ever have been".


Garland (formerly Baetz)

Lucy Grealy worked in the Garland (formerly Baetz) studio.

Marian MacDowell and friends named this studio in memory of Anna Baetz, the nurse who helped care for Edward MacDowell in the waning years of his life. With generous support from the Garland family, the studio was renovated in 2013 and renamed the Peter and Mary Garland Studio. The inward opening diamond-pane windows were replaced in…

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