Thursday, June 30, 2011

Once upon a time in a hospital: UAB student combines fairy tales, medicine to help others

Fairy tales and hospitals wouldn’t seem to have much in common, but the story of how UAB medical school student Valerie Gribben has combined the two in her life is fascinating.

When Gribben was just 16 and still in high school, her first book, “Fairytale,” was published by Montgomery-based NewSouth Books. Now she has completed two more novellas to create “The Fairytale Trilogy,” a 319-page book for young adults. The three novellas “chronicle the adventures of Marianne and her brother Robin as they come of age in an enchanted land where frogs talk, fantastical creatures prowl and danger doesn’t stop at the edge of a dark forest,” according to her web site, The books are “fast-paced page-turners, full of mystery and laced with sly wit,” according to one reviewer.

In 2007, Gribben graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English from UAB, where she also was a USA Today First Team Academic All-American. As an undergraduate, she founded Healing Words, a volunteer group of students who read to hospital patients and nursing home residents. All the while, she was writing.

The trilogy includes the novellas “Fairytale,” “The Emperor’s Realm” and “The Three Crowns.” As she was writing the third installment, her mother was recovering from surgery and treatment for cancer, she told The Birmingham News. Reading the make-believe tale to her mom seemed to soothe her, she said.

Today, the New York Times ran an editorial piece written by Gribben on medicine and fairy tales. Read it here.

Gribben told UAB’s Service Learning program that reading stories to patients helps to brighten their days, and helps her get to know them better. “I have learned that reading is a catalyst for the imagination,” Gribben says. “When I read novels, short stories, or poetry to patients, I can see them escape into the pages of a fictional world. Often our reading raises questions, and I am able to participate in an exchange of ideas with the patient, giving me fresh perspectives on situations.”

These days, Gribben doesn't have much time to write. She is set to graduate from medical school in 2012, and then a new story will begin.

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