Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Speaker Tells Of Lincoln's Struggle With Depression February 12

Chestertown, MD, February 12, 2003 — In honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience presents a lecture by Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of the forthcoming book The Melancholy of Abraham Lincoln. Shenk's lecture will be held on Wednesday, February 12, 2003, at 7:30 p.m. in the College's Hynson Lounge. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.
Shenk's book, which will be published by Viking Press in 2004, brings a fresh and unexpected perspective to the often-mythologized life of the sixteenth president. An essayist who has written extensively about both history and mental illness, Shenk has spent the last five years working on a book that will chronicle Lincoln's lifelong struggle with depression. “Everyone who knew Lincoln said that his ‘melancholy' was one of his most striking characteristics,” Shenk says. As a young man, Lincoln's friends feared he would kill himself. And even as he rose in business and politics in his 30s and 40s, he was often consumed with despair. Lincoln was elected president in 1860, at age 51.
Shenk says that psychiatrists who have examined Lincoln's history agree that a diagnosis of major depression would apply. But Shenk warns against easy labels and diagnoses. “To really understand Lincoln's melancholy, you have to look at his whole story,” Shenk says. “And when you do, you see how this problem also underlay some of his great strengths-including his determination to do meaningful work and his deep and complex faith.”
Shenk's lecture, “Fiction, Not Fantasy: Shaping a True History of Abraham Lincoln,” will describe what he has discovered about Lincoln, as well as his experience conceiving, researching, and shaping his book. “Lincoln is one of the most written about human beings in the history of civilization,” Shenk says. “And this makes him a great subject for students of the biographer's techniques and of the role that mythic stories have in a culture.”
Shenk's essays and articles have appeared in Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Times, as well as in the national bestseller Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. He has worked as an editor or correspondent at the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and The Economist. He has been a Rosalynn Carter Fellow in Mental Health Journalism at the Carter Center, and currently teaches writing at New York University and the New School. He lives in New York City.
For more information about C. V. Starr Center events and programs, visit the Center online at, or call 410-810-7156.

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