Shenk, Joshua Wolf
Shenk, Joshua Wolf
ADDRESSES: Home and office—63 S. Oxford St., Apt. 2, Brooklyn, NY 11217. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Independent scholar and journalist. Washington Monthly, Washington, DC, former editor. Former correspondent for New Republic, Economist, and U.S. News & World Report. Vice chairman of board of directors, Stories at the Moth, New York, NY; member of advisory councils, Shul of New York and Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Appeared in and consulted on documentary film about Abraham Lincoln.
AWARDS, HONORS: Rosalynn Carter fellow in mental-health journalism, Carter Center; Frank Whiting scholarship, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference; residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and Blue Mountain Center; New York Foundation for the Arts fellow, 2005–06; Notable Book selection, New York Times, and Best Books of the Year selection, Washington Post, both 2005, both for Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.
Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Contributor to Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression, edited by Nell Casey. Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, Mother Jones, Nation, Harper's, and Time.
SIDELIGHTS: Joshua Wolf Shenk is an independent scholar and journalist who has contributed to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the United States. His interests include mental health, psychology, and spirituality. Shenk's first book, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, was described by a Kirkus Reviews contributor as "a significant contribution to the study of Lincoln and his battle with depression that will resonate with contemporary Americans." The book required many years of research and writing from the time Shenk first became interested in Lincoln's struggles with depression.
In Lincoln's Melancholy Shenk follows Lincoln from his birth until his death. Raised in abject poverty, the future U.S. president suffered two breakdowns in his twenties and thirties and contemplated suicide. He met many of the goals he set for himself while failing to realize others, including becoming a state legislator or congressman. Shenk writes that in the days that preceded therapy, Lincoln often found escape from his chronic depression by telling humorous stories and reading poetry. He also notes how certain tragedies in Lincoln's life, including the loss of his mother when he was nine and the death of Ann Rutledge, who was possibly his first love, when he was twenty-six, affected his state of mind.
Shenk writes of Lincoln that "the qualities associated with his melancholy—his ability to see clearly and persist sanely in conditions that could have rattled even the strongest minds; his adaptations to suffering that helped him to be effective and creative; and his persistent and searching eye for the pure meaning of the nation's struggle—contributed mightily to his good work." As Andrew Solomon commented in New York Online, "it is enlightening to realize that the very qualities that made Lincoln—exquisite empathy, transcendent humanity, prodigious intellect, and urgent moral clarity—were the ones that made him miserable, that his genius was contingent on his unhappiness." In Shenk's opinion, if Lincoln had access to modern drugs the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address might not have been such powerful writings. William Lee Miller reviewed the volume in the Washington Post Book World, commenting that Shenk's story is not one "of crisis and recovery but of crisis and coping—and of that coping leading to stunning creativity. The link between depression and artistic creativity is often affirmed; why not also (asks Shenk) with a creative politician like Lincoln?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2005, Brad Hooper, review of Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, p. 1988.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of Lincoln's Melancholy, p. 837.
Library Journal, August 1, 2005, Randall M. Miller, review of Lincoln's Melancholy, p. 97.
Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005, review of Lincoln's Melancholy, p. 76.
Washington Post Book World, October 2, 2005, William Lee Miller, review of Lincoln's Melancholy, p. 3.
Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (November 17, 2005), Ron Kaplan, review of Lincoln's Melancholy.
Joshua Wolf Shenk Home Page, http://www.shenk.net (November 17, 2005).
Lincoln's Melancholy Web site, http://www.lincolnsmelancholy.com/ (November 17, 2005).
New York Online, http://www.newyorkmetro.com/ (November 17, 2005), Andrew Solomon, review of Lincoln's Melancholy.
Washington Post Online, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (October 4, 2005), online chat with Shenk.