Charm City Stories celebrated its first annual publication release on Friday in the Center for Visual Arts at the Mattin Center. The event was comprised of a live prose and poetry reading, the showing of a short film and an exhibition of two floors of artwork.
Charm City Stories is Baltimore’s “first journal of mental and physical health, expressed through art and writing.”
Goucher College’s independent student newspaper The Quindecim interprets narrative medicine, the field that inspired the magazine, as “the idea that effective and humane healthcare relies on the ability to interpret and be moved by the stories of others.”
With the support of a Mellon Arts Innovation Grant, the editors spent the past year collaborating with 15 art and writing departments and over 50 different artists at seven local universities (including Hopkins; Goucher; Loyola University; University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); University of Maryland, College Park (UMD); and Morgan State University) to fashion the magazine’s first edition.
According to its website, Charm City Stories founder, chief editor and Hopkins senior Arunima Vijay created the magazine to encourage local students to use artwork to “reflect on their experiences with sickness and caregiving” after discovering a lack of art initiatives devoted to the illness-related experiences of Baltimoreans.
“If I’ve learned anything in my past four years here at Hopkins, it’s that Baltimore is an incredibly diverse city with a complex set of narratives surrounding illness. This publication was born out of a desire to capture some of those narratives and translate them into art,” Vijay said.
Stephen Goralski, who attends UMBC, was the first to read his creative writing. He called himself a “very easily overwhelmed person” and his poem “The Everything Thing” was a meditation on the state of being overwhelmed. The poem’s descriptions were original and compelling.
Next, Michelle Cheifetz from Goucher read her poems “science: Rome” and “What Isn’t,” the former being a take on the intersection of science and history and the latter being a captivating first-person narration of two people’s thoughts. I enjoyed Cheifetz’s sensory details in both.
Then Natasha Hubatsek, who also attends Goucher, read her well-crafted poem “maybe that’s another morning.”
Next, Carolina Melo, a student at UMBC, read her short story “Fruitcakes.” Melo’s work portrayed a college student staying in a psychiatric ward after nearly jumping to her suicide.
“There’s no real inspiration to it per se, but I like to say it came about out of kindness and understanding from an unexpected place,” she said.
Indeed, I found the character Bartley, who comes “by every single day... without fail” bringing a piece of fruitcake, to be a sweet element of the well-written short story.
Then Charm City Stories presented Breaking Point, an animated short film created by UMBC student Caitlyn McCaulley that dealt with suicide. Vijay read McCaulley’s statement about why she choose this format to express her experiences.
“Anxiety and depression for me have never really just been that I am sad. It feels like I have static going on in my head. It’s flashes of thought and memories passing by that feel overwhelming and hard to make sense of,” McCaulley wrote.
Although Hopkins freshman Veronica Montane enjoyed the whole event, she particularly appreciated Breaking Point.
“I especially liked the animation because it was sort of different... It was impactful, and the color contrast was really good,” she said.
I urge everyone to get a copy of the magazine, which is filled with talented artwork in a variety of media and evocative prose and poetry that address insomnia, relationship problems, cancer, sexual assault, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.
I commend Vijay and the other editors, Hopkins sophomores Coleman Haley (creative director) and Julia See (publicity director) and Hopkins junior Anuradha Haridhas (logistics coordinator), for their passion and creativity and for having devised a bridge between the arts and medicine — humanities and STEM — that recognizes the value of storytelling and engagement with the Baltimore community.
Haridhas explained that Charm City Stories is hoping to encourage students at the colleges with whom the magazine collaborated to become editors and to ensure a bright future for the magazine.