Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Last Tuesday, Feb. 20, in a room full of banana-shaped stress balls and fruit-shaped balloons with smiling faces, English Professor Dr. Jaqueline Alnes shared parts of her new memoir, “The Fruit Cure: The Story of Extreme Wellness Turned Sour” with the West Chester University community. 

“The Fruit Cure: The Story of Extreme Wellness Turned Sour” is a memoir about Alnes’ experience with falling into extreme wellness culture after suffering through an undiagnosable neurological disorder that temporarily impacted her capabilities to walk and speak. Through this uncertainty with her health, she fell into an online community that claimed serious ailments could be cured by following a fruitarian diet — consisting only of uncooked fruit. 

Alnes has previously published essays in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Guernica and Iron Horse Literary Review. She is also a contributing writer to Electric Literature. 

To open the event, Bucks County Poet Laureate and WCU graduate student Alexa Gutter read selections from her new chat book, “Äiti.” The poems are a product of grief and childhood, as Gutter lost her mother 15 years ago. 

Dr. Kristine Ervin, a fellow English professor and close friend of Alnes, introduced Alnes to a crowd of students, faculty and runners, many of which were wearing pineapple shirts and strawberry sweaters. Ervin, whose memoir, “Rabbit Heart,” is set to release in March, said of Alnes’ work:

“When you find yourself doubting whether or not you can be vulnerable on the page, and to share it with the world, you’ll remember how you kept turning pages of ‘The Fruit Cure’ and felt inspired by a woman who is claiming the complexities of the body and doing so against the doctors and coaches who… diminishe[d] and ignore[d] her experiences.”

After her introduction, Alnes took to the stage in a banana sweater. She thanked everyone for being there and prefaced her book by stating, “When I was 18, I thought I knew what my life would look like.” As a Division 1 runner, she was used to pushing her body to the extreme. So when she got sick, she believed the doctors who told her she was healthy and continued to push through even as her body began giving out on her. After she was asked to turn in her team uniform for being unable to perform because of her illness, she began to question her self-worth. 

“I wish I could show her these running teammates who meet me in the dark,” Alnes says of her 18-year-old self. “These students could give me the gift of hope and kindle my own curiosity through their willingness to experiment on the page. These colleagues who have cheered me on, these friends who have shown me that love is not something I have to earn by being good.”

From there, Alnes read from the first chapter of her memoir, immersing the audience in her first year of college as her neurological illness started to occur. She described the first time she experienced an episode, her coach’s dismissal of her symptoms, and encounters with doctors insisting she was healthy. 

“Because so many months had passed with doctors and Coach dismissing my symptoms as being ones I could run through, I had a twisted sense of my own perception of the word. Was my illness real, or was I somehow faking the whole thing, caving to the phantom voice who wanted me to be weak? What pain was worth stopping for?”

Following the reading, there was a Q&A portion in the evening. When asked when she was ready to externalize her experiences, Alnes answered that she started writing before she was ready, “which isn’t a bad thing.” She credits the creative writing classes she took as a student for saving her. The classes provided her with “the space to figure out and say stuff out loud that I didn’t know how to say in any other context.” 

The reading concluded with a raffle and a book signing. Copies of her book are available on Amazon or via her website, jacquelinealnes.com


Emma Hogan is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism. EH954390@wcupa.edu

Charlotte Decker is a third-year BSEd. English major with a minor in Creative Writing. CD968493@wcupa.edu

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