Skip to main content

Survival Is A Creative Act: Suleika Jaouad’s American Symphony of Contrast—Cancer, Art, Music, & Life

By January 15, 2024January 16th, 2024No Comments
Play Video
Episode #807



What do you do when the power goes out? You improvise and turn it into a creative act.

At the age of 22, confronted with a leukemia diagnosis amid the tumult beyond her control, Suleika Jaouad made a profound decision to embrace the art of journaling. Deliberately opting to distill insights from her affliction, she endeavored to endure her newfound residency in a Manhattan hospital in a meaningful and aesthetically resonant manner while giving ink to the intricacies that proved profoundly challenging to articulate.

Her journey began with a daily journal and evolved into Life, Interrupted, an Emmy award-winning column and video series showcased in The New York Times, chronicling Suleika’s experiences from her hospital bed. This transformative narrative later manifested as a best-selling memoir, Between Two Kingdoms, which spent an impressive 19 weeks on the prestigious New York Times list. In contemplating liminal spaces and navigating these gray areas, Suleika delves into the significance of ritualizing transitions—honoring and appreciating them for what they truly represent in that messy middle. Additionally, she shared her profound insights in a compelling TED Talk titled, What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living.

In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Today, she speaks to that experience of being in the in-between space—where everything feels messy, where you’re mired in uncertainty. Our lives are not ones of befores and afters—but are marked by constant, gradual transitions. It’s predominantly shades of gray and the perplexity inherent in the in-between.

“Creativity is a gift that we all have access to and that we can all benefit from.”


Our conversation revolves around her leukemia diagnosis at a young age, the relinquishment of independence and identity in the throes of illness, the transformative power of writing as both agency and healing, and the embrace of the tumultuous and uncertain in-between space that defines life post-illness.

We also discuss her newly intimate Netflix documentary, American Symphony. The film is a beautiful exploration of Suleika and her husband, Jon Batiste’s lives individually and together. It’s an excavation of what it means to live a creative life, to be in a creative, collaborative relationship, and to navigate hardship. American Symphony is a study of extreme juxtapositions, a narrative oscillating peaks and valleys. It’s absolutely captivating and mesmerizing. 

For those who prefer a visual experience, the conversation is available on YouTube. As always, the audio version streams wild and free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

I hope this exchange will be a wellspring of inspiration for you.


Peace + Plants,

Listen, Watch, & Subscribe

For 1000s of delicious, customized plant-based recipes & so much more, check out our Plantpower Meal Planner.

For a complete list of all RRP sponsors, vanity URLs & discount codes, visit Our Sponsors.

There are a few simple ways you can support the show and the content we strive to craft and share every single week

Subscribe & Review: Please make sure to review, share comments and subscribe to the show on the various platforms (Apple Podcasts, YouTubeSpotify). This helps tremendously!

Patronize Our Sponsors: Supporting the companies that support the show! For a complete list of all RRP sponsors and their respective vanity URLs and discount codes, click the ‘Sponsors’ tab in the ‘Shop’ menu.

Spread The Word: Help grow our reach by sharing your enthusiasm for the podcast and/or your favorite episodes by posting about it on social media.

Thank The Team: I do not do this alone. Send your love to Jason Camiolo for audio engineering, production, show notes and interstitial music; with additional audio engineering by Cale Curtis and additional music by Moby; Blake Curtis & Dan Drake for video, & editing; graphics by Jessica Miranda & Daniel Solis; portraits by Davy Greenberg, Grayson Wilder & Gizelle Peters; video clips for social media are created by AJ Akpodiete; copywriting by Georgia Whaley; and theme music by Tyler Piatt, Trapper Piatt & Hari Mathis.

Amazon Disclosure: Third-party books and products denoted on this page and website may be hyperlinked to the Amazon affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.