You may recognize her as the author of the New York Times bestseller Still Alice or from her wildly popular Ted Talk "What you can do to prevent Alzheimer's." Throughout her career, Lisa Genova has been spreading awareness about Alzheimer's disease and its impact on individuals, families, and communities. In honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, we interviewed Genova to get her perspective on the future of Alzheimer's disease research, discuss her latest novel Every Note Played launching this March, and learn a little bit more about the author herself.
Zieley: Your highly anticipated new book Every Note Played is coming out this March. What can readers expect from your latest novel?
Lisa Genova (LG): Every Note Played is about being physically paralyzed due to ALS, and it's also about being emotionally paralyzed due to fears, excuses, and blame. It's about what we say and don't say in life. It's about regret and forgiveness. It's about living and dying. It's about letting go and setting yourself free.
Z: It has been ten years since your book Still Alice was first published. How has Alzheimer’s disease research changed in the years since the release of your novel?
LG: We’ve seen an explosion of innovation in research tools, better models of the disease, more collaboration—all of which are accelerating our understanding of the molecular pathology of Alzheimer’s. It is this understanding which then allows us to target where to intervene in order to prevent or stop the disease.
Z: Where do you see Alzheimer’s disease research going in the next 10 years?
LG: Some of the most brilliant minds in the world are tirelessly dedicated to solving this problem. If we don’t solve it soon, 150 million people are projected to have Alzheimer’s by 2050. I hope that we’ll have a prophylactic or a treatment that arrests the progression of the disease before then.
Z: Earlier this year you gave a Ted Talk titled “What you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s,” which has been hugely popular, being viewed over 2 million times. Have you ever considered teaching?
LG: I teach through my novels! If you read my books, you’ll learn some real science and clinical information (yes, I sneak it in, and I’m always telling the truth under the imagined circumstances). And literature is a great way to teach compassionate awareness. Unless directly affected, most people aren’t going to read a scientific research article, text- or self-help book about Alzheimer’s, brain injury, autism, Huntington’s disease, or ALS. Fiction is a powerful way in. Narrative can give us access to what might otherwise be too overwhelming to consider, and it can give us the humanity behind the science.
Z: What was your main takeaway from your experience with Ted Talks?
LG: INSPIRATION. The speakers were brilliant, creative, innovative, passionate, and compassionate, introducing ideas and conversations and missions that will likely change the world in important, exciting, often stunningly beautiful, and necessary ways. I wept in awe several times, bearing witness to excellence and heroism and the ways in which we’re all connected. I felt cracked open to bigger possibilities, drunk on inspiration, energized to live my life with even greater purpose.
Z: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
LG: It’s this quote, given to me by my friend Lucie when I most needed it. "I forgive, heal and release everything that consciously or unconsciously could delay or block the complete evolution of my being." ~ Mario Liani.
Z: If you could have dinner with anybody, who would it be and why?
LG: Oprah. I’d love to thank her and talk about great books and the big questions we humans wrestle with. And it’s high time we know each other!