A Conversation with Roger King and Wilhelmina Jenkins

On May 9, 2012, we hosted a special webinar, “A Conversation with Roger King and Wilhelmina Jenkins.” It was well-attended and received high marks from participants. The recording is now available at: http://bit.ly/may9-webinar-rec.

Novelist and filmmaker Roger King has written a new autobiographical novel, Love and Fatigue in America, about his journey in the U.S. following his diagnosis with CFS:

“When invited to teach at a university in Spokane, Washington, the unnamed British narrator of King’s extraordinary autobiographical novel heads eagerly toward the promise of the American West. However, after collapsing in the gym and being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome–comprising ‘a rag-tag gang of misfit symptoms’ – he and his loyal dog Arthur find themselves untethered, drifting across the country searching for somewhere to settle. His travels take him from doctor to ineffective doctor, from hospitable hosts to anonymous motels, and from bed to couch and back again as he struggles to find, at 40, who he is and what he’s become. Although his romantic relationships fail, he does enjoy moments of startling tenderness: the undemanding love of Mary and her young daughter Zoe, who linger long in his heart; the flickering kindness of waitresses; and the unexpected intimacy granted him at a lingerie shop. What finally offers solace and meaning here is not to be found in biology or fate–although the narrator often feels crushed beneath both–but compassion. Throughout his domestic happiness in New Mexico, the dizzying energy of youth and sex in San Francisco, and the peace of a cabin in small town Massachusetts, the narrator’s exhaustion never infects the writing. The narrative expertly cobbles together unexpected moments of poetry; meditations on illness, war, and ambition; and vignettes, which–like the narrator himself–alternately admit devastating failures and sing with triumph.”


In 1983, Wilhelmina Jenkins was a mother of two and a graduate student at Howard University working on her doctorate in physics when she began to “feel suddenly very unwell.” She was diagnosed with CFS and seven years later, her daughter, Kamilah, became ill too. Wilhelmina and Kamilah have been staunch advocates for better research and expanded awareness. They appeared together on “Oprah” in 1998 and participated in many of the Association’s lobby days. Wilhelimina served on the Association’s Board of Directors from 1996-2000. Her portrait was one of the “Faces of CFS” that traveled as a photo exhibit from 2006 to 2009 to 45 venues, reaching more than 7,000,000 people in places such as the Mall of America, Union Station (Washington, D.C.) and Grand Central Station. She has delivered powerful testimony at Congressional briefings and public policy meetings, shared her experiences in dozens of interviews for radio, television and print media, and has befriended many fellow people living with CFS in support groups and on line.

For several years after CFS hit Wilhelmina wasn’t able to read as much as a comic strip and her own lab notebooks were unintelligible to her. In more recent years, she has found a way to read again and enjoys many types of literature, including Roger’s book, Love and Fatigue in America. They’ll talk together about the universal experiences the book describes and how CFS alters one’s life in big and small ways.

Roger grew up in London and worked extensively in Africa and Asia. He was diagnosed with ME/CFS in 1991. He is the author of five novels, four written prior to Love and Fatigue in America: Horizontal Hotel, Written On A Stranger’s Map, Sea Level and A Girl From Zanzibar. He was the originator, executive producer and technical advisor for the 2004 prizewinning documentary, Still, the Children are Here, set in the remote village of Sadholpara in Northeastern India.

The preoccupations that run through Roger’s novels, film and consultancy work, are the ways that the experiences of ordinary people across the world, richer and poorer, are interwoven. Much of his early work was spent sitting in poor villages in Africa and Asia, talking to men and women in order to assemble an overall picture of how things changed – technology, institutions, beliefs, economics, the sense of self. Later his interests widened from rural societies to include human migration (the background to A Girl From Zanzibar), political change, conflict and the broader tides of history. His wish has been to try to understand the big picture, while his imagination in fiction keeps his attention on the individual human soul.

Most recently these strands have come together in researching and imagining future scenarios and in King’s screen adaptation of A Girl From Zanzibar. The novel has been adapted for film by the author and has been in and out of development for the past five years. King’s script of Written on a Stranger’s Map won the BBC/Writer’s Guild award for best first screenplay.

Wilhelmina lives in Atlanta; Roger lives in Massachusetts. They have never met, but as we discovered during this webinar, their lives share many common experiences. Listen to the recording: http://bit.ly/may9-webinar-rec

Additional Resources:

May 13, 2012