The 19-Year-Old CHOP Patient-Turned-Playwright Whose Poetry Will Make You Cry 

"I want to show what my outlook is, from the place of a disabled person. It’s a very unique identity.”

Elizabeth Kennedy

Elizabeth Kennedy

Elizabeth Kennedy, 19, is a poet and playwright who occasionally rocks purple hair. “I dyed it purple after I had pneumonia,” she says. “I was in the hospital and feeling so out of control of my life. My dad went out and bought me the hair dye so I could feel in control of something.”

She had to dye it back to her natural brunette before she began her most recent round of proton radiation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, because the radiation irritates her scalp. Elizabeth was diagnosed with a tumor on her brain stem when she was only seven years old. She’s had two brain surgeries, proton radiation, and three rounds of chemotherapy. She was stable for eight years before heading back to CHOP this fall.

Despite being in and out of hospitals since she was seven, she focuses all of her creative energy into a positive place: her writing. She writes poems constantly, and most recently wrote a one-act play, “The Bureaucracy of Existentialism,” which will be performed at the Shawnee Playhouse this January as part of the Shawnee Original Playwright Series Contest.

“I’ve always loved reading and writing. It’s a form of escapism for me,” she says. “I’ve always loved words and the magic they create.”

She came up with the idea for the play in her high-school theater class, where the assignment was to write a play about death stopping for a day — a powerful topic for someone who has to battle a life-and-death disease on a daily basis.

She says of the plot, “It’s about a universe where humans are monitored by the Bureau of Life, the Bureau of Death, and the Bureau of History. The Head Reaper at the Bureau of Death goes missing and Celia, a reaper, has to find him and try to convince him to come back. I liked this idea that the world is going to return to chaos but there’s this monolithic organization trying to impose order on it.”

Elizabeth, who lives in East Stroudsburg with her parents, will begin at Northampton Community College as a theater major in the spring. In addition to her playwriting, she performs her poetry annually at the Ride for Kids, an event sponsored by the Pediatric Brain Tumor foundation to raise money for research for Elizabeth and other children with brain tumors. She’s been participating in the event for 10 years, and has performed a poem at the event every year for the last six years.

Elizabeth wrote the poem below, “The Universe Is Beautiful and So Are You,” which she performed at the Ride for Kids in 2015. Warning: You will probably shed a tear or two.

I’m in love with the night sky,
but if I ever bend my head to stare at the stars
the dizziness is overwhelming.

Instead, I’ve surrounded myself
with people who remind me of it,
people I can see the stuff of stars in.

I once thought
that if I could dig my toes into
the stars that
I could shine like they do,
but that’s not how it works.

If they are the stars,
then I am the moon.
The brighter they shine,
the brighter I am, too.

As she tells me of performing her poems, “I would like to help people understand our experiences a little better, understand how they are helping us, that this is the life we have because of this disease, and that you can help make that better, at least for future kids. I want to show what my outlook is, from the place of a disabled person. It’s a very unique identity.”

Elizabeth’s one-act play, “The Bureaucracy of Existentialism,” will be performed along with the five other winners of the Shawnee Original Playwright Series at The Shawnee Playhouse, Jan 2nd through Jan 17th. Tickets are available here.

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