When Linda Villarosa’s ground-breaking book, “Body & Soul” was published in 1994, it was the first and only self-help book specifically written to address Black women’s health concerns.
Powered by the National Black Women’s Health Project, the book sought to “end the damaging conspiracy of silence about the realities of Black women’s lives and give voice to the physical, emotional and spiritual health experiences of Black women today,” reads the book’s description.
The nearly 600-page book was and remains direct and relevant in its content — body weight, reproductive system and menstruation, abortion, fibroids, menopause, emotional pain, sexuality and safe sex, violence, incest and child abuse, HIV and AIDS.
When writing “Body & Soul,” Ms. Villarosa was an award-winning health and science writer and executive editor at Essence magazine. She arrived at Essence after graduating from the University of Colorado and moving to New York with the singular goal of working for the monthly fashion, beauty, entertainment and culture publication founded in 1970 for Black women.
The job didn’t come overnight.
“I was working for another publication across the street from Essence, and I kept pitching ideas to them,” said Ms. Villarosa. In the late 1980s, she became a contributing writer for Essence, and was eventually hired as its senior editor of health.
Her decade at Essence set Ms. Villarosa on a path of exposing and questioning the cause of health disparities in American culture. She spent a year at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as a journalism fellow, and later earned a master’s in urban journalism/digital storytelling from CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she is a professor and journalist in residence.
As a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, she writes about race, inequality and health, and has served as the health editor for Science Times. She also teaches Black Studies and journalism at the City College of New York in Harlem.
Ms. Villarosa’s research and reporting on disparities in health care will be the focus of her talk as the inaugural speaker of the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries’ new social justice lecture series at 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 in the James Branch Cabell Library on VCU’s campus. The event is free and open to the public.
In the last five years, her work has been regularly recognized for journalistic excellence. Ms. Villarosa’s 2017 article, “America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic,” won a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ award for Excellence in Journalism. In 2018, her cover story, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. Her essay on medical myths was included in the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
Ms. Villarosa’s recent work also includes the impact of COVID-19 on Black communities in America, the environmental justice movement in Philadelphia and life expectancy in Chicago. Her latest book, “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Rac- ism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation,” was released last summer.
After years of writing about health issues, Ms. Villarosa said the pandemic forced America to see and address the disparities in health care that negatively impact people of color, and face a much harder truth. It is not race, but racism that is causing these disparities in health outcomes for Black and brown people.
“During my talk, I plan to discuss this question: In such a wealthy country, where we spend more on health care per person per year — about $12,000 — why are our health outcomes so poor?”
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