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Film chronicles UNC alumna Lucy Daniel's life

Lucy Daniels had anorexia nervosa as a teen. A documentary about her life will be shown tonight at the Ackland Art Museum.Photo courtesy of Mary Lee.

Lucy Daniels had anorexia nervosa as a teen. A documentary about her life will be shown tonight at the Ackland Art Museum.

Photo courtesy of Mary Lee.

At 17 years old, the 50-pound Daniels was hospitalized for severe anorexia nervosa. She would spend five years in a psychiatric hospital while she battled the eating disorder.

The Ackland Art Museum is presenting a free screening tonight of the documentary “In So Many Words” about Daniels, now 80, who at 22 became the youngest person in the world to be awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship.

The screening, part of the Ackland Film Forum, will be followed by a Q&A session with Daniels and the director.

The daughter of a writer, Daniels published her first short story at the age of 15 in Seventeen magazine. She wrote her first book, “Caleb, My Son,” became a bestseller and earned her the Guggenheim in literature. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at UNC in 1972 and a doctorate in clinical psychology at UNC in 1977.

“(UNC) helped me to feel that what I was studying and what I was accomplishing was real and valuable,” Daniels said.

“Writing was the way I was trying to make myself worth something,” she said.

After having four children, Daniels decided to go back to school and earn a college degree while juggling her responsibilities as a single mother. She said her specialization in psychoanalysis helped her overcome the writer’s block which had been preventing her from writing another book for over 40 years.

As a clinical psychologist, she started the Lucy Daniels Foundation, which looks at the interaction between psychoanalysis and creativity. A year later, she founded the Lucy Daniels Center in Cary, which helps children with emotional problems. She has also been conducting annual seminars for 20 years called “Our Problems as the Roots of Our Power.”

Gayle Stott Lowry, a self-employed visual artist, met Daniels while attending the first seminar.

“She’s very candid about her issues from her life with her anorexia and family issues, and it gives everyone else who’s around her permission to be honest and forthright,” Lowry said. “Lucy is just a phenomenon. She has a lot of energy, and she is still going strong.”

Allison Portnow, Ackland public programs manager, said she hopes attendees enjoy seeing the film with its subject available to answer questions.

“I think that’s a really unique opportunity,” she said. “We’re interested in showing good works of art, and we’re interested in showing good films. And documentaries are a part of that spectrum of filmmaking and contemporary art-making.”

The Foundation partnered with director, producer and editor Elisabeth Haviland James to create the 2013 documentary.

“I believe it shows in a way that people can understand, that when you have a psychological problem or trauma, the answer, the solution, is not to take a pill and get rid of it because the information is in the symptom,” Daniels said.

“And so rather than take a pill, it’s important to have somebody who can listen to you and help you gain some understanding of why you have that problem and how you can best deal with it.”

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