Take Us to a Better Place: Stories

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A Culture of Health Captured in Fiction

Take Us To A Better Place: Stories is a collection of 10 short stories that grapple with the deeply human issues that influence our health, from immigration, climate change, and gentrification, to cultural identity, family connection and access to health care. We hope they spark conversations about a Culture of Health—and how we might get there.

AWARD-WINNING STORY! The Plague Doctors has been selected as one of 2021’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy stories by John Joseph Adams and guest editor Veronica Roth, author of the best-selling Divergent trilogy.

These stories urge us to not just think, but to do. What can we do to make things better? How should we begin?

—Pam Belluck, Pulitzer Prize-Winning New York Times health reporter

Take Us To A Better Place Stories iPad

What’s your favorite story? Did it spark new ideas about building a Culture of Health?  #TakeUsToABetterPlace

Start A Conversation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published these stories to help ignite a lively discussion and healthy debate about what it will take to build a better future. We’ve provided a handful of questions for each story to help you get the conversation started in your community.

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Conversation Guide by Story

Viral Content

When a popular high school football player dies from a mystery illness, Glory, a reporter for a large online media conglomerate, is determined to get to the bottom of what happened before it spreads any further. But she finds herself up against the local sports culture and the conflicting goals of her employer.

Author: Madeline Ashby

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Rita is a Syrian refugee whose family has escaped the conflict to Arizona—but not without a cost. Her mother was killed back home, and her father and brother carry bullet wounds. Facing xenophobia and racism at school and work, Rita and her brother struggle every day in the face of systems and individuals who fail to support refugees and immigrants.

Author: Hannah Lillith Assadi

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Brief Exercises in Mindfulness

Harry and Dean are just starting their adult lives in New York. An encounter with Raquin, who was forcibly evicted from the apartment they now rent, illuminates the trauma of gentrification and the struggle to be heard and understood in today's world.

Author: Calvin Baker

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The Masculine and the Dead

Having lost his wife to disease, ex-marine Guy, a rugged samaritan in his small-town community, struggles to reconnect with his only child. It's not until he steps in to care for the neglected son of an opioid-addicted man that he learns emotional responsibility and the skills to rebuild his severed ties.

Author: Frank Bill

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The Erasure Game

In a future society, two teens find out what happens when seemingly innocuous "community games" serve a more sinister purpose. It turns out that these popular means of social interaction are quietly eroding civil liberties and privacy as neighbors collect data on one another and report it to shadowy rulers and a power hungry elite.

Author: Yoon Ha Lee

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The Plague Doctors

In 2079, a mysterious illness called grey pox is killing large portions of the population. When the illness finally reached the remote Pelican Island, a team of researchers including Audra Lee—whose own young niece has been affected—must muster all of their meager resources to help find a cure.

Author: Karen Lord

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The Flotilla at Bird Island

Kyle and Bobby, long-lost lovers from different backgrounds, live in a United States where encroaching coastlines are wreaking havoc on health and well-being. When they reconnect, the disparities and inequities between their two worlds: a South ravaged by global warming and  an eco-protected island in North Carolina are thrown into harsh juxtaposition.

Author: Mike McClelland

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The Sweet Spot

Isa, a woman with progressive hearing loss, is separating from her wife. It's not her decision. There's lots wrong in the marriage but also lots right, and she has developed a number of dependencies--many, in fact--around her hearing loss. As the marriage falls apart, Isa has to reconfigure who she is and how she finds support.

Author: Achy Obejas

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Daniel Goodroad, an American Indian teenager, is losing hope. Just as he's about to give up, he encounters a horse. Forming a natural bond, the two meet up with a Native elder, who helps Daniel reconnect with his culture. Equipped with the tools to raise himself up in order to reclaim both culture and community, Daniel—now an elder—demonstrates the power of recollection, reclamation, and preservation.

Author: David A. Robertson

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On a space station near Jupiter, station manager Jixy discovers one of her friends, Greggy, an "augmented human," has been brutally murdered. A semi-mythical figure called Piecework has been blamed for similar attacks on other stations. Determined to protect the people on herstation, Jixy sets out to see if Piecework—or someone else—is responsible for the crime.

Author: Martha Wells

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These collected stories offer thoughtful, compelling, unique responses to imagining today a culture of health tomorrow. They are hopeful and cautionary tales. They are, above all, a call to action.

—Roxane Gay, New York Times best-selling writer


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.