Valerie Gribben’s first novel, Fairytale, was published when she was seventeen. Through college and in medical school, she completed two sequels—The Emperor’s Realm and The Three Crowns—in this coming-of-age story, now collected as The Fairytale Trilogy.
In college, she founded Healing Words, a student volunteer organization at the University of Alabama at Birmingham before entering medical school there.
Gribben finished medical school and residency and is a practicing pediatrician.
Excerpt from “Getting Cozy in a Softly Spun Fairy Tale” by Jeff Hansen, Birmingham News (24 February 2011)
At recess in grade school, Gribben used to play make-believe games of Disney princesses with her friends.
Brown-haired Kristen got to be Belle. Elizabeth, with 19-inch-long hair, was Princess Jasmine. Ballet-dancing Ginny took on the role of Cinderella. Michelle, with red hair, became Ariel.
But Gribben — with her short, black hair — always had to be Snow White.
“I was underwhelmed with having to play a heroine whose main talents seemed to be housekeeping and having poor character judgment,” she said. “But over time, I realized that with my imagination, I could turn Snow White into any kind of character I wanted.”
Gribben wrote a draft of the first book of her trilogy in a month, because she had long carried the story in her head. Once she had her four main characters, she said, they just started talking to her.
NewSouth Books publisher Suzanne La Rosa said she met Gribben when she wrote that first book “at the tender young age of 16.”
“We just thought it was an incredibly fresh take on a classic fairytale,” she said. NewSouth, based in Montgomery, published it and the book got a good reception.
Gribben said other kinds of stories helped lead her to medical school.
She volunteered at Baptist Medical Center East in Montgomery one summer during high school.
“Being a teen volunteer meant that I couldn’t have any direct participation in actual medical care, so I spent most of my days just sitting and talking with the patients,” she said. “And I loved that.”
Gribben began her UAB studies as a chemistry major and then switched to English, graduating summa cum laude. As an undergraduate, she started Healing Words, a volunteer group of students who read to hospital patients and nursing home residents.
She found that those readings usually led to a conversation, and the conversations led to a connection.
When she started medical school, one of the first things Gribben learned was how to take a patient’s history and physical.
“That depends on your being able to listen to the patient, gathering up the symptoms, sifting through the details, to arrive at a strong timeline,” she said.
Also in medical school, Gribben started a group for students interested in medical narratives. They read works by physician-authors like the neurologist Oliver Sacks, pediatrician and poet William Carlos Williams or essayist and internist Danielle Ofri. They also share their own writings on clinical experiences as medical students.