From 2016 to 2021, Folks gave a voice to the people in our society whose experience is most often overlooked: the chronically ill and disabled. We did so with nuance, passion, and empathy, believing that storytelling is the most powerful tool for fighting stigma around health. We were sponsored by PillPack, now Amazon Pharmacy, who gave us the resources and editorial independence to meaningfully advance the dialogue around health conditions in this country. And though it is over now, we are very, very proud of what Folks accomplished.
Folks wasn’t the only magazine dedicated to telling stories about people with health conditions, but we were the only such publication aimed at everyone, not just people who identify as chronically ill or disabled. With Folks, we set out to tell stories that enriched everyone, believing that stories about illness and disability should serve a greater purpose than simply inspiring able-bodied people to feel good about themselves (a common criticism of healthcare coverage in this country). Instead, they should create empathy and understanding where none previously existed, by examining the experience of living with a health condition in all its complexity.
Folks was special. Over half a decade, we published nearly a thousand stories about amazing people living with hundreds of separate health conditions. We leave behind quite a corpus: if you print Folks out, it is longer than the Bible. Over 80% of our writers identified as having a health condition or disability. Our oldest writer was in her 90s. Our youngest was 13. We published not just American authors, but writers from dozens of countries around the world, and the international perspectives they brought to the table proved that the conversation about what it means to live with a health condition is, by necessity, a global one. But no matter who or where our writers were, we considered it a point of pride to pay them fairly, and to let them keep ownership of their stories.
Folks was never as big as it deserved to be. But that’s okay. Authenticity doesn’t always scale. Maybe in becoming bigger, Folks would have lost part of what made it so special: that quiet, intimate connection that transformed so many lives, from the hundreds of readers who reached out to us for our advice column, Ask Ada, to the dozens of people who wrote us to tell us they found a diagnosis through our articles. To them and over a million other readers, Folks is proof that the world is not uncaring about their health. That they are not alone. That every story matters, and has the potential of changing someone’s life.
If you print Folks out, it is longer than the Bible. Over 80% of our writers identified as having a health condition or disability.
I know those stories have changed mine. As editor-in-chief, Folks transformed my soul. It helped me recognize my own health conditions, come to terms with the mental illness that destroyed my father, and taught me that most disabilities are invisible, but that doesn’t make them any less real. I’ve become passionate about accessibility and the rights of the disabled, and righteously angry about some of the most overlooked social justice issues in health care, like the way doctors routinely do not listen to non-white, non-male patients. Finally, it transformed my politics: I now believe-—truly believe–that universal healthcare and a strong social safety net are the only path to a more equitable future for all.
Folks may no longer be publishing new stories, but it will live on. The archives will stay up, and we have tagged some of our favorite stories, which you can read here. Folks’ stories are evergreen; its message is timeless; the connections it forged between people who thought they were alone can never be erased. And I am still reachable, available by email to anyone who needs a friendly ear.
Folks is a reminder that none of us are truly alone when it comes to our health.
Folks is a reminder that none of us are truly alone when it comes to our health. We may all identify differently–as chronically ill or healthy, disabled or able-bodied–but ultimately, we all live our lives on a sliding scale of health which changes at every measuring. So what gives a baseline to the scale of our worth isn’t how healthy our bodies are, but our hearts: how much we can empathize with another person, going through something we have not yet experienced.
Because make no mistake: eventually, every one of us will become chronically ill or disabled within our lifetimes. We are all Folks… and we will all eventually need someone else’s understanding and compassion in the face of our health.