‘The only way to heal is to share stories’

By on July 27, 2023

Kelly Shinn, left, reading from her book, with moderator Angel Khoury, right, at COA Veteran’s Hall. (Credit Catherine Kozak/OBV)

Kelley Shinn’s memoir reveals a life of trauma and accomplishment

Within moments after she sat herself down, crossed her legs with her tan-colored prosthetic bare feet poking out from under her long, flowered dress and started reading from her memoir, The Wounds that Bind Us, it made sense not just what brought Kelley Shinn to the Outer Banks — specifically, Ocracoke — but why she stayed.

It’s not just that Shinn is irreverent, edgy, and funny, or even that her story perfectly fits the tossed-ashore-by-the-stormy-seas-of-life metaphor. It’s that she has cultivated how to make the best with what she’s been handed, figured out how to keep moving forward, and learned that family, friends and community matter the most.

Under the guidance of fellow writer and Outer Banks resident Angel Khoury, Shinn spent 90 minutes on the evening of Tuesday, July 25 at the College of The Albemarle (COA) in Manteo expounding on her 48 years of life that began in an orphanage, took her from a talented teen runner living with her adopted parents in Akron, Ohio to a 16-year-old victim of a freak disease that destroyed both her lower legs. From there, it was on to single motherhood, off-road cross-country travel with her young daughter in tow in a Land Rover and brash adventures in Europe and the Bosnian war zone.

After returning to the U.S., she ended up in 2013 on Ocracoke Island as part of a writing fellowship, and ever since, the tiny fishing village has been home.

Long before that, shortly after she had recovered from having her legs amputated below the knees at age 16, she was on her way to Topsail Island, but somehow ended up on Ocracoke. Still feeling awkward about her body, she waited until the light was low and decided to go into the ocean.

“I took off my prosthetic legs and I crawled into the water,” she recalled. “And I started weeping…  And then there was a double rainbow. I came back about 10 years ago, and I haven’t left.”

Shinn didn’t start the event, which was sponsored by Downtown Books in Manteo and COA, by talking about herself. At Khoury’s prompting, she launched into reading a part of her book detailing a gripping episode that took place around 2002 in Bosnia at a bombed-out bridge that had been built in 1566 by the Ottoman Turks.

Describing her attempt to take a photograph of the bridge, she dropped her camera and was determined to retrieve it, a pursuit that was replete with hazards.

“On the other side of the three-foot wall, two hundred feet below, the clear, turquoise Neretva flows,” Shinn read, her voice vivid, as if the image was still in front of her. “It turns out, at the end of this alley that is now a dead end, there was once a modern bridge. Far below me, in the froth, glowing in the midafternoon sunlight, the bombed bridge wreckage lies splayed out like an industrial open-heart surgery.”

She was drawn to Bosnia, she said, as a way to help those who had lost their limbs by stepping on unexploded land mines, some of which she saw littering a dirt path near the bridge. Ninety percent of land mine victims are women and children, Shinn told the audience at COA.  “I thought, ‘Wow, I should be able to raise some money for them,’ she said. ‘A single mother with no legs!’”

Initially, Shinn wrote essays, short stories and a novel because she “wanted to protect people” from being the harsh details of her personal story. She settled on a memoir only after an editor told her that her story “was too unbelievable for fiction.” When it came down to the revision and editing process, she was finally able to put her nose to the grindstone.

Shinn had earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. and had worked for years as an adjunct writing professor.  She has been published in numerous publications, including the New York Times.

“I finished this version of the book in 31 days,” she said. “I wept, I laughed…so everything you feel in the book, I had to go through it all again.”

That included sexual assault, physical abuse, a stillbirth, divorce, among other difficulties she described. At the same time, Shinn said her travels provided tremendous experiences, friendships and opportunities for herself and her daughter, who is now 25. (Shinn has another child, a 17-year-old son.)

“The major theme of my book is compassion,” Shinn says. “Nobody’s a villain in my book — even in war.”  And she credits the act of writing her memoir for helping her put it all, the bad and the good, in perspective, to see the connections in life, and to heal.

Kelly Shinn reading from her book The Wounds that Bind Us. (credit Catherine Kozak/OBV)


“I think we’re desperate for healing,” she said, “and the only way to heal is to share stories. I had to learn to sit presently with my pain. I didn’t want to hide from it. This is who I am; this is what I did.”

She is already working on her next book about living through Hurricane Dorian in 2019, which devastated Ocracoke with seven-foot floods from storm surge.

“It’s about trauma, resilience and loss,” Shinn said, adding jokingly, “I might get kicked off the island.”


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Kathy

    A saying that we are all alike until you have written a book is true.

    Thursday, Jul 27 @ 2:48 pm
  • resident

    Thank you for writing and sharing your book and some of your life experiences. I also truly believe that sharing or discussing our heartaches , trauma, ideas on what helped us heal is so very important for our mental health as individuals and as a society. What sometimes compounds trauma and keeps us suffering is an idea that we are alone. I must tell you that the idea of you crawling to the ocean will forever stay with me and I will re-call it on the days and nights when I need it most and it will give me hope and strength. Now we are bound together forever.

    Wednesday, Aug 2 @ 12:27 pm