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Front entrance of the old Cook County Hospital.

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re a reader and/or a writer, you would love the free, two-day Printers Row Lit Fest, the largest literary event in the Midwest, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. Read details here.

With 200 booksellers, 7 stages, and more than 100 free literary events, I spent an evening scouring the schedule in the Tribune’s insert, and then reserved free tickets online for events requiring them.

Each year, I look for events in which I can learn something—about the author, the book, or the writing process. Here’s a snapshot of the five moderated author sessions I attended and a one-liner about what I learned:

Deborah Baker, author of The Convert: A Tale of Exit and Extremism, the story of a young New York woman in the early 60s who becomes obsessed with Arabic culture and moves to Pakistan. Baker, a biographer, stumbled on letters by the protagonist, and they piqued her interest to write the woman’s story. I learned that I must be aware that I bring my bias of my own religion to my encounters with religious views that differ from my own.

Alice LaPlante, author of Turn of Mind, a literary novel/mystery that was inspired after a visit with her mother who has Alzheimer’s.  I learned that a painful personal experience can be turned into something that will provide insight into the mind of a person with Alzheimer’s.

Richard Ford, editor of Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work, stories that include showing how the language of our work spills over into our personal relationships. I learned that, as a nurse, I had better watch my use of medical terminology at dinner! My word choice probably would be more appetizing if I’d become a chef.

Dr. David Ansell, author of County, a parallel story of his training/practice at Cook County Hospital in the context of Chicago’s political clout in 70s and 80s. I learned to take more notice of how our system of health care is “designed” to be unresponsive to the poor.  When asked his ideal system, Ansell responded that health care must be “socially integrated.” Rich people should lie next to poor people in hospitals and receive the same level of care.

I particularly enjoyed Ansell’s presentation because I spent three months at County for my psychiatric nursing rotation in the early 60s. I saw my experiences in some of his examples—overcrowded wards, lack of fresh linens, no call bells for patients. See the photo above for County which still stands but is not in use.

Robert McClory, author of Radical Disciple: Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church and the Fight for Social Justice, a biography of a priest’s work and mission on the south side of Chicago. I learned never to underestimate the power of what one person’s passion for social justice can accomplish for a community.

I promise, that if you come to this Lit Fest, you will be enriched in ways you would not anticipate. For each one thing I learned that I’ve stated above, there were at least five others!