Newsletter – July 2018

Greetings, North Central Members!

Welcome to the July 2018 chapter newsletter. Let us know what you think, and remember, you can always read it on the chapter website. You can find previous newsletters on the website as well. And we always welcome suggestions for newsletter topics.In this issue:






Networking Happy Hour
Thursday, August 16, 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Join the North Central chapter for a friendly, informal networking event. Members and nonmembers with an interest in medical communications are welcome. Appetizers are on the chapter!

Details: Bacio restaurant at 1571 Plymouth Road, Minnetonka (next to Ridgedale Center), Please RSVP to Messac Che Neba, mcheneba (at) gmail (dot) com so we can get a ballpark number for the reservation (but walk-ins are welcome, too).


SE Minnesota Writers and Editors Discussion Group
September 21, noon to 1 p.m.

Details: These quarterly gatherings are informal, and lunch is provided by the chapter. All AMWA members and guests are welcome. To have an accurate head count for the lunch order, RSVP one week before the meeting (email June Oshiro at oshiro (dot) june (at) mayo (dot) edu).

We have no formal discussion topic for this meeting—let’s talk about whatever’s on your mind! If it’s been a while since you’ve attended, come on back, don’t be shy! If you’ve never joined us before, please consider coming by and introducing yourself. Nonmembers are welcome, too.

Directions to our meeting are at Hope to see you there!


Book Club: Monday, September 24, 2018, at 6 p.m.
A World without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age

Details: This fall, we’ll discuss A World without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age by Emmy J. Favilla. We’ll meet at Boca Chica Restaurant on the West Side of St. Paul, a few minutes south of downtown St. Paul: 11 César Chávez [Wabasha] St., just west of Robert Street. The parking lot is ample, as are the baskets of chips. If you plan to attend, please let Mary Knatterud know by 2 p.m. on September 24: knatt001 (at) umn (dot) edu or 651-645-3858.
Even if you haven’t started or finished the book by then, feel free to come and chime in anyway. Our small group varies: new and/or returning AMWA Book Club fans are always welcome.

For those of you who like to read ahead, we have chosen our books for 2019:

    • January 28, 2019: The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization by Martin Puchner
    • April 29, 2019: Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce by Douglas Starr
    • September 30, 2019: Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande


Volunteers Are Still Needed
AMWA North Central is a volunteer-based organization. If members don’t take an active role, the chapter will cease to function, and members will lose access to programming, news, and networking opportunities. Consider taking your turn to lead (or join) a committee. These committee chair positions are open:

Membership Committee Chair: AMWA is only as strong as its members, and our chapter is in need of a Membership Committee Chair to be a point of contact for our current members, keep our email lists up to date, and facilitate outreach to potential, new, and former members.

Finance Committee Chair: The Finance Committee Chair coordinates the annual audit of the chapter’s financial records at the close of the fiscal year (July) and reports the findings to the Chapter Treasurer.

Publications Committee Chair: As our Publications Committee Chair, you can use your editorial and organizational skills to keep chapter members informed by writing and asking others to write for our monthly e-newsletter (e.g., profiles of members, “What We Do” articles, and news items).

Not ready or able to serve as a Committee Chair? All our committees welcome members to share ideas and keep the workload light.
In addition to keeping our group viable, volunteering with AMWA is a great way to network with your fellow members. It’s also a good way to fortify your C.V. with an extra line showing how you give back to your profession! If you can volunteer a few hours a month to help, contact our Executive Committee: EC (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) com. Thank you!


AMWA National Conference
Medical Writing & Communication Conference
November 1–3, 2018 (with preconference events on October 31)
Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel
Registration is now open for AMWA’s 2018 national conference. Visit the AMWA website to register and plan your trip. Remember, earlier registration gets you into more of the workshops, roundtables, and other sessions you want to attend and gives you more time to complete the homework for any workshops that require it. A preliminary schedule and listings of workshops, education sessions, and discussion roundtables are posted online.


“[F]ascinating and enlightening” with “its many allusions
to medical care in the mid-1800s and beyond,
as well as its insights on the thorny politics of publishing.”

Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires:
A Literary Biography of an Iconic Midwestern Author
by Mary E. Knatterud, PhD

Having devoured all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s deftly fictionalized accounts of her 19th-century Midwestern childhood and early married life, I was thrilled to come across Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This 2017 biography delves into Wilder’s storied life and storytelling triumphs, as unearthed by Caroline Fraser’s meticulous research.

Not only did I love all of Wilder’s so-called “children’s” novels when I was a grade-schooler; I also returned to them as an adult (first as a grad student in English, longing for a fun break of comfort fare, and then as a mom reading aloud to all 3 of my kids). More recently, I eagerly welcomed the South Dakota Historical Society Press’s 2014 publication of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, the hefty, densely detailed, gritty memoir that Wilder initially wrote, before taming and polishing it into the Little House series that won her international acclaim.

Even if you aren’t a lifelong Wilder fan like me, and even if you didn’t grow up on the prairie as I did, I feel confident that you, too, will find Prairie Fires to be fascinating and enlightening—if for no other reason than its many allusions to medical care in the mid-1800s and beyond, as well as its insights on the thorny politics of publishing. At 515 pages, with nearly a hundred additional pages of endnotes, it is delightfully scholarly, yet also eminently readable. Like Fraser, I have visited the Ingalls and Wilder home sites and museums in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and Missouri, all of which sprang back to vibrant life thanks to her painstaking and poignant analysis, superbly contextualized.

To mention just a handful of the scores of medical allusions sprinkled throughout Prairie Fires, Fraser refers to an uncle of Wilder’s who died from a reopened wound during the Civil War (p. 40); a doctor who Wilder recalls “poured bitter medicine down her throat” when her entire family contracted malaria in 1870 (p. 54); the “severe head ache” and “hemorrhage of the brain” that left teenage Mary Ingalls “partially paralyzed” and then blind in 1879 (p. 89); the “difficult delivery” in 1886 of Wilder’s daughter Rose (p. 139); Wilder’s and her husband’s diphtheria in 1888 followed by his “slight stroke” (pp. 145-6); the loss of their infant son who, in 1889, “went into spasms and ‘died so quickly that the doctor was too late’” (pp. 150-1); and, decades later, the now-adult Rose Wilder Lane’s physical and mental health problems, including complications from “a surgical procedure in Kansas City” after the stillbirth of her premature son (pp. 213-4).

Fraser is clear that Laura Ingalls Wilder was absolutely the author of the Little House books, often resisting and prevailing over daughter Rose Wilder Lane’s misguided attempts to spice up, even distort, the heartfelt tales that made the pioneer family saga so natural and endearing. Granted, Lane did offer useful, sometimes substantive suggestions on her mother’s drafts and helped shepherd them into the hands of editors and publishers. Lane had become a well-known magazine writer who hobnobbed with some of the standouts of her day, e.g., she babysat for her friend Dorothy Thompson, the trailblazing journalist, when the latter accompanied her husband, Minnesota’s own Sinclair Lewis, to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Prize in Literature (p. 319).

But Lane also “denigrated” her mother’s inaugural try at a children’s novel, Little House in the Big Woods, sneering to her own agent, “I know you don’t really want to spend valuable time and work on that little juvenile….It isn’t worth your while” (p. 333). Fortunately, Lane’s agent thought otherwise and sent the manuscript to Harper & Brothers’ Virginia Kirkus, the eventual founder of Kirkus Reviews, who “began reading and was soon so engrossed she missed her [train] stop”; as she reminisced several decades later, “the real magic was in the telling. One felt that one was listening, not reading. And picture after picture—still vivid today, more than twenty years later—flashed before my inward eye. I knew Laura—and the older Laura who was telling her story. Here was the book no depression could stop” (p. 333).

Sadly, Lane committed horrendous literary and personal betrayals that led to unfounded, unfair speculation that her mother might not be the true author. As Fraser explains, “in 1932, after the successful completion and publication of Wilder’s first book, Lane began competing with her mother over her material, first in secret and then openly, trying to put her own imprimatur on the family stories and sell them before her mother could” (p. 335). Often in financial straits and in debt to her parents, Lane suffered from professional and emotional “instability,” to use Fraser’s term, who elaborated on p. 431: “Once again, she was suicidal….In her diary, she described herself as ‘manic depressive.’ She had been forced to borrow money from her mother yet again, a circumstance that may have contributed to her worsening mood.” The index to Fraser’s book lists 20 pages touching on Lane’s “depressions and breakdowns.”
Fraser’s hard-to-put-down biography made the New York Times Book Review’s list of the “10 best books of 2017.” She has long been intrigued by Wilder’s career. In 1993, she was asked by the New York Review of Books to analyze the authorship of the Little House series (from the debut of Little House in the Big Woods to the 9th and final book, The First Four Years, which was published in 1971, after Wilder’s death in 1957 and Lane’s death in 1968). In 2011, Fraser was invited to edit the authoritative Library of America editions. As she exclaims in her acknowledgments section, “in preparing the first new edition of Wilder’s novels since 1953, I discovered her anew, uncovering historical nuggets with the greedy delight that Laura knew, searching for colored beads in the ashes of Osage fires. Writing a chronology of Wilder’s life was a revelation that always left me wanting more” (p. 603).

Read a Good Book?
Whether you’ve read a professional/technical, biomedical/science nonfiction, or fiction book that you think other chapter members may enjoy, share a short review with us. Write a paragraph or a few about what you liked about the book, how it might be good for medical writers to read, or how it might fill a need. Send your submissions to jean (at) imagesmythe (dot) com.