Newsletter – June 2019

Greetings, North Central Members!

Welcome to the June 2019 chapter newsletter. Let us know what you think, and remember, you can also 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:

CHAPTER EVENTS

NEWS

FEATURE

CHAPTER EVENTS

Book Club: Monday, September 30, 2019

La Casita, 1925 Perimeter Dr, Roseville, MN 55113

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande

Details:

Join us for our next book club on September 30, 2019, at 6 p.m. at La Casita in Roseville. We will discuss Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. Even if you haven’t read the book, feel free to join our conversation and enjoy some good Mexican cooking. We hope to see you there. By 9 a.m. the morning of September 30, please email Book Club coordinator Paul Mamula to let him know you’re coming: paulpat (at) pclink (dot) com.

NEWS

Take an Active Role — Volunteer!

We still have some additional missing links in leadership and some gracious previous volunteers working beyond their term. As you know, our chapter 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 or serve as a chapter officer. These positions are still open:

  • Treasurer: The treasurer (3-year term) manages the chapter’s checking account, develops the annual budget in collaboration with the president and president-elect, contributes to semiannual reports, completes IRS filing, and when needed, helps other committees establish a budget for large events. The current treasurer’s term will overlap with the incoming treasurer’s term to teach you about the position.
  • Finance Committee Chair: This chair coordinates the annual audit of the chapter’s financial records at the close of the fiscal year (June) and reports the findings to the chapter treasurer.

Not ready or able to lead a committee? All of 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 president, Lisa Poppenberg: president (at) amwanorthcentral.org. Thank you!

FEATURE

Julie Dobrow’s After Emily: Two Remarkable Women, and the Legacy of — America’s Greatest Poet

A book review by Mary E. Knatterud, PhD

Those of us who typically function as behind-the-scenes editors will especially relish this unique new book by Tufts University professor Julie Dobrow. Published in 2018 by W. W. Norton, its 369 pages (plus numerous endnotes and photos) focus on the 2 largely unsung women who were the first to carefully edit the poems and letters of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Entitled After Emily, its subtitle is a nod to Dickinson’s quirky capitalization and punctuation style, one of the reasons that made publication of her work intensely challenging: Two Remarkable Women, and the Legacy of — America’s Greatest Poet.

But many other reasons made publication of Dickinson’s work intensely challenging, including her difficult-to-detangle handwriting and, most distressingly, the multigenerational anguish, secretiveness, and legal battles stemming from the 13-year extramarital affair between her brother Austin (1829-1895) and Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932). The provincial 19th-century town of Amherst, Massachusetts, seethed with gossip and hostility that had a profound literary impact, delaying the appearance of Dickinson’s full corpus by many decades and obscuring tragic backstories for many more.

A meticulous scholar, Dobrow spent years studying previously unavailable primary sources, including the extensive diaries and journals of Todd and her only child, Millicent Todd Bingham (1880-1968). The result is a deep, mesmerizing dive into the life and times of 2 driven, intelligent, hard-working women, both of whom devoted the bulk of their (too often unremunerated!) careers to promoting Dickinson’s literary gifts. Author Gregory Maguire’s blurb on the back cover praises Dobrow’s book as an “honest, sometimes searing portrait of the two idiosyncratic women, mother and daughter, who between them delivered Emily Dickinson’s ‘letter to the World’ — rescuing this genius hermit from obscurity by deciphering and publishing her sheaves of high voltage poetry.”

As summed up in Bingham’s Washington Star obituary, “During the 1890s, Mrs. Todd worked without compensation on [Dickinson’s] poetry, but she locked the manuscripts in a chest when a lawsuit estranged the Todd and Dickinson families. In 1929 she gave her daughter the key and charged her to prepare the material for publication” (p. 339). The historical and literary panorama of this dual tale is staggering: to cite just 2 examples, Todd interacted with Louisa May Alcott; Bingham, with Rachel Carson. And both Todd, as a young woman, and Bingham, as a little girl, had interpersonal (albeit oblique and fleeting) contact with Dickinson herself.

I often found the book, whose chapter subheadings comprise haunting snippets of Dickinson’s poetry, just plain sad in its depiction of what Todd and Bingham each suffered, personally and professionally. Having devoured all of Dickinson’s poems myself, as well as published an AMWA Journal article on their surgical allusions, I was drawn to revisit the following verse of hers (though not quoted in Dobrow’s book) that deftly encapsulates the frustration, along with the sanity-saving joy, of even unrecognized work: “… — we do life’s labor — / Though life’s Reward — be done — / With scrupulous exactness — / To hold our Senses — on —” (#443 per the Thomas H. Johnson edition). That verse has its poignant counterpart in these words of Todd from her journal (as featured on p. 166 of Dobrow’s book): “Thank God for work!” [Todd] wrote. “IT is my salvation. I have never been so rushed in my life; and if it were not for that very fact I should probably be dead — or crazy.”

Dobrow explicitly lifts up the power (and sometimes pain) of editing in her description of Todd’s long independent writing career: “[Todd] also knew that an important part of the writing process is revision. This became critical in her work on Dickinson’s poems. [Todd] once wrote a story entitled ‘Stars and Garden,’ which she described as something that had ‘lain so near my heart so long.’ When she read it to Austin, he was impressed with it but felt that she needed to edit it and rewrite the ending….” Accordingly, Todd “reworked the story several times,” though exclaiming “it rent my heartstrings to change it”; fortunately, “after a series of rejections,” it eventually saw print (p. 88).

After exhaustively championing the editing so faithfully done by Todd and Bingham, Dobrow is gracious, with respect to her own book, in singling out various colleagues, by name, who “helped steer this book’s direction…helped to shape the narrative in significant ways…assisted me with queries of all kinds…copyedited, checked and referenced this book from start to finish…helped to mold early chapters…aided with intelligent and compassionate editing….” (Acknowledgments, p. 376). 

My ongoing quibble with Dobrow’s book is that she needed to consistently use the serial comma: without it, her long sentences in particular tend to be flabby and impossible to follow without backtracking. And she makes occasional errors in usage, such as the deployment of “affect” rather than “effect” in the phrase “his inability to affect true change in his life” (p. 79). But the effort was most definitely worth it, given this book’s countless gems concerning the role of conscientious editing in the ultimate preservation of Dickinson’s poetic jewels.

Have you read a good book lately?

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 jennerb (at) gmail (dot) com.

AMWA North Central Chapter Officers

President: Lisa Poppenberg, MPH, ELS, president (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

President-Elect: Jillienne Touchette

Past President: Kendra Hyland, PhD

Co-Treasurer: Ellen O’Malley, MS, treasurer (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

Co-Treasurer: vacant

Secretary: Amelia Young, BS, secretary (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

AMWA North Central Committee Chairs

Finance Committee: Co-Treasurer Ellen O’Malley, MS

Membership Committee: Lynelle Martinez, MBA

Program Committee: Messac Che Neba

Publications Committee: Jennifer Burton

Chapter Representative to AMWA National: Mary Knatterud, PhD

Chapter Advisory Council (CAC) Representative to AMWA National:

Mary Knatterud, PhD [Nov. 2017 through June 2019];

Paul Mamula, PhD [July 2019 through June 2020]

Questions? Ideas? Email the officers listed above or visit our website at http://amwanorthcentral.org.