Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Michael Ray Taylor

Cellular Communication

A line of immortal human cells, crucial to medicine for decades, leads Memphis author Rebecca Skloot to ask fascinating questions about race, culture, and science

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks follows two principle story lines—one the biography of a virtually unknown, uneducated woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951; the other a scientific account of her still-living cells. Commonly known in biology circles as HeLa, these cells and the research they allow have directly affected much of the human race, yet their source remained a mystery even to most researchers. For decades not even the children of Henrietta Lacks knew their mother lived on in thousands of labs around the world, and in medicines and treatments that have saved countless lives. Rebecca Skloot‘s masterful new book has changed all that.

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Capturing Presidents

In Nashville to accept the Nashville Public Library Literary Award, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian talks with Chapter 16 about the past, the present, and the World Series

Last year, when Barack Obama appointed his chief Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, the media widely reported that his decision had been influenced by reading Team of Rivals, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln, which emphasized the way Lincoln led by drawing together his opponents. But bestselling historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has been influencing political leaders with her knowledge of the past for years. She talks with Chapter 16 about her career—and her visit to Nashville.

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Kindred Souls of Knoxville

Singer-songwriter-poet-playwright R.B. Morris orbits in the literary gravity of James Agee and their shared city

R.B. Morris recently received a phone call from his longtime friend and sometime touring partner, the legendary folk singer Steve Earle. Both have published books of poetry as well as music, and both share a deep interest in the writer James Agee. Earle explained that he had been asked to write a forward for a new edition of A Death in Family, Agee’s Pulitzer-winning novel based on his own boyhood in the Ft. Sanders section of Knoxville, the place—not coincidentally—where Morris grew up.

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A Voice Worth Finding

Kevin Wilson’s first story collection displays great emotional depth—and a few youthful missteps

Young fiction writers in America tend to receive their early training around the workshop tables of college creative writing programs. They next prove themselves in the minor leagues, writing short stories for the handful of respected journals that continue to print them. When the stories are good—as Tennessee native Kevin Wilson‘s surely are—the writer is rewarded with a rookie contract to the majors, which is to say, a big-name publisher agrees to put out a collection, with the promise of a (usually yet-to-be-written) novel. Tunneling to the Center of the Earth proves that Harper Perennial’s faith in Wilson was justified, but the book also illustrates the foibles inherent in the farm-team system.

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