Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Skloot & Peelle, Plus Poetry

What’s new in Tennessee books—and at Chapter 16—on November 12, 2009

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks hasn’t even been published yet, but debut author Rebecca Skloot is already getting the star treatment from Publisher’s Weekly. This week’s print edition of the publishing industry’s trade magazine features a profile of Skloot, an excerpt from the book, and an essay by Skloot about planning her own book tour with the help of her brain-damaged father. “The excitement continues,” PW notes: “O magazine has bought first serial rights; the book is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title for spring 2010 and Self magazine’s February title of the month.” All this attention, and Crown doesn’t officially release the book until February 2, 2010.

An unconventional science book—part memoir, part research, and part mystery—The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of a young, black mother of five who died in 1951 of cervical cancer, and the way her harvested cells have furthered medical science for decades. “Many readers are convinced that all science writing is boring,” writes Skloot in her essay. “When they hear about my book, their eyes glaze (great, a book about cells). But when I start telling the story of those cells—one of the most important tools in medicine, taken from a poor black woman without her knowledge, bought and sold by the millions while her family struggled to afford health insurance—that gets their attention.”

Nashville fiction writer Lydia Peelle will be earning her own share of attention on Monday, November 16, when she’s in Brooklyn to be honored by the National Book Foundation at an event honoring promising young writers. Now in its fourth year, the “5 Under 35” event “is a celebration of emerging talent and the perfect way to kick off National Book Awards Week,” says Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation. The other honorees this year are Ceridwen Dovey, C. E. Morgan, Karen Russell, and Josh Weil (a former fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference). You can read more about Peelle—author of the new story collection, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, wife of Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, and former speechwriter for Governor Phil Bredesen—in Fernanda Moore’s profile, which we first published on October 8.

This week Chapter 16 launches its poetry section, a collection of excerpts from books published by Tennessee poets in the past year. We’re showcasing a sampling of poems by a diverse group of poets—Beth Bachmann, Diann Blakely, John Egerton, and Marilyn Kallet—and we’ll be adding to the section regularly. Next week look for work by Bill Brown, Wyatt Prunty, and Charles Wright.

Other diverse voices featured in Chapter 16 this week include Memphis judge and civil-rights activist D’Army Bailey, author of The Education of a Black Radical; Christian novelist William P. Young, author of The Shack, who will be in Nashville for a reading; humorist Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabet Juice; and music historian Barry Mazor, author of Meeting Jimmie Rodgers. We couldn’t manage to get them in the same room together for a conversation—and judging from their incredibly varied points of view, that would have been quite an event—but this edition of Chapter 16 might be the next-best thing to it.