Arlington Heights native's memoir gains national attention
Arlington Heights native Katherine Standefer hit it out of the park with her first book, "Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life."
The 2020 memoir was selected as a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice/Staff Pick, named one of Oprah Magazine's Best Books of Fall 2020, and she and her book were featured on NPR's Fresh Air program and in Gwyneth Paltrow's podcast, Goop.
Still, Standefer describes her upcoming virtual appearances with patrons of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library as a "dream come true."
Standefer returns to Arlington Heights next week, virtually, to share more about her life as a writer at two library events.
An evening with the author takes place from 7-8 p.m. Thursday, July 15, and will feature Standefer reading a portion from her book, as well as answering questions posed by the moderator.
A writing workshop follows from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 17. In it, Standefer will share the intimate, craft-focused expression of writing what she calls the complicated self, including prompts on crafting structure, dialogue, description and flashbacks.
Both events require registration.
Library officials look to feature local writers whenever possible, and with Standefer, who graduated from Hersey High School before earning a degree in fiction writing from Colorado College and an MFA from the University of Arizona, the decision was simple.
"The opportunity to feature a native author, paired with the very discussable and timely content of her work, was an easy choice for us to invite her back to the Arlington Heights community," says Megan Young, programs and exhibits supervisor at the library.
Standefer says she welcomes the opportunity to give back to the community that helped shape her and encouraged her love of writing.
"Going to the library was a huge part of how I spent every summer," says Standefer, who now lives on a mesa in New Mexico. "I spent so much time reading and writing that, by second grade, I knew I was going to write a novel and live out west."
She couldn't have predicted then what her book would explore, but when she collapsed in a Wyoming parking lot at age 24 and ultimately had a cardiac defibrillator implanted to prevent her arrhythmia, the beginnings of her memoir took place.
Much of the book chronicles her harrowing health decisions, as well as her experience with the American health care system. It builds toward her trips to see where the minerals for her device are mined, from Madagascar to Rwanda.
"It's a book about what it means as a human subject to death -- and what it means to keep on living," Standefer said in a phone interview last week. "And it explores the way we make decisions to put in the most technically advanced devices ever."
Specifically, Standefer asks what if a lifesaving medical device causes loss of life along its supply chain? Should the medical community be more socially conscious when making these decisions, and what happens when these devices reach their own end of life?
While Standefer fondly remembers reading "The Hobbit" in kindergarten with her father and devouring all of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, her own writing takes a different style. She specializes in writing stories of the body, specifically relating to sexuality, illness and trauma.
She gets invitations from literary organizations across the country to describe her craft, and she also gives presentations to medical students. Just last week, she shared her story with philosophy students at the University of Washington studying ethical concerns over implanting neural devices in the brain.
"I staunchly believe that sharp, conscious craft choices," Standefer says about writing, "differentiate mediocre storytelling from works that actually carry medicine."
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If you go
What: An evening with author Katherine Standefer and a memoir writing workshop
When: 7-8 p.m. Thursday, July 15, for the evening with the author; 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 17, for the workshop
Where: Virtually through the Arlington Heights Memorial Library
Cost: Free with advance registration