Katherine E. Standefer and Kate Washington discuss their new books, Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life (Little, Brown Spark) and Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America (Beacon Press) with Naomi Williams.
This event will be streamed on our Crowdcast channel.
About Already Toast
The story of one woman’s struggle to care for her seriously ill husband—and a revealing look at the role unpaid family caregivers play in a society that fails to provide them with structural support.
Already Toast shows how all-consuming caregiving can be, how difficult it is to find support, and how the social and literary narratives that have long locked women into providing emotional labor also keep them in unpaid caregiving roles. When Kate Washington and her husband, Brad, learned that he had cancer, they were a young couple: professionals with ascending careers, parents to two small children. Brad’s diagnosis stripped those identities away: he became a patient and she his caregiver.
Brad’s cancer quickly turned aggressive, necessitating a stem-cell transplant that triggered a massive infection, robbing him of his eyesight and nearly of his life. Kate acted as his full-time aide to keep him alive, coordinating his treatments, making doctors’ appointments, calling insurance companies, filling dozens of prescriptions, cleaning commodes, administering IV drugs. She became so burned out that, when she took an online quiz on caregiver self-care, her result cheerily declared: “You’re already toast!”
Through it all, she felt profoundly alone, but, as she later learned, she was in fact one of millions: an invisible army of family caregivers working every day in America, their unpaid labor keeping our troubled healthcare system afloat. Because our culture both romanticizes and erases the realities of care work, few caregivers have shared their stories publicly.
As the baby-boom generation ages, the number of family caregivers will continue to grow. Readable, relatable, timely, and often raw, Already Toast—with its clear call for paying and supporting family caregivers—is a crucial intervention in that conversation, bringing together personal experience with deep research to give voice to those tasked with the overlooked, vital work of caring for the seriously ill.
About Lightning Flowers
Lightning Flowers weighs the impact modern medical technology has had on the author's life against the social and environmental costs inevitably incurred by the mining that makes such innovation possible — “utterly spectacular.” (Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises)
What if a lifesaving medical device causes loss of life along its supply chain? That's the question Katherine E. Standefer finds herself asking one night after being suddenly shocked by her implanted cardiac defibrillator.
In this gripping, intimate memoir about health, illness, and the invisible reverberating effects of our medical system, Standefer recounts the astonishing true story of the rare diagnosis that upended her rugged life in the mountains of Wyoming and sent her tumbling into a fraught maze of cardiology units, dramatic surgeries, and slow, painful recoveries. As her life increasingly comes to revolve around the internal defibrillator freshly wired into her heart, she becomes consumed with questions about the supply chain that allows such an ostensibly miraculous device to exist. So she sets out to trace its materials back to their roots.
From the sterile labs of a medical device manufacturer in southern California to the tantalum and tin mines seized by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a nickel and cobalt mine carved out of endemic Madagascar jungle, Lightning Flowers takes us on a global reckoning with the social and environmental costs of a technology that promises to be lifesaving but is, in fact, much more complicated.
Deeply personal and sharply reported, Lightning Flowers takes a hard look at technological mythos, healthcare, and our cultural relationship to medical technology, raising important questions about our obligations to one another, and the cost of saving one life.
About the Authors
Kate Washington is the author of Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout In America and the dining critic for The Sacramento Bee. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, Eater, Catapult, and many other publications. She holds a Ph.D. in Victorian literature from Stanford University and lives in Sacramento with her husband and two daughters.
Katherine E. Standefer’s debut book Lightning Flowers was shortlisted for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. Her writing appeared in Best American Essays 2016. In 2018, Standefer was a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good. She earned her MFA in Nonfiction at the University of Arizona and teaches for Ashland University’s Low-Residency MFA. She writes from a juniper-studded mesa in New Mexico, where she lives with her chickens.
Naomi J. Williams is the author of Landfalls (FSG 2015), long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including A Public Space, LitHub, One Story, and Zoetrope: All-Story. Her distinctions include a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories Honorable Mention, Sustainable Arts Foundation grant, and residencies at Hedgebrook, Djerassi, and Willapa Bay AiR. Born and partly raised in Japan, Naomi currently lives in Sacramento, California, and teaches with the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University in Ohio. Find her on Twitter at @naomiwilliams or at her website at naomijwilliams.com.