Attention all Evanston book lovers! We are very pleased to announce that the 2018 Evanston Literary Festival Book Fair will take place right here at EPL, and we couldn’t be more excited. Intended as a showcase for local authors, presses, and literary organizations, the fair will take place on Saturday, May 12 from 2-5 pm in the Community Meeting Room of EPL’s Main Library.
For local authors, presses, or literary organizations who are interested in exhibiting, please submit a 2018 Evanston Literary Festival Book Fair Application by April 20, 2018. Since space is limited, submitting an application does not guarantee a spot at the fair, but all applicants will be considered based on the criteria outlined on the application form.
For Evanston book lovers, please save the date of May 12. The book fair is a great chance to celebrate Evanston’s talented and diverse literary community, and we can’t think of a better way to kick off the 2018 Evanston Literary Festival. See you there!
Depression affects millions of people each year, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is here to help. Founded in 1979, NAMI is the country’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of people and families affected by depression and other mental illnesses through support, education, advocacy, and research. On Wednesday, February 8th at 7 pm, their affiliate NAMI Cook County North Suburban brings Mark Litzsinger to EPL to share his recent book Out of the Shadows: A Journey of Recovery from Depression. In anticipation of this important program, we recently spoke to Mr. Litzsinger about his years struggling with depression, the treatments that aided his recovery, and his motivation for writing Out of the Shadows and to NAMI’s Judy Graff about the NAMI Reads author series and other NAMI programs.
Evanston Public Library: To begin with, Judy, can you tell us a little about NAMI Cook County North Suburban’s history and mission?
Judy Graff: NAMI CCNS is an affiliate of the national organization that was started in the early 1990’s by a group of families all dealing with the challenges of having loved ones with mental illness. In the beginning, they offered a single family class, and now we’ve grown to serve more than 17 communities. Today we offer free classes for families and parents along with peer groups and family support groups. We host bimonthly education meetings and advocate for individuals with depression and other mental illnesses. People who have taken our classes and attended our support groups constantly comment about their positive experiences and how NAMI has helped them put their lives back together again.
EPL: Mark, can you tell us about your experiences with depression? When did you first begin to suffer from it, and what were its causes?
Mark Litzsinger: My first experience with depression was just after I graduated from Texas Christian University. I was 23 years old and had started working for my family’s company Follett Corporation as a management trainee in the college bookstore division. I was living in Mission Viejo, California where I was learning to run the bookstore at Saddleback Community College. I had been working there for about 4 months when I had my first episode with depression. One morning I woke up and didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the flu or a cold, but something much different. I felt down. At first, I thought I was homesick. I signed up for a class at the college so I could see the psychologist on campus. I saw the psychologist twice, but the sessions didn’t help. Still thinking I was homesick, I eventually called the Follett Regional Manager and asked to be transferred back to the Midwest. I ended up at our bookstore at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL.
Interesting enough, once I was in Champaign for several months, my negative feelings went away. I attributed my better outlook to being closer to home. I did not know that three years later the same feelings of being down would come back.
EPL: Can you describe the symptoms of depression with which you struggled?
Mark Litzsinger: There are approximately ten symptoms of depression that are listed in Out of the Shadows. If you have seven out of ten of these symptoms for more than three weeks, you should see your internist.
Besides being down, my major symptoms were ruminations and obsessive/compulsive behaviors. Ruminations involve little things you felt bad about as a child that get blown up in your mind into big issues. You feel terrible about them, and you can’t stop thinking about them.
Most people have heard about obsessive/compulsive behavior like washing your hands excessively or checking that you have locked your door five or six times. My obsessive/compulsive thoughts mostly dealt with driving. I would drive awhile and then worry that maybe I had hit someone a mile or so back. I would go back and retrace my tracks and it became a cycle I would eventually have to break by force of will.
EPL: What was the impact of your depression on your professional and personal life?
Mark Litzsinger: Of course you don’t tell any of your friends that you have the illness for fear they won’t understand or think of you as a crazy person. I had a number of bouts of depression from the ages of 23 to 47. In every case its treatment took time and experimentation with various medications that were evolving over the decades, and I believe that I lost years of my adult life from this illness. I have never been married, and it’s possible the illness got in the way. The worst episode I had was when I was 47. I had been dating a woman for two years when depression hit me. I needed to focus on healing myself, and the relationship ended.
I can’t say for sure, but I think people probably noticed my depression early in my career. They definitely noticed when I had my worst episode at the age of 47. I had been appointed Chairman of Follett Corporation, but my productivity was not good. I showed up every day but was not functioning at 100 percent. I was sick for 2 ½ years, and though I wasn’t hospitalized and my brother and my cousin protected me, after that long period of time my illness was negatively affecting my career.
EPL: Can you tell us about when you decided to seek help?
Mark Litzsinger: The first time I sought help was from the campus psychologist at Saddleback Community College. The second was three years later at the University of Illinois. I didn’t know who to turn to when my depression came back in Champaign. The only resource I had was a Maywood internist and psychiatrist named Dr. Norman Bengtsen. He and his wife were best friends with my grandparents, and during WWII, Norman had been a psychiatrist in the Navy where he helped the submariners deal with psychological issues. After the war, he started his own practice out of his house.
I called Uncle Norman from Champaign and told him that I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t know what was going on. I asked if I could come up to meet with him and drove up to Maywood that same day. Within 15 minutes of seeing me, he diagnosed me with depression. He explained that it ran in the Follett side of my family and that he had treated my grandfather, his three brothers, and my mother. He had me call my dad at his office in Chicago, and when I talked to him he was surprised I was in town and not at work. He came to Uncle Norman’s office and listened to what he had to say. Uncle Norman gave my dad some suggestions about the best treatment options in Chicago, and I ended up at RUSH Medical Center’s Psychiatric Department. They were known as one of the leaders in treating mental illness with medication at the time.
When I suffered my worst episode of depression at age 47, my brother and father went to my psycho-pharmacologist Dr. Bill Scheftner and inquired about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Since my medications weren’t working, we decided to try it. ECT – or shock therapy – has been depicted in Hollywood films as almost a torture. In today’s world, the technique is very safe and does not hurt the patient. I had five out-patient sessions over a three week period.
EPL: What treatments were most effective for you?
Mark Litzsinger: All the medications I’ve taken during treatment have eventually lessened my depression. In the beginning the medications I used had side effects like dry mouth, constipation, and dizziness, and I remember having to have my blood checked frequently to see how much of the meds were in my system. Later the drugs became better with fewer side effects. I’ve even had several two- or three-year periods following remission when I haven’t needed any medication at all.
As for ECT, I came out of those treatments smarter than I had ever been. In my career, I was asking all the right questions, and I was able to analyze business situations very quickly. I couldn’t make a wrong decision. My world opened up, and I was interested in a broad spectrum of new things I hadn’t been prior to ECT. My brain was functioning on all cylinders at a 1000 mikes per hour. I was on fire!
EPL: Judy, what types of programs does NAMI offer for the families of those struggling with depression?
Judy Graff: NAMI teaches that when a person struggles with a mental health condition it affects everyone around them including family, friends, classmates, and coworkers. Our programming for depression includes support groups and classes such as the Family-to-Family Education Program and Basics for Parents.
Family-to-Family is a free 12-week course for families and close friends of adults with mental illness. This course is taught by trained teachers who are also family members and know what it is like to have a loved one living with major depression and other mental disorders. Many family members describe this experience as life-changing.
Basics for Parents is a free six-week course for the parents or caregivers of school-age children and adolescents with mental health issues. It’s taught by parents with the lived experience of having a child who has struggled with mental illness. I’ve been a teacher in this program since 2008, and it is such a gratifying experience to see parents get a clear understanding of the biology, treatments, and school-related issues of having a child with a mental health condition. Many times it is the first opportunity for parents to meet other parents who have “walked the same walk” and share their trials, tribulations, and successes.
EPL: Mark, is your struggle with depression an ongoing battle, or do you consider yourself fully recovered?
Mark Litzsinger: I still believe that one of the secrets to my dealing with the illness was to trust my doctor and never give up. Perseverance plays a big roll in overcoming depression, and my experiences as a championship tennis player at Hinsdale Central High School and playing on the team at Texas Christian University really helped me learn to never give up. When you are down a set in singles tennis, you have to change your strategy and figure out what you need to do to come back and win. You don’t tank the match. You fight and never give up.
Since the ECT, I haven’t had a depressive episode in 14 years. I’ve taken a small maintenance dose of Cymbalta every day during those years and have never had another bout of depression. Am I unique? Probably. According to Dr. Scheftner, most patients will have depressive episodes even after shock therapy. Sometimes I think the ECT totally rewired my brain and that maybe it is permanent.
EPL: On Wednesday, February 8 at 7 pm, Mark visits EPL to share Out of the Shadows as part of the NAMI Reads author series. Judy, can you tell us about the program?
Judy Graff:NAMI Reads is a new program that brings authors to local libraries in the 17 communities we serve in the north and northwest suburbs. Evanston Public Library will host our fourth presentation. Thus far we have offered books by authors who have a compelling story to tell about mental illness and a positive message to share of their road to recovery. NAMI wants to change the misconceptions about mental health issues and the people and families who are affected by mental illness. As we plan future programs, we’ll adapt our author choices to the needs and requests of the community we serve.
EPL: Mark, what motivated you to write Out of the Shadows? What was the process like?
Mark Litzsinger: I was speaking at a seminar at a country club on the North Shore that was moderated by Mark Pollack – the Chairman of the Psychiatry Department at RUSH. I basically told the story of my battle with depression. My brother and a good friend were in the audience, and after I spoke, my brother told me that all 165 people in the crowd were glued to every word I said. He said I had to write a book.
The writing process was an adventure and an education at the same time. I had never written a book and didn’t know where to start. My friend Adrienne Fawcett was the online editor for the Lake Bluff newspaper, and I asked if she knew anyone who was a ghost writer. I knew James Patterson didn’t write a book a month without help.
I was eventually referred to Sarah Hamaker, a ghost writer from Fairfax, Virginia, and the process of writing with Sarah was wonderful, fun, and a learning experience. She is a true professional and knowledgeable about everything from writing and editing to book design, publishing, and sales.
EPL: What would you like readers to take away from your book and the NAMI Reads program?
Mark Litzsinger: I want people to know how important it is to get the right help quickly when fighting a bout of depression. Skip the psychologist or psychiatrist. Go straight to a teaching or research hospital with a top psychiatry department like RUSH Medical Center and get an appointment with a top psycho-pharmacologist. These doctors are the top of the food chain in dealing with mental illness. They focus on treating mental illness with medication and are familiar with the latest research from around the world. Perseverance is key. Never give up, and trust your doctor. He or she is the expert. You are not. Also, great support from family and friends is critical. They too have to be educated to understand depression so they can be the most supportive and helpful. By the way, all proceeds from the sale of Out of the Shadows go to RUSH Medical Center’s Psychiatry Department.
We last talked with author Christine Sneed back in early 2011 shortly after she published her first short story collection Portraits of A Few of the People I’ve Made Cry. Already the winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, her stunning debut became a magnet for literary awards and was eventually named a finalist for the LA Times’ Book Prize for First Fiction. But Sneed was just getting started. In the years that followed, the NU writing teacher has published two critically-acclaimed novels – Little Known Facts (2013) and Paris, He Said (2015), graced the cover of the NY Times Book Review, and continued to collect writing honors including the Carl Sandburg 21st Century Award and a Booklist nod for a Top Ten Debut Novel. This Saturday, April 9th, you can hear Sneed read selections from her recent work when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 4 pm along with author and comedienne Julia Sweeney. In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about the life of a successful novelist, her forthcoming story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, the resurgence of short fiction, and her favorite recent reads.
Five years ago Evanston poet Joshua Corey began to experience an unusual sensation. After publishing three celebrated poetry collections, the Lake Forest College professor suddenly felt the “uncharacteristic itch to write some prose.” Readers everywhere should be thankful he scratched that itch because the result was Corey’s fantastic first novel Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy. Described as “an impressive postmodern noir debut,” Beautiful Soul “centers around Ruth, a bored and frustrated young mother in the Chicago suburbs haunted by the letters she receives from her own mother, who has been dead for several years.” On Thursday, October 2nd, you can hear Mr. Corey read from Beautiful Soul when he visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 7 p.m. along with local authors Patrick Creevy and Dennis Byrne. In anticipation of his visit, we recently spoke with him via email about the evolution of Beautiful Soul, poetry vs. prose, mother-daughter relationships, hardboiled detective novels, and his latest John Ashbery-approved poetry collection.
As I sit down on the bed and cut off the lights
I think about my life and begin to write
I write for the families dying on the streets
I am scared to lay down because of the gunshots in my sleep
I write because I am hurting, there are no more tears to cry
I am patiently waiting for my time to die Continue reading “National Poetry Month: April 13th”→
Randy Richardson is no stranger to Chicago’s literary scene. A journalist, essayist, and the president of the Chicago Writers Association, his debut novel Lost in the Ivy was named one of 2005’s notable Chicago books by Gapers Block. Now Richardson is back with his new novel Cheeseland, and the local lit world is buzzing again. Favorably compared to the work of Dennis Lehane and Nicholas Sparks, Cheeseland tells the tragicomic coming-of-age story of Lance Parker and Daniel McAllister, two Southside teens who embark on a Wisconsin road trip to mend their fractured friendship. A 2011 Evie Fiction Finalist, Cheeseland has been described by author Christine Sneed as an unforgettable page-turner that “reminds us that adolescence can be a land of thrilling self-discovery and of serious danger.” On Thursday, January 24th, you can hear Mr. Richardson read from Cheeseland when he visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 6:30 p.m. along with local authors Gail Lukasik and Jerry Jaffe. In anticipation of his visit, we recently spoke with him via email about his real-life inspirations for the book, the destructive nature of secrets, what’s new at CWA, and his favorite reads from 2012.
When John Huston was eight years old he wanted to be Indiana Jones, and minus the snakes and booby traps, he’s living that boyhood dream. In 2009 – after years as an Outward Bound wilderness instructor and major expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica – the Evanston adventurer reached the pinnacle of polar exploration with a historic Arctic journey he chronicles in his new book Forward: The First American Unsupported Expedition to the North Pole. Illustrated with breathtaking photos and interwoven with the rich history of polar travel, Forward puts you right alongside Huston and his expedition teammate Tyler Fish as they guide their 300-pound loads over the unforgiving surface of the frozen Arctic ocean on a 55-day adventure that pushed them to the limits of human endurance. On Thursday, May 31st, you can meet Mr. Huston when he visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 7 p.m. for a multimedia presentation that includes readings from Forward, a display of expedition gear, and a discussion of the lessons he learned in leadership, teamwork, and perseverance while conquering the North Pole. In anticipation of his visit, we recently spoke with him via email about his love for the wintery North, his 7000 calorie daily diet, the differences between Chicago and Arctic cold, and his upcoming expedition to Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.
Suzanne Clores has good reason to celebrate. A Chicago-based writer and editor who has taught at both DePaul and Northwestern Universities, she recently marked the ten-year publication anniversary of her book Memoirs of a Spiritual Outsider with its Kindle-edition release. In Spiritual Outsider, Clores undertakes an enlightening exploration of Wicca, Shamanism, Yoga, Vodou, Sufism, and Buddhism on her quest to fill a spiritual void left by her Catholic upbringing. Written with honesty and heart, Spiritual Outsider is one women’s openminded search for a deeper, more meaningful life. On Sunday, March 13th, you can hear Ms. Clores read from Spiritual Outsider as well as a new work-in-progress when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 2 p.m. along with fellow local authors Pamela Ferdinand and Cristine Sneed. In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about Spiritual Outsider’s anniversary, her continued spiritual journey, and her upcoming novel The Greatest of Ease. Continue reading “An Interview with Suzanne Clores”→
Pamela Ferdinand is an award-winning journalist who covered breaking news for The Boston Globe, Miami Herald, and Washington Post for over a decade. She is a former adjunct journalism professor at Boston University, has written on wide-ranging topics for The Economist and National Geographic News, and most recently, co-authored the empowering memoir Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood. Picked as a “Tome of the Brave” by Oprah’s O Magazine, Three Wishes is the candid, braided story of how Ferdinand and friends Carey Goldberg and Beth Jones sought their dreams of motherhood with the help of eight shared vials of donor sperm rather than waiting for Prince Charming to arrive. With the talisman of Donor 8282, the trio soon found unexpected luck and love while navigating the compromises and complications inherent in becoming mothers. On Sunday, March 13th, you can hear Ms. Ferdinand read from Three Wishes when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 2 p.m. along with fellow local authors Christine Sneed and Suzanne Clores. In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about appearing on the Today show, the realities of motherhood, her enduring friendship with Goldberg and Jones, and Three Wishes going to Hollywood .