The Literary Hill – November 2017

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A Breath of Life
It’s 2003 and Charity Tillemann-Dick is poised for greatness. A gifted soprano, she wins a slot at one of the most prestigious conservatories in Europe and begins training for a career in opera. Her performances are already bringing audiences to their feet. Then, at 20 years old, she is diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a potentially fatal disease that will change her life forever.

In “The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts,” Tillemann-Dick tells the story of her family, her faith, her music, and her struggle to overcome her deadly diagnosis. With a supporting cast of ten siblings, a determined and devoted mother, and a loving boyfriend, she battles her way back from a grueling lung transplant to sing at Lincoln Center. The performance is a triumph despite the fact that, unbeknownst to her audience, her new lungs are failing.

Two days later she’s back in the hospital, on a transplant waitlist and near death. Once again, her indomitable spirit, buoyed by her support team, comes to the fore. The second transplant is a success. While more trials follow, she remains true to the promise she made to her first lung donor: “I’m not just going to recover, I’m going to really live.”

“The Encore” is at times unflinchingly painful, but Tillemann-Dick’s triumphant spirit presents an inspiring counterbalance. “I’ve always thought of my life as an opera,” she writes, “[but] I realize that no opera could hope to capture the messy, grotesque, gorgeous truth of life.” In “The Encore,” she admirably succeeds in encapsulating all the untidy passion, joy, and love that make a life truly worth living.

Tillemann-Dick continues to record and perform around the world, and to advocate for organ donation. She lives with her husband here on Capitol Hill and in Denver. For more, visit charitysunshine.com. 

Not Too Tart
It’s a simple concept: mix something acidic with something fat, add something oniony, and voilà! You’ve got yourself a basic vinaigrette. But put a whisk in the hands of a master chef like Jonathan Bardzik, and what you get are “Fresh and Magical Vinaigrettes”—which, coincidentally, is the title of his new book.

Aiming to return salad to “a position of joy, rather than obligation,” Bardzik has written a gem of a little book, full of recipes, stories, and, as he promises in the subtitle, “more than 100 ways to use” the seasonal vinaigrettes he tells you how to prepare.

While the greens recipes are enough to make your mouth water—Spicy Bacon Vinaigrette with Field Spinach anyone?—Bardzik goes beyond salads to incorporate his vinaigrettes into dishes with chicken, couscous, pumpkin, pork roast, noodles, fruits and vegetables. These creative yet uncomplicated recipes are designed to make the most of every season at the farmers’ market—which is why the Farmers Market Coalition has named him a Farm Market Hero.

His sprightly prose is a pleasure to read—especially, of course, when he’s describing food (“buttery oils are soft and round”)—as he shares droll anecdotes and a joyful philosophy. Life should be well lived, he believes, and “nearly all of us can accomplish this each day by preparing a simple meal, setting the table and sharing it with those who make our lives matter.” “Vinaigrettes” is as good a place to start as any.

Jonathan Bardzik has been giving cooking demos at Eastern Market since 2011 and is also the author of “Simple Summer” and “Seasons to Taste.” Find recipes and stories at JonathanBardzik.com.

All you Need is Love
Lili Wilson had a vision. “What would happen,” she asked herself, “if I loved myself, with intention, for one entire year?” The result is “The Love Diet,” a self-help guide concerned not with an actual diet but with nurturing yourself in order to achieve “100% authenticity and self-love.”

Aimed at those who care for and serve others, “The Love Diet” provides a week-by-week plan toward self-love, encouraging readers to forgive themselves, take responsibility for their own happiness and, above all, tend their own gardens first. “There is NOTHING wrong with tilling the ground in someone else’s garden,” Wilson writes. “[In fact,] service is a tremendous asset to this world. [But] you will not be completely fulfilled until your OWN garden is flourishing.”

Addressing the reader directly, Wilson shares her own personal experiences as she sets out a self-paced 22-day process toward full acceptance. Complete with action steps, a chart, and even a playlist of songs to provide inspiration along the way, “The Love Diet” is a helpful guide to those seeking a path to their authentic selves.

Lili Wilson grew up in Hillcrest and attended Eastern High School. She is the founder of The Beautiful Dawn, LLC, and can be found at LoveDietOnline.com.

What’s the Story?
Intriguing new stories by two local writers have recently found their way into print. Richard Agemo’s “The House Friends” appears in “New Ghost Stories III,” an anthology published by The Fiction Desk. Agemo’s prize-winning story is made deliciously creepy by the matter-of-fact credibility of its narrator, a dispassionate astrophysicist who revisits a childhood home and tries to connect with its odd inhabitants. And the Overtime imprint of Blue Cubicle Press has devoted a chapbook to Brett Busang’s “Big Julie.” This remarkably original tale concerns the antagonistic relationship between a circus elephant with a beef and the trainer who loathes him (spoiler alert: it does not end well).

On the Hill in November
East City Bookshop presents “The Obama Inheritance” with authors Christopher Chambers, Gary Phillips, and Lou Bayard, Nov. 3, 6:30 p.m.; Elizabeth Tasker (“The Planet Factory”) and science fiction writer Valerie J. Mikles discussing “Science and Fiction: Life on Other Planets,” Nov. 5, 4 p.m.; Melvin Goodman (“Whistleblower at the CIA”), Nov. 6, 6:30.p.m.; Bart Stupak (“For All Americans”), Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m.; Lynn Freed (“The Romance of Elsewhere”), Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m.; and M.C. Atwood (“The Devils You Know”), Nov. 12, 4 p.m.; and “Making of Mystery” with authors Matt Fitzsimmons, Ellen Crosby, and Con Lehand, Nov. 30, 6:30 p.m. www.eastcitybookshop.com.

The Library of Congress presents “Literature of WWI,” with poet Yusef Komunyakaa discussing his favorite WWI authors and his own work, Nov. 9, noon. www.loc.gov.

Folger Shakespeare Library presents an O.B. Hardison Poetry reading with Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Mike White, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information at 202-544-7077 or www.folger.edu.

The Hill Center hosts “The Life of a Poet: Conversations with Ron Charles” featuring Rae Armantrout, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. Free but register at www.hillcenterdc.org or 202-549-4172.

The Southeast Branch of the DC Public Library will host a talk by Denise Robbins and Jack Wennersten, authors of “Rising Tides: Climate Refugees in the 21st Century,” Nov. 5, 3 p.m. www.dclibrary.org/southeast.