Turning Passions into Prose: Duke Colleagues Pen Books
For National Authors Day on November 1, meet some employees who have self-published books about finding purpose, navigating parenthood, and more
Is There a Book in You?
LinkedIn Learning, which is available at no cost to Duke employees, offers video courses on how to turn your idea into a book.
Missy was telling her “do not sit and grieve my passing, do not sit and waste the talents you have been given, and do sit not and wait for life to pass you by.”
The experience led Rodriguez to examine her own life and what she wanted to leave behind.
The resulting essays became her first book, “Do Not Sit: A Journey to Wholeness,” which was released in the spring of 2023.
The self-published book recounts Rodriguez’s childhood in Baltimore, enduring the challenges of motherhood at a young age, and finding her way as an adult.
“It’s about my journey to loving myself, figuring things out and learning how you can use the really challenging times in your life,” Rodriguez said.
According to Statista, 54,010 people were employed as writers and authors in the U.S. in 2022, the highest in more than a decade. And with an estimated 300 million self-published books sold each year, there are plenty of people in various fields, penning personal stories.
Rodriguez is among of several Duke colleagues who have had books published, or self-published, during the past year. As we celebrate National Authors Day, which is November 1, learn about new books from colleagues that feature everything from heartwarming holiday stories to personal reflections on life and the wider world.
A Lifetime of Art
While, Bill Seaman, Professor of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, and Computational Media, Arts and Cultures, has published books on pioneering design theorists and the future of AI in recent years, the retrospective of his own art in “Selections from the Archive,” which was published in the summer of 2023, is the closest to his heart.
“It’s very personal,” said Seaman, who is one of many Duke faculty members who published books this year. “It covers five decades. It goes back to very early works when I was still a student.”
Published by Seaman in conjunction with an exhibition shown at the Rubenstein Arts Center, the book has nearly 80 pieces Seaman’s of art dating back to 1975.
For Seaman, the challenge of producing a career retrospective was figuring out how to effectively capture a portfolio which included works of photography, video, text and digital imagery in one cohesive collection.
Available for free online download, Seaman said the book, and the exhibition, proved to be a satisfying exploration of his evolution as an artist.
“It was interesting to see it all there and how it all hung together in a certain way,” said Seamon, who also has a variety of other works available for viewing online.
Taking Time for Gratitude
Throughout the pandemic, Hilmarsita Manderico, a clinical nurse in Duke University Hospital's 5300 unit specializing in mothers and newborns, faced the dual challenge of managing her caregiver responsibilities while coping with the added stress of having her husband, Nilo, and brother, Ben, working as healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients at Durham's VA Hospital.
Away from work, Manderico and her husband found a degree of peace during their long walks at Eno River State Park, which sits near their Durham home.
“I really enjoyed it,” Manderico said. “When I was walking, I would just start thinking of things. And when I got home, I’d write down what I was thinking about.”
Manderico’s post-walk thoughts often included memories of her childhood in the Philippines and the much-loved tales her family would tell about the magic which can come from rivers. She also found herself writing about how, amid the struggles life can create, it’s important to remember the blessings in front of you, such as family.
Manderico eventually had the idea of turning the thoughts into a collection of essays. And in December 2022, “A Walk Along the Gratitude Trail,” was released.
“I think writing a book is one of the most fulfilling things you can do in your life,” Manderico said. “It’s something you don’t really know you can do, but then you get to see the results of your work.”
Sharing a Family Tradition
On Christmas Day 2022, Jimmy Curiazza presented his wife and three children with a special gift.
After years of jotting down particularly vivid dreams and fun ideas on scraps of paper, Curiazza, Mechanical Maintenance/Plumbing Supervisor for Duke Engineering & Operations, had taken his memories and fashioned them into a short story with a holiday theme.
“It wasn’t complete by any means,” said Curiazza, whose family was touched by the gesture. “My oldest daughter suggested getting it bound. I said, ‘Let me clean it up a little bit first.’”
Curiazza eventually got ahold of an editor and began tightening the text into a cohesive story about an old man sharing a lifetime of memories while hospitalized during the holidays. The editor encouraged Curiazza to get the book published, telling him the story deserved a bigger audience than just his family.
So this fall, “The Workshop,” Curiazza’s Christmas-themed novella, was released as an eBook and hardback.
Curiazza, known for his holiday decorations that adorn his Gibsonville home, which he uses to raise funds for cancer research, and his frequent portrayal of Santa Claus for patients and families at Duke Children's Hospital, saw publishing the book as another avenue to share the joy of the holiday season.
“It’s just a goofy little story I wrote for my kids to share with their kids,” Curiazza said. “Apparently people liked it.”
Unfolding Emotions with Poetry
For Lightsey Darst, and many others, the years between 2016 and 2022 – which features social unrest and a global pandemic – were hard to navigate. And for Darst, who welcomed her second child, a daughter, in 2017, it was also a period of pondering her role as a mother, and what kind of world would be left for the next generation.
Darst, the Development Program Director for the Arts and Humanities for Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, has a long-standing career as a poet, with multiple publications and awards. So as she lived through these trying times, she continued to turn to poetry as a way to explore and change the present moment.
“I think being a poet means being a person who does slightly different things with emotions than most people,” Darst said. “It’s not as if my emotions are any different than anyone else’s, it’s that, as a poet, you spend a lot of time unfolding them and trying to examine them. You can’t afford to say to yourself ‘I don’t want to look at that.’ You have to look at everything.”
The pieces from that period have been collected in her latest book, “The Heiress/Ghost Acres,” which was published by Coffee House Press in April.
Darst has since read from the collection at area bookshops and at Duke, and she was heartened by the response.
“It does feel like healing can take place in those situations,” Darst said of sharing poetry in community. “You might say something that somebody felt, but they didn’t put into words until that moment, or they didn’t know anyone else felt that way. It can provide validation for our complex and troubling emotional lives.”
For more good reads for the fall, see these books by Duke authors.