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Cancer care auction features literary prizes

September 9, 2010 |  1:56 pm

Christinejennifer 

When Christine Lee Zilka's friend Jennifer Derilo was diagnosed with Hodgin's Lymphoma, she decided she was going to do something to help. The two became friends when getting their MFA degrees in creative  writing at Mills College in Northern California, and are now editors at the Kartika Review; Zilka knew her friend Derilo, 32, had no health insurance.

So Zilka called on friends, and some friends of friends, and a few strangers, and put together a literary auction, which is going on now on EBay. As you'd expect, there are some signed books to be had.

But the auction is geared for writers as well as for readers. There are several offers of manuscript critiques  by established authors, including Lac Su, Randa Jarrar, Yiyun Li and Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. Bynum, a SoCal resident, was named one of the New Yorker's 20 under 40 fiction writers to watch earlier this year.

"I am not one for feeling helpless," Zilka told Jacket Copy by email. "And I felt incredibly helpless watching Jennifer battle Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I mean, she spent the first several weeks after diagnosis navigating the healthcare system and figuring out ways she could even GET treatment without health insurance. Someone with health insurance would've gone into treatment immediately. Tragic."

Zilka knows what it's like to face a health scare. A few years ago, as an MFA student, she had a stroke. The blog she maintained at the time became a riveting chronicle of that experience, terribly close up (she now blogs here). "When I had a left thalamic stroke and in recovery for a year, I remembered feeling overwhelmed," she writes. "I thought about how devastating those awful bills would have been had I not had health insurance."

Purchases made through the EBay sales will go directly to pay Derilo's medical bills (in other words, they're probably not tax deductible).

In addition to the manuscript critiques, there are one-of-a-kind items like a book artwork created by Justin Chin, a poetry reading for hire and a semester's teaching advice. Bidders who want literary immortality can have their names included in a forthcoming work of fiction. Most items are currently selling for less than $100.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Christine Lee Zilka, left, with Jennifer Derilo, right, in 2006. Credit: Jennifer Derilo.

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