Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From "The Daily Iowian" by Lauren Matovina

Nursing the world to hope
By: Lauren Matovina - The Daily Iowan
Posted: 1/29/08
Many think today's world is still a man's world, but there is still hope, according to Nancy Leigh Harless' book, Womankind: Connection & Wisdom Around the World. An Iowa City local, Harless fits in with the critically acclaimed authors who traipse through town. She will be at the UI Hospitals and Clinics Wild Rose Books today from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. reading from her d├ębut anthology.

Womankind is a collection of stories compiled by Harless while on international journeys as a nurse practitioner. She writes about the women she's met, often struggling for survival, and these narratives represent hope in the face of daunting odds.

The book began as a journal, which she kept daily when abroad. In 2003, Harless attended a three-week writing retreat in Norcroft, Minn., and the women's stories began to evolve from simple entries to full-fledged stories.

Womankind is truly a glimpse of women worldwide, linked by a certain sense of unity - sisterhood. Although not following in the witty tone of the Ya-Yas, the stories of these women, such as a Mayan woman who inquires how to stop the babies from coming or Agripina, an 8-year-old Peruvian who is called to be a midwife, are still compelling.

"I have been an ear for so many women, so many stories. It was time to be their voice. What I find most rewarding is sharing their stories and seeing how people respond to them," Harless said. "I hope that the message readers go away with from Womankind is a message of hope. Hope in a world where there almost is no hope. Hope with a capital 'H.' "

Her efforts in countries such as Belize and Guatemala originated as a professional study exchange through the Rotary of Iowa in 1997. The cultures that she and her retired husband, Norm, experienced moved them so greatly they decided to return to Belize in 1999 and build a women's clinic. After completion of the project, Harless retired from her job as nurse practitioner at the Planned Parenthood of Southeast Iowa to immerse herself in her newfound passion.

"At the Burlington Library, we had a book discussion about Womankind. One woman said it perfectly: 'We're really all alike, aren't we?' " Harless said. "There are a lot of underlying themes in Womankind, but the single truth is we are all the same, world round."

E-mail DI reporter Lauren Matovina at

Womankind: Connection & Wisdom Around the World, with author Nancy Leigh Harless
When: Today, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Where: UIHC Wild Rose Books

© Copyright 2008 Daily Iowan

At New Copperfields Book Service

A crowd gathered at New Copperfield's bookstore in Macomb on Saturday, January 26th to hear Cassandra's story and discuss women's lives around the world. It was an interesting group of women, and a few men too, enjoying Midwest's reprieve from the harsh cold we've been having. With the balmy 50 degrees weather outdoors, I was surprised so many came in for the Book Event!

Friday, January 18, 2008


It's only 4 degrees outside and predicted to plunge even further tonight. I'm heading out for a roadtrip to Des Moines & Omaha in the morning. I must be mad! Norm's been suggesting all day that I cancel the trip, but i've got three Book Events scheduled so I'm setting the old alarm for 5:00AM and heading out. Besides, I get to see jordan, my 5-year-old grandaughter who lives in Omaha. and, she making gramma a 'Butterfly cake.' And just how could I say "NO" to that?!? Think warm thoughts!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

THE HAWK EYE - Author Discusses Travel Experiences

Although I was misquoted a couple of times Willianm Smith did a nice job of covering the Discussion at the Burlington Library yesterday. Here's the article that appeared in today's Hawk Eye.

"When author and Wever resident Nancy Harless asked the packed reading room at the Burlington Public Library if they had read her book, every hand went up.

"Good. If you've all read it, I can tell some more behind-the-scenes stories," she said.

Harless was at the library Saturday morning to discuss her first published book, "Womankind: Connection and Wisdom Around the World," which is a compilation of her experiences as a nurse practitioner working around the world.

Specializing in women's health, Harless began traveling with her husband, Norm, in 1999 to Belize, Guatemala, Peru, southeast Asia, China and war-torn Yugoslavia.

"In 1997, I saw an ad in the Fort Madison paper by the Rotary International Club looking for professionals for a study exchange," she said. "It changed my life."

A couple of years later, she was in Guatemala City, just three months after the peace treaty was signed that ended the 30-year civil war. The peace accord called for the incorporation of the guerilla rebel forces into the mainstream, which caused a sharp increase in crime.

"Almost every family had someone who was kidnapped by the guerilla forces, and it was always women that were kidnapped," she said. "The family I stayed with had an aunt that was kidnapped, and they talked about it very casually. There were even negotiators in the yellow pages."

Harless became a nurse practitioner in her late 30s but never imagined the conditions she would be working in while in Belize.

"They call them the forgotten people. They are the poorest people in the world," Harless said.

She recalled visiting a hospital where trash lined the hallways, and the women were forced to sleep two to a bed after giving birth.

"There was a termite colony this big in the hospital," Harless said as she held her arms in a circle that reached her forehead.

But the book isn't about Harless. It's about the women she met, the struggles they endured and the hope they still held as Harless left for another country. The stories are told through her eyes, but she hardly considers herself the main character.

"I tried to write myself out of it as much as possible," Harless said.

Many of those in attendance were curious about how Harless was able to create such detailed stories.

"I keep a journal every day I'm in another country," Harless said. "I try to keep the stories as true as I can, but you never know how memory will work. Sometimes my husband will remember things a slightly different way than I do."

One of the most beloved stories in the book, titled "Joy in the Morning," is about a 7-year-old girl in Belize named Cassandra who loses her jump rope.

Or as Cassandra puts it so delicately in the book, "Me rope be t'eifed it. It da be gawn!" Translation -- "My rope has been stolen. It is gone."

"They speak English over there, but it is not the kind of English you're used to," Harless said. "It is more of a Pidgin version."

As Harless describes it in her book, Cassandra lived next door in a rumpled clapboard shack with three younger siblings, a teenage aunt and uncle and her grandmother. Jumping rope was the highlight of the girl's day, and she constantly challenged herself to make more jumps.

"She's a leader. That little girl will go far," Harless said.

The jump rope seemed to be the only toy Cassandra's family could afford, and it meant as much to her siblings as it did to her. Early in the story, Harless recounts how the little girl sobbed in her arms.

Despite Cassandra's heartbreak, she was up the next morning, singing into the sunshine as she bathed. Harless called the little girl "Sunshine," resilient to any tragedy, no matter how small, that befell her.

The one detail Harless didn't reveal in the story was whether Cassandra got her rope back. She was more than willing to tell her captive audience at the library, though.

"She did get a rope from me, and then her rope came back the next week. Some of the other kids were borrowing it," Harless said.

Published by Tate Publishing, an Oklahoma-based Christian Publishing House, "Womankind: Connection and Wisdom Around the World" is available at B Dalton bookstore in Westland Mall. Harless is at work on a second book featuring women from her Asian travels, and versions of some of her essays have appeared in the "Chicken Soup For the Soul" series of inspirational books."

Sunday, January 6, 2008


I recently returned from spending the holidays with my family in Washington state and while it's always wonderful to get together with family; it's equally as nice to come home again - especially since I came home to some exciting news!

I've been invited to give a presentation of WOMANKIND in Mexico! I have high hopes that Socorro, my Spanish teacher in San Miguel, will join us that evening and be recognized as the wonderful woman who "cured whatever ailed me with bouganvilla tea." If you don't know what I am talking about, read 'Socorro's Secret.'

So, I'm sending this invitation out into the universe, or at least out into cyberspace, for everyone to come on down to San Miguel de Allende mid September. You can read the details at

Meanwhile, on a less exciting, but very important note, I'll be leading a discussion at the Burlington Library on Saturday at 10:00AM. B.Dalton's will be there to sell books and a portion of the proceeds will go the the 'Friends of the Library.' Bring your own coffee. The muffins are on me. I hope to see you there!

River Lights 2nd Edition

River Lights 2nd Edition


Norm's Masterpiece