The World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever (which is awesome but I'm sad it has to happen)

Author Charles Bock has some amazing friends in the the litrasphere. According to Jacket Copy, Leigh Newman, Mary-Beth Hughes and Fiona Maazel have enlisted the help of Mary Gaitskill, Richard Price, Gary Shteyngart, Josh Ferris, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jonathan Franzen and are throwing "The World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever" to benefit Bock and his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the publication of his debut novel, Beautiful Children. Mary Gaitskill and Jim Shepard will read at the event. Notable authors including A.M. Homes and Susan Cheever will dispense "unprofessional guidance" at a literary advice booth. Silent auction items include literary dog walking by Amy Hempel, a key lime pie made by Josh Ferris, an evening of "hot dogs and shameless flattery" with Gary Shteyngart, and a (less inspired but more Ebayable) signed book from Franzen.

Quoting Leigh Newman:
"Charles is a magnificent, generous, talented person, as is his wife. We loved them and their child and wanted to help... So many people involved with this party have been babysitting or even spending the night if Charles and his wife need to be in the hospital. Others have cooked food or helped out with expenses or just showed up to visit and keep everybody's spirits as high as possible. To be honest, I feel so uplifted just being around them -- we're all helping each other, ultimately...

In a larger way, the Bocks' plight is very American story -- healthcare in this country does not necessarily cover families, even if they have coverage. For writer and artists, who often have to find insurance on their own, this is a serious problem, long term."

I love that Bock's literary friends are coming out to help him. I hate that it's necessary. Obviously, my heart goes out to Bock and his family, but Leigh Newman is exactly right about the fact that our health care system punishes - and even kills - artists by leaving us with a choice between a "real job" that would provide health insurance and, well, our lives.

We've long embraced the myth that if you have health insurance, you're financially okay with catastrophic illness in the family. That's simply not true. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 32, I was covered by my husband's company health insurance. By the end of my chemo, we'd been forced to declare bankruptcy. We started over with no house, no car, no savings, no credit. I was told I'd live five years if I was lucky, and I had this spectacular idea that I wanted to be a writer. Not a super hopeful scenario.

I was actually incredibly lucky. Beyond lucky. I've survived sixteen years and (defeating even greater odds) have had a dozen books published. Life is good. I'm grateful. I'm actually making a living as an artist, and I'm still covered by my husband's health insurance through his job.

But my husband is ten years older than me. When he retires, I face a ten year gap before I'm eligible for Medicare. If my luck holds, I'll be able to stay below the radar, go without health insurance, and hope my cancer remains dormant, but the watered down healthcare reform we ended up with says I may be forced to purchase health insurance from a company that will be forced to accept me. It will cost more than my mortgage and cover virtually nothing. From a financial perspective - because I'm not willing to bankrupt my husband a second time - it would be better if I die within the next six years. Or become best buds with Mary Gaitskill.

The kindness of people in the literary world is wonderful. The indifference (and worse) of the US government's treatment of artists - in re both healthcare and tax codes - is not.

Peace, strength and love to Charles Bock and family.

Visit the Beautiful Children website
Participate online in World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever


I wish Charles Bock and his wife the very best. Like Joni, I have seen this sort of thing happen all too often. Writers (and other artists and self-employed folks) fall through the cracks of health insurance, and other creatives try to stick their fingers in the dike in generous, often heroic efforts to raise money.