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Beautiful Unbroken

One Nurse's Life

Mary Jane Nealon


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An unflinching memoir by a working nurse

As a child, Mary Jane Nealon dreams of growing up to become a saint or, failing that, a nurse. She idolizes Clara Barton, Kateri Tekakwitha, and Molly Pitcher, whose biographies she reads and rereads. But by the time she follows her calling to nursing school, her beloved younger brother is diagnosed with cancer, which challenges her to bring hope and healing closer to home. His death leaves her shattered, and she flees into her work, and into poetry.

Beautiful Unbroken details Nealon's life of caregiving, from her years as a flying nurse, untethered and free to follow friends and jobs from the Southwest to Savannah, to more somber years in New York City, treating men in a homeless shelter on the Bowery and working in the city's first AIDS wards. In this compelling and revealing memoir, Nealon brings a poet's sensitivity to bear on the hard truths of disease and recovery, life and death.

Praise For Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse's Life

Beautiful Unbroken is about the power of language as well as the power of compassion. But this memoir is above all an examination of a life, which is an examination of a conscience. And, after having traveled through the wilderness with Nealon, her readers may find themselves confronted with essential questions: What do we owe our fellow citizens, our society, our family, ourselves?” —JANE BROX, Bakeless Prize Judge

Graywolf Press, 9781555975906, 224pp.

Publication Date: July 19, 2011

About the Author

Mary Jane Nealon is the winner of the 2010 Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Immaculate Fuel and Rogue Apostle. She lives in Missoula, Montana.