Writing About Polio
Today is World Polio Day. In my lifetime, the number of children paralyzed annually by wild poliovirus has dropped from half a million to fewer than thirty so far this year. Polio has been stopped in every country except Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Final eradication will mean that polio vaccination can cease, post-polio syndrome will disappear, and polio outbreaks will no longer threaten children in conflict zones where health services fail to function.
It has been my privilege to write the ongoing history of polio eradication on behalf of Rotary International, a spearheading partner of this initiative. Unlike the historical fiction that absorbs most of my other writing hours, this project calls me to find and organize the narrative rather than invent it. For better and worse, this true story involves as much drama, suspense, and heroism as any I can invent.
Decades of detective work untangled the mystery of why some children suddenly lost the use of an arm or leg. Bold adventurers traveled by bicycle, boat, or camel to carry polio vaccine into remote areas. Secret agents slipped between opposing lines in civil wars to negotiate “days of tranquility,” temporary truces for immunization.
You’re invited to read the opening pages of Rotary and the Gift of a Polio-Free World on the writing page of my website. Volume I (Making the Promise) and Volume II (Almost Every Child) are available in paperback at the Rotary Shop. The final volume of the trilogy, Fulfilling the Promise, will come out after the entire world is polio-free.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.