Bookshelf: Columbus author humanizes the myth of Florence Nightingale

And Stacey Abrams will be the kidnote speaker at the Decatur Book Festival.
Melissa Pritchard is the author of "Flight of the Wild Swan."
Bellevue Literary Press

Credit: Bellevue Literary Press

Credit: Bellevue Literary Press

Melissa Pritchard is the author of "Flight of the Wild Swan." Bellevue Literary Press

This week’s Bookshelf is about a historical novel on the mother of modern nursing and the latest news on the Decatur Book Festival.

Healing touch. Florence Nightingale is like Calamity Jane and Johnny Appleseed — a real person who’s been so heavily mythologized over the years that she seems more like a cartoon character than the complex, full-blooded person she once was. I have to admit, my knowledge of her was limited to what I learned as a child: She blazed the trail for modern nursing practices, and her nickname was Lady of the Lamp because she carried a lamp on her late-night visits to the bedsides of injured soldiers.

That alone justifies her legendary status and appears to be true, but Nightingale was so much more than that, according to “Flight of the Wild Swan,” (Bellevue Literary Press, $18.99), a new historical novel by Melissa Pritchard.

First a word about Pritchard: A celebrated author of a couple dozen novels and short story collections, she was an English professor at Arizona State University when she got a three-month fellowship to the Carson McCullers Center in Columbus in 2016. She was there to write, but little did she know she’d walked into the plot of a Hallmark movie. Two weeks after she arrived she met urologist Dr. Philip Schley and never left. They married in September 2020.

Pritchard’s account of Nightingale is an addictive read that paints her not as the ethereal and saintly caregiver one might imagine, but as a fiercely intelligent, highly motivated feminist who resisted the pressures of Victorian society, a persistent romantic suitor and her well-to-do parents to marry and raise a family. In Pritchard’s account, it took Nightingale suffering a bout of depression until her parents were finally convinced to let her follow her passion and attend nursing school.

Since childhood Nightingale had been compelled to nurse sick and injured animals and later believed she was called by God to ease the suffering of others. It was during the Crimean War at a military hospital in Turkey that she revolutionized nursing by pioneering a whole new level of care based on hygiene and comforting the infirm.

The book unfolds in short punchy chapters punctuated with snippets of letters, journal entries and other bits of ephemera that help humanize Nightingale and provide insight into her sharp mind.

Presented by the Georgia Center for the Book, Pritchard will discuss “Flight of the Wild Swan” June 5 at Decatur Library. Admission is free but registration is required. Go to for details.

Stacey Abrams will be the kidnote speaker at the Decatur Book Festival in October. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Raise your voice. New York Times bestselling author and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams will be the kidnote speaker at the Decatur Book Festival (DBF) this fall. After putting the festival on pause last year, it returns Oct. 4-5, presenting live author events and book signings for children and adults at multiple venues around the Decatur Square.

The kidnote speech is timed to the Sept. 24 publication of the former Georgia lawmaker’s new book in her Stacey’s Stories picture book series for children. Featuring the illustrations of Kitt Thomas, “Stacey Speaks Up” finds little Stacey distraught to learn that some of the kids in her school can’t afford to buy lunch. Determined to right the wrong, she enlists her community to figure out a way to make their voices heard.

In other DBF news, the festival is hosting a contest for a design to appear on official DBF T-shirts, flyers and other promotional materials. The theme is “Books Talk,” and according to festival organizers, it should be “a vibrant, inclusive and captivating design that embodies the essence of the Decatur Book Festival, highlighting community, diversity and the love of reading.”

Submissions are being accepted now through June 30. For details go to

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can contact her at