It was during the cruel summer of 1995, when Chicago's record-breaking heat claimed the lives of nearly 800 people, that Cornerstone Press Chicago editor Jane Hertenstein did what anyone who has ever been on a first-name basis with a street person has probably wished to do: record the story of one person's path to homelessness.
"I turned on the tape recorder and Marie told a complete story with a beginning, middle and an end," said Hertenstein.
The resulting book, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, is mostly the unfettered story of Marie James, a 20-year-regular at the inner-city mission where Hertenstein lives and works. It is a first-person narrative of a woman who went from Depression-era farm girl to battered wife and, later, became a mental patient at a state hospital. Before she died in the spring of 1995 at age 69, James unloaded herdark secret of incest and killing, which is included in the book. "I know this sounds dramatic, but it was as if she felt she could die then," said Hertenstein.
Cornerstone is planning a 5000 first printing for the October book, which is unusually large for the four-year-old Christian publisher, which produces about four titles annually. Orphan Girl fits Cornerstone's publishing niche, i.e., more inspirational than evangelical. "Christian is who I am and my world view," explained Hertenstein. "But we do not consider ourselves evangelical publishers. Mostly the books reflect the interests of the editors." The press was founded by four members of Jesus People USA, who live and work in a religious community in the uptown area of Chicago. Its backlist includes Home Is Where We Live: Life at a Shelter Through a Young Girl's Eyes, also as told to Hertenstein; Selling Satan, a critical look at the evangelical media by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott; and a chapbook series of Christian poetry.