Temptation: Yale prof Richard Prum on “The Evolution of Beauty" at AADL


Richard Prum

For the birds: Richard Prum's new book documents his avian studies on mate choices in the animal world.

Yale ornithology professor Richard Prum did his graduate work at U-M in the 1980s, but the two places where he spent much of his leisure time no longer exist.

“The Del Rio was a great place,” Prum said of the beloved bar that stood at Ashley and Washington for more than 30 years. "And I went to Borders, back when it was the only one in the whole world. It was such a great bookstore. I remember going to Borders and deliberately leaving my wallet in my office. Not that I ever had much money in it, anyway, but I didn’t want to be tempted.”

Temptation, as it happens, plays no small role in the former MacArthur “genius” fellow’s new book, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World -- and Us, which he will discuss at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch on Thursday, May 18, at 7 pm. The book argues that mate choice in the natural world is often driven by a subjective desire for beauty instead of more pragmatic considerations, thereby complicating the long-held notion that natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life.

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Slow Tide of Decline: Lauren Hulthen Thomas reads from her debut at Literati

Lauren

Lauren Hulthen Thomas, States of Motion.

Laura Hulthen Thomas' reading from her debut collection, States of Motion, at Literati on Wednesday, May 17, will be special to her. “I was one of the last authors to read at Shaman Drum, the iconic indie bookstore that was the last downtown seller to shutter," said Thomas, the head of the creative writing and literature program at the University of Michigan’s Residential College.

"Honestly, I didn't think another bookstore would ever take a chance on a Midwestern downtown, even a literary city like Ann Arbor," Thomas said. "Thank goodness [owners] Hilary and Mike [Gustafson] have the vision and passion to make such a success of this marvelous store. And having a beautiful reading space to showcase authors and even host student readings and other community events is just incredible. ... I would love to thank Literati for hosting me, and for being downtown’s literary light and gem."

States of Motion is published by Wayne State University Press, whose press release said, “[T]he stories in Laura Hulthen Thomas’ collection take place against a backdrop of economic turmoil and the domestic cost of the war on terror ... these stories follow blue collars and white, cops and immigrants, and mothers and sons as they defend a world that is quickly vanishing.”

Thomas is thrilled that Wayne State University Press (WSUP) released her book and "for publishing and supporting so many Michigan authors through the Made in Michigan series. We're able to talk about regional literature and Michigan's place in it because of the work WSUP is doing to bring our state's literature to readers."

We chatted with Thomas about how Michigan is reflected in her stories, how that’s shifted in the recent political climate, the Midwestern voices that have inspired her writing, and more.

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Crime novelist Steve Hamilton returns to AADL for his second Nick Mason novel


Steve Hamilton

Exit Strategy is U-M grad and Michigan native Steve Hamilton's second Nick Mason novel.

Last year Steve Hamilton took a u-turn.

The award-winning author of the popular Alex McKnight detective series introduced a new series with a very different main character in The Second Life of Nick Mason, a New York Times bestseller and multi-award winner that is being developed as a major motion picture.

McKnight was a straight arrow ex-Detroit cop, who left Detroit after his partner was killed and he was seriously wounded in a confrontation with a mentally ill man with an Uzi. McKnight escaped to rent cabins in tiny, isolated Paradise on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.P. But soon he was reluctantly being drawn into one case after another as a private detective.

By contrast, Mason is a tough kid from the south side of Chicago, a career criminal. He and two of his buddies began stealing cars as teenagers and then moved on to a series of minor crimes. Mason tried to give it up for his wife and daughter, but he and his pals became involved in a dock heist that went seriously bad, leaving one friend and a policeman dead. Mason took the rap and refused to rat on his associates, one his best friend. He was given 25 years without parole.

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Bank of Ann Arbor announces 2017 Sonic Lunch lineup


April 2017 Author Events

Sonic Lunch is one of summer’s most delightful mainstays in Ann Arbor. Every Thursday in June through August, crowds gather in Liberty Square, where a pop-up stage has been set up. Starting at noon, musicians -- sometimes local, sometimes nationally known, but almost all with some tie to the area -- play a free concert for anyone who cares to listen. The scene is fun, festive, and eclectic. Employees of nearby businesses swing through in small groups, families bring their children to dance and run around, and older folks set up lawn chairs near the stage to enjoy the show. Each week, a local restaurant sells lunch in the park, so many people grab a bite while they listen to the music.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Sonic Lunch, a partnership between Bank of Ann Arbor and local radio station 107.1. Ann Arbor’s own blues musician Laith Al-Saadi will kick off the summer with his season-opening show on June 1. Although Al-Saadi had been playing music in the area for years, he skyrocketed to national fame in 2016 as a finalist on Season 10 of The Voice.

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String Theory: Jas Obrecht is “Talking Guitar” at Nicola’s Books

Jas Obrecht, Talking Guitar, Eddie Van Halen

Jas Obrecht and some guy in Van Halen.

Longtime professional music journalist Jas Obrecht regularly tells his Washtenaw Community College creative writing students a story from early in his career.

Obrecht was sent by Guitar Player magazine to a music festival to interview Canadian rock guitarist Pat Travers, who, flanked by two young women while snorting cocaine off a mirror in his dressing room, sent Obrecht away. Obrecht stumbled upon a basketball hoop and ball, and after a few minutes of taking shots, a wiry young guy approached and asked to play.

That guy was Eddie Van Halen, who’d recently released Van Halen’s debut, self-titled album; and Obrecht found a new subject for his article.

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Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrates 30 years and new auditions


Ann Arbor Youth Chorale

Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrated its 30th anniversary with a concert on May 6 at the Bethlehem United Church of Christ.

To evoke Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, music was in the air in 1987. Two major children’s choirs were founded in Ann Arbor that year and both are celebrating their 30th anniversaries: the Boychoir of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Youth Chorale (AAYC).

“There was a boom in children's choir development in the U.S. at that time,” said Shayla Powell, who's directed the AAYC’s preparatory Descant Choir for 25 years. “The European boy choir is a significant piece of choral music history and in the early ’90s English cathedrals such as Salisbury were beginning to launch girl choirs.”

While the Boychoir of Ann Arbor followed the European tradition for youth-choir membership, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale charted a path that welcomes boys and girls. “The mixed gender treble choir has been a somewhat unique American tradition,” Powell said. “The Indianapolis Children's Choir, founded by Henry Leck, was the model that our founders looked to for inspiration.”

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"Remnants" uses survivor stories to educate about the Holocaust


Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan

Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan collected survivor stories for his one-man play Remnants.

U-M professor Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan likes to talk -- and thank goodness for that.

Greenspan has spent 40 years interviewing (and re-interviewing) Holocaust survivors, and from that trove of oral histories he compiled a radio-play-turned-one-man-show called Remnants, which he’ll perform on Monday, May 8, at the downtown library. He put together the radio play in the early '90s, using material he first started collecting for his dissertation in the 1970s.

“The first thing I did was call rabbis who had congregations in the Southeast Michigan and Toledo area,” said Greenspan, who noted that doing survivor interviews was an uncommon practice at that time. “They’d tell people, ‘This guy from U of M wants to interview survivors.’ So initially I’d used the rabbis as matchmakers, but that quickly became unnecessary because things snowballed. People would say to me, in the middle of an interview, ‘You have to talk to my friend Zoli.’ … So I’d make an appointment to talk with Zoli, and one person led to another.”

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Back in the Deep End: Paula Hawkins signs "Into the Water" at Nicola's Books

Paula Hawkins, Into the Water

Photo by Alisa Connan

“I was hoping for some level of success, but what actually happened was off the scale,” said Paula Hawkins, author of the international bestseller The Girl on the Train. “It was extraordinary.”

Hoping for equivalent success with her second mystery novel, Into the Water, Hawkins is heading out on tour to promote it, including a stop at Nicola’s Books on May 17. (AADL and Nicola's will co-host a The Girl on the Train discussion on May 8 at 7 pm at the library's Westgate branch.)

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A journey through the 2017 Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival

Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival

Some of the selections from this year's Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival.

The 16th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival opens Sunday, May 7, and runs through Thursday, May 11. Sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, planning for the five-day festival began in November 2016.

“We have a committee of 23 individuals who help decide on the films,” said Karen Freedland, the JCC’s cultural arts director and festival coordinator. “We start with a list of over 95 titles and whittle it down to 40 films we think look the strongest. From there we try to get from the distributors as many of those 40 films to screen, and we narrow it down to the 13 we have chosen.”

Save for one, the films in this year’s festival are very recent, most from 2016. "We try to get the most current releases available and that sets us apart from some other festivals who will show films that we had shown the year before," Freedland said. "We are lucky that we work with Brian Hunter from the Michigan Theater. He helps us source out some of the latest films that are geared for a Jewish film festival.”

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Ellipsis Theatre Company updates Brecht's canonical "Caucasian Chalk Circle"


The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Ellipsis Theatre Company

Simon (Eddie Rothermel) and Grusha (Lucy Price) in Ellipsis Theatre Company's The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Bertolt Brecht’s canonical 1944 text The Caucasian Chalk Circle is the kind of play that many of us read in a college course but rarely see produced.

So it’s worth noting that locals will have the opportunity to see Circle on the stage when Ellipsis Theatre Company presents it at the Yellow Barn from May 4-21.

“Ellipsis is always very interested in the act of storytelling … so the fact that it’s so explicit in this play was appealing to us,” said Ellipsis co-founder Joanna Hastings, who’s both playing a role in and co-directing Circle with Scott Screws. “Plus, (Circle’s) so flexible. You can do it in all sorts of ways.”

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