The characters in Erin Hahn’s coming-of-age novel "Never Saw You Coming" grapple with beliefs and trauma in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Erin Hahn and her novel Never Saw You Coming

Author photo by Hilary Nichols.

The line between right and wrong is not always clear. Erin Hahn’s new young adult novel, Never Saw You Coming, illustrates the dilemmas that people face when they are told one thing and experience another, leaving them to sort out what they believe. 

In the book, 18-year-old Meg Hennessey learns several family secrets at once and goes on a journey to make sense of it all. She grew up in Ann Arbor and travels to Marquette, Michigan, to meet with relatives she previously did not know she had. There, she meets Micah Allen, who likewise has a complicated past. The two of them find an immediate connection complete with witty banter, physical attraction, and outdoor adventures. Chapters alternate between each of their perspectives. 

As young adults going through new situations and developing strong feelings for each other, Meg and Micah face uncertainties about whether to listen to religious advice or to follow their intuitions. Purity and abstinence are highly valued in the church, and the pair meets scrutiny even when trying to support church members and follow their values. 

Meg reflects, “Before Marquette, I was only a sinner in my heart. Now I’m … out there. Like toothpaste all squeezed out of the tube. I can’t be put back in. And I don’t think I want to be.” She reconsiders the good that can come from bad situations. Her parents’ circumstances are among those situations, and she wonders about the concept of sin: 

If God brought my parents together that one time, just to make me, and if it was a blessing planned by God, how could it be a sin? Are sins just blessings being played in God’s long game? 

Both Meg and Micah grow and form their own perspectives as they face numerous challenges. 

Hahn lives in Ann Arbor, and Never Saw You Coming is her third book. I interviewed her about writing this novel, the choices she made in it, and what’s coming up next for her. 

The Rasa Festival shifts formats for its 2021 celebration of Indian arts

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Ann Arbor's Rasa Festival, which celebrates Indian dance, music, theater, film, and poetry, moved online during the quarantine. Generally speaking, it kept the format of the previous years' festivals just with scheduled live streams during the length of the festival rather than in-person events.

For the 2021 edition, Rasa will still be entirely online, but rather than presenting a series of livestreams in a compacted time period, the festival will produce event videos about once a month for the next six to eight months.

The Ann Arbor District Library is a partner for this year's Rasa Festival, which kicks off with Songs of Dusk on AADL.tv on Saturday, October 23, at 11 a.m. 

Songs of Dusk features five dances choreographed to songs featuring the lyrics of poet Batakrishna Dey, the father of Rasa founder Sreyashi Dey.

The dancers are the styles of dances there are doing include:

Open Road: Rod Johnson Relishes Cross-Country Adventures on "Looking for a Perfect Trip"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Rod Johnson standing in a field with his acoustic guitar

Rod Johnson credits The Who, David Bowie and Roxy Music as his early musical influences. Photo by Greg Croasdill.

For Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Rod Johnson, a rusty, rattling Ford Econoline van serves as the ideal road-trip companion.

The tank-like vehicle represents carefree, youthful jaunts of the past and promising, independent cross-country journeys of the future on “Telephone Company Surplus Econoline Van" from his latest wanderlust-fueled album, Looking for a Perfect Trip

“I had a friend in high school that had a telephone company surplus Econoline van, and it was just a Michigan Bell van with a logo painted on it," said Johnson, a retired University of Michigan College of Engineering professor. "We spent a lot of time in that van listening to Alice Cooper, and that’s the van that I was thinking of specifically."

“When I do that song, people always laugh when I say the title. They think it’s going to be this jokey song, but it’s not. It’s always fun to watch their expressions change as you go through it.”

Friday Five: i-sef u-sef, Zippy Bop, Brian Seabolt, Chien-An Yuan, Fundamental Sound Co.

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 10-15-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features glitchy R&B created entirely on bassoon by i-sef u-sef, a disco mix by Zippy Bop, acoustic songs by Brian Seabolt, a pre-club mix by Chien-An Yuan, and a massive compilation of tunes recorded at Ypsilanti's Fundamental Sound Co.

 

Frosting takes the cake in Ann Arbor blogger Bernice Baran’s new book about sugary delights

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Bernice Baran and her book Frosted

Are you a frosting person or a cake person? 

I’ve heard people say that one or the other is the reason to eat cake. Ann Arbor blogger and baker Bernice Baran answers that question with frosting in her new book, Frosted

Thirteen recipes for buttercreams, cream cheese frosting, meringues, Bavarian cream, chocolate ganache, and others are scrumptiously employed to coat and fill layer cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, bars, breads, and tarts throughout the book. The 60 recipes combine flavors like a Frosted Animal Cracker Cake pictured on the book’s cover, the Chocolate Caramel Macchiato Cookies, Almond Raspberry Cupcakes, and Cookies & Cream Sweet Rolls. The base frosting recipes include variations depending on the flavors for each baked good. Baran also embraces classics like Dark Chocolate Marble Cake, Gingerbread House Cookies, and Chocolate Hazelnut Silk Pie. 

Throughout Frosted, Baran nods to her heritage with the recipe for Diplomat Cream from her mother and Hungarian Dobos Torte. Each recipe offers a paragraph about why Baran chose it, how it became part of her repertoire, what is unique about it, or which occasion calls for the treat. With one (or more!) kinds of frosting or sauce, plus the cake or other base, for each recipe, each dessert has many ingredients and steps that appear very worth it from the mouthwatering photographs. 

Baran keeps a website to document her baking and sends out an email newsletter. Pulp interviewed her about how she became a baker, what writing Frosted involved, and what inspires her. 

Modern Soul(s): Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley connected with former My Dear Disco/Ella Riot leader Tyler Duncan for a new EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Antwaun Stanley

Antwaun Stanley's powerful voice sounds like it came from another time, cast from the deep grooves of a 1960s R&B record.

That's why it's always a treat when the Ann Arbor singer appears as a featured vocalist with jam-funk-soul stars Vulfpeck or with one of the other bands for which he's associated.

But a new EP, Ascension, shows Stanley taking a big step forward as a solo artist. The record was made in collaboration with Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist and producer Tyler Duncan. His impressive resume includes leading the Irish crossover group Millish and the dance-rock project My Dear Disco, aka Ella Riot, as well as producing songs for Carly Rae Jepsen and Lake Street Dive.

The EP isn’t technically Stanley's solo debut—he released a gospel album a few years back—but it does showcase his artistic voice in a new way with a modern R&B sound. 

Ascension features three fully developed songs and three largely instrumental interludes. “Speed of Night” recalls old-school R&B, while “Tightrope” offers inspiration through James Blake-like soul-tronica. “Lost in Translation” is the EP's stand-out with its addictive groove, great singing, strong lyrics, and a crackling horn section.

Stanley answered a few questions about the new EP and his other work.

Highlighting History: "Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Harold Neal, title unknown, before 1958, oil on board. Neal family collection, Detroit.

Harold Neal, title unknown, before 1958, oil on board. Neal family collection, Detroit.

Though Detroit is synonymous with musical innovation, the Michigan cultural center is not frequently framed as an epicenter of fine art. In a new exhibit, curators suggest that this is not because Detroit lacks—now or in the past—a vibrant art scene but because of historical oversight on the parts of art historians.

Eastern Michigan University’s University Gallery is the first place to host what will be a traveling exhibit with an in-depth look at an era, movement, and place in Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement. (You can also view the virtual exhibition here.)

The exhibit and presents a view of post-World War II African-American art history "essentially unknown to other scholars,” as the catalog states, and took 10 years to research. Julia R. Myers conducted interviews with artists, scholars, friends, and families of the featured artists, and located many works in private collections. Additionally, research was conducted by reading through numerous news sources, including the Detroit-based African-American newspaper Michigan Chronicle.

U-M production updates the Roaring Twenties-set musical "The Wild Party" for the Cell Phone Age

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

UMSTMD's production of The Wild Party

Director and University of Michigan grad Andrew Lippa sets The Wild Party in modern-day Manhattan. Photo courtesy UMSTMD.

Joseph Moncore March’s 1928 book-length poem The Wild Party was a scandal at the time. March portrayed in rhythmic language the shifting landscape of sexual relations and raw desires in the Roaring ’20s as captured in a Hollywood party run amok. The book was banned in Boston and beyond.

The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre production of Andrew Lippa’s sung-through musical adaptation of March’s book is reset to portray a group of overprivileged Upper Eastside Manhattan teenagers. 

Lippa is a 1987 University of Michigan grad who has had a very successful career as a composer and lyricist. He wrote the music and lyrics for Big Fish, The Addams Family, and three songs for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown among others. The Wild Party premiered off-Broadway and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway musical and Lippa won the Drama Desk Award for best music. 

The student cast brings high octane energy to the singing and dancing. The emotions run high in what is basically a complex love (or is it lust) triangle. 

Friday Five: Anest, Kendrick & McKinney Organ Trio, Booker & Bridges DaLight, Mista Midwest, Smiles Like Sewage Fires, Mista Midwest, Adlai

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 10-08-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features soul jazz by the Anest, Kendrick & McKinney Organ Trio, eclectic jams by Booker & Bridges DaLight, grindcore by Smiles Like Sewage Fires, hip-hop by Mista Midwest, and house/electronica by Adlai.

 

This Woman's Work: UMSTMD's "Nora" explores Ibsen's "A Doll's House" through three different eras

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Alyssa Melani, Ruby Sevcik, Ruby Pérez star in UMSMTD's Nora

Alyssa Melani, Ruby Sevcik, Ruby Pérez star as three generations of Nora in U-M's interpretation of Hendrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Photo courtesy of UMSTMD.

I felt guilty for stealing away, by myself, for a few hours on Sunday to see U-M’s Department of Theatre and Drama production of Stef Smith’s Nora: A Doll’s House, leaving my kids and spouse to fend for themselves.

Fittingly, this discomfort points to Nora’s raison d’être: no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, a woman’s role in the domestic sphere really hasn’t changed that much over the past century.

Using Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1879 play, A Doll’s House, as a blueprint, Smith retells the story of Nora—who scrambles to keep secret her method of keeping the family afloat during her husband’s past illness—as she would appear in three different time periods: 1918, 1968, and 2018.