Race, Class & Miscegenation: Jean Alicia Elster fictionalizes family history in her new young adult novel, "How It Happens"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jean Alicia Elster and her book How It Happens

Jean Alicia Elster’s new young adult novel, How It Happens, chronicles the hardships and inequality faced by Black women from the late 1800s through 1950 and beyond. The story she tells has a personal note. It is the fictionalized account of three generations of Elster’s family, starting in Tennessee with maternal grandmother, Addie Jackson, and continuing in Detroit with her daughter, Dorothy May Ford, and granddaughter, Jean. 

The book begins with a prologue that defines “miscegenation,” meaning the marriage, sexual relation, or other intimate affiliation of a person who is white and someone of another race. This topic has a lasting effect on this family when a prominent white man becomes the father of Addie’s daughters. The events that happen to the characters illustrate how race and class work against the women of this family in those eras. 

May Ford describes how it happens to her daughter Jean: 

Theatre Nova celebrates the season with song, dance, and silliness in "An Almost British Christmas"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Monica Spencer, Dan Morrison, and Bryana Hall in "An Almost British Christmas" by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis, directed by Carla Milarch at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Sean Carter Photography.

Monica Spencer, Dan Morrison, and Bryana Hall in An Almost British Christmas by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis, directed by Carla Milarch at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Sean Carter Photography.

‘Tis the season to make jolly. ‘Tis also the season to be silly.

British music halls celebrate Christmastime with pantos (short for pantomime, but not really about mimes). A panto is a play based on a fairy tale that provides a framework for slapstick, satire, song parodies, dancing, clowning, a touch of bawdiness and lots of good cheer to see out the year.

Several years ago, Carla Milarch, founding director of Theatre Nova, and R. MacKenzie Lewis introduced the panto to Ann Arbor with An Almost British Christmas. Every Christmas season since (except for last year, of course) Nova has presented a new panto. This year Nova is reviving the original show, more or less, with some topical humor to fit this particular year.

But it’s really the silliness that counts.

WEMU broadcaster Lisa Barry passed away November 30

PULP LIFE

Lisa Barry

Photo via WEMU

Lisa Barry, the longtime host of WEMU's Art and Soul as well as the local edition of NPR's All Things Considered, passed away unexpectedly on November 30 due to heart complications, according to a blog post by the Ypsilanti radio station's general manager, Molly Motherwell.

She wrote a bit more about Barry today in a post, remembering her as the "heartbeat of WEMU." Mothewell wrote:

Her positive attitude and vibrant personality were her trademark and were well known to all who had the good fortune to cross paths with her. She was a beacon of joy in our community, not only the community of WEMU listeners but the community at large. 

All About Ann Arbor compiled numerous social media posts from Barry's colleagues, friends, and associates paying tribute to her, including this one by her fellow WEMU broadcaster Jessica Webster:

Friday Five: Grandmaster Masese, Bill Edwards, KUZbeats, DJ Free Jazz/SAFA Collective, Counter Magic

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 12-03-2021

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

This week features Kenyan music by Grandmaster Masese, Americana by Bill Edwards, cinematic instrumentals courtesy of KUZbeats, general weirdness via DJ Free Jazz & SAFA Collective, and indie-shoegaze-glitchtronica by Counter Magic.

 

Ann Arbor's Linda Cotton Jeffries keeps readers in suspense with her new mystery novel, "Seeing in the Quiet"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Linda Cotton Jeffries and her book Seeing in the Quiet

Two suspected murders 20 years apart, one of a child and another the death of an old woman. An observant photographer who was a child at the scene of the first murder and documented the second. A killer with a grudge. A kind-hearted detective who is a growing love interest. 

These situations lay the foundation for Seeing in the Quiet, a new mystery novel by Ann Arbor author Linda Cotton Jeffries. At just under 200 pages, the plot-driven book moves quickly while the characters try to unravel what happened at each of the potential murders set in Pittsburgh. 

Main character Audrey Markum lives with hearing loss, but her sense of sight has sharpened to the point that Detective Rod Rodriguez calls her “Scout” when she is called in to photograph crime scenes. She also is launching her wedding photography business. One case of a suspicious death brings Rod and Audrey closer and closer. 

While all of this is happening, Gary Adams, the killer of his son who was the childhood friend of Audrey, is getting released from prison. He knows Audrey’s role in discovering his crime. Audrey finds herself facing multiple dizzying situations: the threat of a known killer, an unsolved murder, and the budding of a promising new romance. 

Jeffries has published two other books with AADL's Fifth Avenue Press. I interviewed her about Seeing in the Quiet and writing life. 

Nawaaz Ahmed’s characters in "Radiant Fugitives" grapple with identity amidst slow political progress and fallout from their personal choices 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Nawaaz Ahmed and his book Radiant Fugitives

What motivates us? What power do we have over the trajectory of our lives? How can people be so close and so far away from each other at the same time? 

These questions and many others linger as the story of a divided family and the people in their orbit unfolds in Radiant Fugitives. This first novel by Nawaaz Ahmed, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, is told by Ishraaq, who is the newborn baby of Seema, a mother estranged from her family for the choices she’s made. Ishraaq serves as a keen, omniscient observer who understands each person’s perspective and how we are all driven by love or fear or both. This unique position of the narrator shows the reader how each person contributes to events and the emotions surrounding them. 

Seema takes on many roles in her life, starting as her father’s star performer in poetry recitations and changing as she falls from his graces. She goes on to come out as a lesbian, work as a political activist, and then marry a man she meets at a protest. Amidst her experiences, the broader climate of political progress with Obama’s presidential election, Kamala Harris’ rise, and expressions of islamophobia emphasize identity politics. The whole time, she struggles to find her place and find acceptance, as Ishraaq narrates: 

U-M prof Jeffrey Veidlinger on his book "In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeffrey Veidlinger and his book In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

Jeffrey Veidlinger, a celebrated historian and Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, scoured trial records, official documents, and witness statements to assemble his new book, In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust, which recounts organized violence against Jewish people in the Ukraine and Poland before World War II.

“For about 10 years, I was a co-director of The Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories, which involved conducting Yiddish language oral history interviews with elderly folks in Ukraine," he said. "During those interviews, I was struck by people's experiences and memories of the pogroms of 1918-1921 and by the similarities in the ways in which they describe the pogroms and the Holocaust. The interviews impelled me to go back to the revolutionary period and to look more closely at exactly what happened.”

Veidlinger will appear via Zoom to discuss his work at the 34th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival on November 30 at 7 pm

Friday Five: A601-2, Brock Van Wey, Sabbatical Bob, Arthur Durkee, Tom Smith

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 11-26-2021

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

This week features ambient by A601-2 and Brock Van Wey, wacky funk from Sabbatical Bob, Fourth World music via Arthur Durkee, and parody tunes by Tom Smith.

 

Shizu Saldamando’s exhibit "When This Is All Over/ Cuando Esto Termine" captures the anxiety and depression of pandemic art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Shizu Saldamando, When This Is Over

Shizu Saldamando, When This Is Over, 2020, washi paper, wire, glue, ribbon, found fence, 42” x 48” x 5

Over the past year, I've come across artwork that exemplifies what I would describe as a new genre: pandemic art. A significant number of emerging creatives are making work that displays a high level of anxiety and depression brought on by their isolation and a well-founded sense that their lives, plans, and ambitions have been put on hold. Shizu Saldamando’s solo exhibition When This Is All Over / Cuando Esto Termine, on view at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery until December 10 and curated by Amanda Krugliak, is yet another example of this distressed trend. 

It's clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for early career professional artists like Los Angeles painter Shizu Saldamano. Her diverse circle of friends, many of them Latinx and/or LGBTQ, represent a cross-section of young creatives eking out their existence in L.A.’s gig economy. Right now, they are pursuing their avocations—as musicians, artists, DJs, and the like—in the midst of economic and medical uncertainty.

They are the subjects of Saldamando’s large portraits.

U-M's production of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is all about the love—and the laughs

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Helen Shen (Hermia) and Caleb Quezon (Lysander) star in U-M's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Helen Shen (Hermia) and Caleb Quezon (Lysander) star in U-M's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Vincent J. Cardinal.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the Bard’s most popular comedies and one of the most accessible for modern audiences. 

And why not?

It has a little bit of everything for everybody.

There’s 16th-century style rom-com, fairies with magic spells and love potions, and a hilarious troupe of amateur thespians who are preparing a show for a royal wedding.

The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Dec. 2-5 in the Arthur Miller Theater, directed by Vincent Cardinal.

“Why I think it’s popular is that at its core it’s about love and about our impulses to find love and to find people to love and how complicated that is and how it works in the larger structure of our society as well as our personal lives,” Cardinal said. “So it’s examining issues that are core to what it is to be a human being.”