The awesomely expansive 2016 Allied Media Conference will be held in Detroit this year and aims to “bring together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change: filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists.” The content of the conference is diverse too, including workshops, shows, and dance parties.
I interviewed Morgan Willis, Program Director of the AMC, about what we can expect from this year’s conference.
Q: You talk about AMC as a collaboratively-designed conference. Can you give a sense of the number and scope of collaborators who have worked on this year's event?
A: The Allied Media Conference is created each year through the passionate contributions of hundreds of coordinators, presenters, and volunteers. The AMC organizing process has been developed from an iterative cycle of feedback and learning between AMC participants and organizers. Through trial and error, survey and response, the organizing process is a continuous work in progress.
This year we have 60+ volunteer coordinators of the 28 different tracks, practice spaces, and network gatherings at the conference. We also have approximately 10 full time and part time staff members that work on the conference, as well as an advisory board of nine intergenerational, long-time AMC participants. We share the conference organizing process through our zines “How We Organize the AMC” and the “AMC Presenter Guidelines.”
Q: Who do you hope to see at AMC?
A: The AMC is a conference that is excited to center participants who live at the margins of conventional conference spaces: immigrants, youth, elders, black and brown folks, queer folks, parents, and others, while remaining open to our vast network of participants across all identities and spectrums. We hope to see first time AMCers, returning participants, Detroiters and media-makers from all over the continent.
Q: How does being situated in Detroit influence the conference?
A: This year will be the AMC’s 10th anniversary of being held in Detroit! Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions. Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each of the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them to the conference. Detroiters are also a significant percentage of our coordinators, participants, presenters and attendees.
Our offsite tours and field trips allow participants to see a variety of grassroots media-based organizing initiatives and experience different parts of the city that they may not know about or have access to. One of the most popular tours that is back this year is “From Growing Our Economy to Growing Our Souls” which explores Detroit history and emerging visionary organizing, led by Rich Feldman of the Boggs Center. Other tours will explore urban farming, “green” infrastructure, the Motown United Sound Recording Studio, and more unique places and initiatives in Detroit.
Q: Any tips for navigating the conference for newbies? How about return visitors?
A: As the AMC continues to grow, we hope to ensure that it is a welcoming space for first timers while also cultivating the intimacy and network building that many returning AMCers value so much. This year we will be offering “homeroom” sessions for first timers, hosted by returning AMCers who will help orient first timers to the AMC and offer best practices for navigating through the conference. We will also be sharing a list of “10 Things to Know as an AMC First Timer” on our website (alliedmedia.org/amc) so stay tuned!
One thing we always emphasize to both newbies and returning visitors is to plan your schedule in advance. We just released the online schedule and we highly recommend that attendees read through the 250+ sessions to get a feeling for what you’re most interested in before you arrive. This will also help you identify people and organizations you’d like to connect with so you can grow your network and build long lasting relationships.
Q: What are you personally looking forward to in this year's conference?
A: The Opening Ceremony is always a highlight! This year, through a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts museum, we will host the Opening Ceremony inside the beautiful Detroit Film Theater, which has double the capacity of our previous venue. The event is produced by Tunde Olaniran and will bring together performers, activists, and live music as a celebration of the powerful wave of creative movement-building happening across the country.
I’m also especially excited to see the evolution of workshops from last year into tracks (series of multiple workshops) this year, like the “Black Death Mixtape” session, which has expanded into the “Black Survival Mixtape” track. And I love the return of tracks and network gatherings focused on important topics such as climate resilience and disability justice.
We will also be hosting several community dinners this year, which are a way for attendees to meet and connect over affordable, delicious, and locally sourced food. I’m especially looking forward to the Saturday night community dinner, “Bil Afiya: A Community Feast” at Cass Corridor Commons!
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It is a must-read for fans of A Man Called Ove; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry; The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand—another curiously charming debut about a lonesome widower's life-changing adventure.
Clinging to the simple daily routine established long before his beloved wife of 40 years, Miriam's death a year ago, Arthur Pepper finally feels strong enough to sort through her things. He comes across an exquisite gold charm bracelet hidden inside her winter boots. Puzzled and curious, he senses that Miriam has kept secret an extraordinary life lived before meeting him.
What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey as Arthur traces the origin of each of the charms: the elephant charm with a valuable emerald takes him to Goa, India; the tiger sends him to a dilapidated estate near Bath; an engraved book brings him face to face with a renown poet. Paris is where he tracks down the lovely giver of the golden thimble...
Along the way he was robbed, mauled by a tiger, confronted by a nude portrait of his wife, but he also met kindness and friendship where it was least expected. More importantly, Arthur found strength within, a sense of adventure, and a new zest for life.
When Rik Cordero, a talented young filmmaker with a passion for science fiction, had the inspiration to work with a local teen center on a creative, collaborative project, their combined talent and drive to create made the possibilities virtually endless. Yet of all the vast realms and universes out there to explore, they wondered what would happen if they decided to venture into the most volatile and dangerous of all—the human psyche?
With acute insight into the effects of modern technology on human relations and a Black Mirror twist on a beloved Twilight Zone tale, writer/director Rik Cordero and the digital dream-weavers over at the Neutral Zone set about telling a story that would resonate with viewers—a story marked by that humbling moment when the whirlwind dreams of our early-20s must reconcile with the kind of reality that doesn't make ratings. The result was Force Touch, which had it's world premiere at the Michigan Theater on Thursday, May 19th. An emotionally-charged, fifteen-minute short, Force Touch centers on a group of young friends whose fates are sealed after they discover a cell phone with a camera that takes pictures of events just before they really happen.
By day the Senior Media Producer at Duo Security, Cordero already had an impressive filmography when he departed his native Queens for the greener pastures—literally and figuratively—of Tree Town:
"My wife Nancy (Executive Producer of the film) and I, moved from New York City to Ann Arbor last July. We shot a ton of music videos and commercials during our time there but the work life balance sucked. Once we moved, the creative quality of our lives improved almost immediately through meeting many diverse folks with common interests."
"With more time to focus on storytelling, I came up with the idea of Force Touch and my goal was to capture elements of the college culture here from an outsider's point of view. I'm a college football fan but maybe not to the degree as some of my friends who have lived here their entire lives so I wanted to explore those emotions and how they would bounce off the characters in the story. Also Ann Arbor was a new canvas for me to employ a layer of sci-fi and technology which is another passion of mine."
It was Duo Security owner Dug Song and his wife Linh who introduced Cordero to Neutral Zone Executive Director Lori Roddy and Community Relations Director Mary Moffett. Later, after touring the facility, the filmmaker hatched a plan to write and direct a short to be produced by the Neutral Zone in collaboration with Alysha Schlundt-Bodien, Facility and Training Coordinator at CTN in Ann Arbor.
Tasked with supervising the teens during the shoot, Schlundt-Bodien was thrilled to witness firsthand how valuable the experience was for the teens: "I asked one of the Neutral Zone teens to talk about his experience to the VP group, and he said that he learned so much from the production. He learned that it takes way more time to set everything up than he thought it did—from the lighting to the staging—and how important it is to be organized. He also said it would be great to help out with something like this again."
Of course every independent film is a struggle, and though a major snowstorm on the first day of shooting set the tone of the turbulent production, the teenage crew weathered on, gaining valuable experience about the importance of persevering amidst unexpected set-backs. Despite even the most meticulous planning, any number of things can go wrong on a movie shoot at the last second, making a filmmaker's ability to improvise under challenging circumstances a critical component of success.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the camera, you'll find a talented selection of actors thst Cordero and his wife/filmmaking partner, Nancy, became acquainted with during last year's YPSI 24 Hour Shootout, which challenges independent filmmakers to produce an engaging short in a single day.
But the fortuitous connection to local talent was just one of the perks of participation; in Cordero's words, "There's a special sense of camaraderie and collaboration here that's been missing for awhile in New York City. It's easy to stay busy in NYC but most video creatives including myself were often stuck hustling multiple gigs just to pay the bills. There's a better work life balance here that's very refreshing and reminds me about why I got into this business in the first place—to share stories and stay inspired."
And inspiration was exactly what Cordero intended to do by showcasing Force Touch, along with a specially-curated selection of other locally-produced shorts, on Thursday, May 19th at the historic Michigan Theater. During the lively question and answer session that followed the sold-out screening, Cordero voiced hope that the event could act as a sort-of catalyst of creativity among local media artists. Judging by the stellar turnout, he may be onto something, too; the Michigan Theater's Screening Room was buzzing with excitement as the cast and crew fielded questions from the audience before raffling off prizes that included enough filmmaking gear to make any aspiring Scorsese salivate.
Highlights of that session included the revelation that the story was originally set to take place during football season, but that the plan was scrapped due to the aforementioned snowstorm (the actual film production only lasted a couple of days), and that the idea to offer a twist on the original Rod Serling tale from the Twilight Zone episode "A Most Unusual Camera," came after reading a news article about a prototype iPhone accidentally left at a bar by a careless member of the development team. That story, combined with Cordero's fascination with "things we don't see that can control our lives," such as complex social media algorithms with the potential to alter real-life relationships, served as the pillars of Force Touch's plot.
Near the end of the question and answer session, Cordero, visibly moved while addressing the packed auditorium, hinted that this event could be the first in a series aimed at showcasing local films and filmmakers. It's a noble goal that, judging by the "Sold Out" sign at the box office, is well within reach.
But that's the future. As for the present, the seeds of creativity definitely appear to have taken root. Asked about his experiences working as a production assistant on Force Touch, Neutral Zone teen Adam Ruff exclaimed, "I definitely want to move forward in filmmaking, although I don't know in what capacity just yet."
With events like this premiere and the YPSI 24 Hour Shootout, as well as the abundance of creative programs offered by the Neutral Zone, Ruff will no doubt have an abundance of opportunities to stay inspired and grow his talents. You don't need a camera that can see into the future to be certain of that.
Jason Buchanan is a writer living in Ann Arbor.
Director Jason Zeldes’ film is about the turf war that haunts the youth from Richmond, CA. Forced to live in the middle of this war, activist and poet Donté Clark and his courageous band of teen poets decide to create a contemporary adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in their embattled home town. The film takes us on a dramatic journey of creative expression through performance art in an attempt to bring change and hope to a community.
Donté Clark, who is the inspirational focus of the film, will be giving a talk along with his mentor and Neutral Zone Alumni Molly Raynor.
Romeo is Bleeding has earned numerous awards across the festival circuit, including Best Documentary Feature at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Laura Pershin Raynor is a Youth and Adult Services Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Romeo is Bleeding, will be shown at the Neutral Zone (310 E. Washington Street, Ann Arbor, MI) on Wednesday, June 1st at 7:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.
In this tale of love and betrayal directed by Tim Grimes, social worker Caroline (Loretta Grimes) meets two young addicts (Krystle Dellihue and Liam Weeks) accused of neglecting their child. But when she places their infant daughter in the care of the girl’s mother (Deb Wood), Caroline also ignites a powerful conflict that exposes a shadowy past and forces her to make a risky decision - with potentially disastrous consequences.
Playwright Rebecca Gilman is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and The Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, and her previous plays have appeared regionally and abroad. The Los Angeles Times cites Luna Gale as “One of this year’s most valuable additions to American drama” and The Hollywood Reporter calls it “An outstanding new social drama about parenting that stands as a rich contribution to the American theater canon.”
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Luna Gale runs Thursday, June 2 - Saturday, June 4 at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 North Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI. General seating tickets: $20 for adults; $15 for students (limited front row café table seating for groups of 2 - 3 for $25 a seat; special group rate general seating price of $15 per ticket for groups of 10 or more). For reservations, call Kerrytown Concert House at 734-769-2999 or visit http://kerrytownconcerthouse.com.
A rainy and colder-than-typical May Saturday didn’t stop people from checking out the Westside art scene. Ann Arbor is home to many artists in hiding. Bet you didn’t know that your neighbor moonlights as an artist! The Westside Art Hop is your chance to realize that art is all around as you stroll through the Old West Side of Ann Arbor with leisurely stops in homes, studios, porches, and yards. It happens twice each year, once in May and again in December. You'll find painting, photography, glass, metal and wood sculpture, jewelry, cards, mosaics, fiber arts, and crafts. There really is something for everyone, ranging from reasonably priced objects for daily use to museum quality pieces.
Larry and Lucie Nisson are well known advocates for the arts in Ann Arbor. If you walked by or interacted with the Pop•X event at Liberty Square last October, you’ve encountered one of the manifestations of their advocacy. It should come as no surprise to find that the Nissons helped bring about the Westside Art Hop as well. At its inception in 2012, the Art Hop featured 4 venues featuring 13 artists. The hop has grown to 11 venues and nearly 40 artists displaying their work. Conceived of as a neighborhood event designed to support local artists and provide a new slice to the Ann Arbor art scene, the Art Hop unambiguously frames artists as members of the community and gives the community a chance to support local arts.
The art advocates are artists themselves, and the work of both Nissans were on display at the Art Hop. Larry’s glass art was a collection of wonderfully organic sculptures that used light and gravity as a dancing partner, as well as drinking glasses composed of dream-like swirls of colors and patterns.
Lucy Nisson’s mosaics offered abstract and playful interactions between shape and color, but also some representational images that used texture and depth to invite a deeper investigation. At every turn of a corner one found more mosaic and glass art integrated into the home. Their backsplash was created by Lucie. They drink from Larry’s glasses. Their art isn’t adornment, it is a fully integrated part of their lifestyles.
Oran Hesterman’s work was shown at the Nisson’s home. By day, Hesterman is president and CEO of Fair Food Network, a national nonprofit that increases access to healthy food in underserved communities. By night he is a potter. His work is functional – bowls, vases, and mugs – meant for daily use. Hesterman has been a potter since he was 16 and realized that he had a talent for centering clay on the potter’s wheel. He and his wife Lucinda Kurtz collaborate on some of the pieces, her beadwork embellishes his designs.
Hallie Levine’s copper and enamel jewelry was shown at Gretchen’s House on Mt. Vernon Avenue. Her delicate looking jewelry consists of flat, organic shapes cut from copper and enameled in smooth muted tones. Many of her pieces are also embellished with subtle textures and delicate line pattern designs.
In front of Gretchen's House, and sheltered from the rain by a tent was Kim Ensch. Her layered paper and fiber collages create dreamlike landscapes with hidden messages and meanings. If you look closely, you can find faces and messages hidden within the organic lines. The tree imagery might give one the sense of being rooted in the family or stuck in the past.
Sharon Linden, a glass artist, was also showing her work at Gretchen’s House. She makes custom stained glass windows, which you may have seen if you’ve ever visited Boot Jack Tavern in Manitou Beach, Michigan. Her wonderful window design for the tavern incorporates Northern Michigan copper as the leaves of the trees. Linden was selling beautiful glass wind chimes made of pieces leftover from her larger stained glass works.
Across the street from Gretchen’s House, Sue Fecteau was set up under a tent in the rain with Sue’s Flying Fish. Fecteau creates Flying-Fish-on-a-stick and colorful mobiles to liven up your home and garden. Liz Davis, whom many of you may recognize from Old Town, was selling her prints on Liberty. Totally a People in Your Neighborhood moment.
If you missed the Spring Westside Art Hop, don’t fret! Another one is happening this December. Be sure to bookmark their website or follow them on Facebook to get the exact date and time in the months to come.
Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library
The 8th Westside Art Hop was Saturday, May 14, 2016 from 11-5 pm in the Old West Side of Ann Arbor. Mark your calendar for the next one in December!
“[My granddaughters] usually love to be read to, except on this particular day,” Stahl told a crowd gathered at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater to see her on Monday evening. “Eventually—this was so unbelievably frustrating—we put an iPhone inside the book I was holding and put on Frozen.”
Stahl’s talk, co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and Michigan Radio, focused on what she learned while researching her book; the sexism she faced early in her television journalism career; and answering questions from the audience.
But she kicked things off with a joke. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who watches 60 Minutes?’ I said ‘Who?’ ‘Old people and their parents.’”
Stahl quickly pointed out, though, that just as Baby Boomers have influenced every facet of American culture, as they’ve marched through each stage of life, they’ve also altered our sense of how we must look and act as we age.
“Grannies don’t have permed gray hair anymore,” said Stahl. “We’re all blonde. And we’re going to the gym three or four times a week.”
And unlike previous generations, aging people may now reasonably expect to live another 30 years beyond retirement.
“One person said, the first 30 years of life are focused on education,” said Stahl. “The next 30 years are about having a family and making money. And the last 30, we don’t really have a plan for. … The best way to spend this bonus time is not sitting at home watching television and being bored. It’s spending time with our grandchildren.”
Stahl argued, in fact, that science has demonstrated that involved grandparents reap significant health benefits, and that not spending time with grandchildren actually disrupted the natural order. The earliest human families had a mother and a father that hunted and gathered food during the day, while grandparents cared for babies; and a similar structure carried over into pre-urban agricultural societies.
“Now we have the nuclear family, but it’s not natural to not be a part of our grandchildren’s lives,” said Stahl, noting that just as a woman's brain is re-wired after giving birth, a grandmother's brain is also re-wired. “When we don’t see them—even when it’s just been 3 hours—we crave them.”
Stahl said her book was inspired by the euphoric feeling—“like falling in love”—that washed over her when she first held her baby granddaughter. “It’s different from the love you have for your own children,” said Stahl. “You’re distracted by worry, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. … When you’re a grandparent, we don’t have that. We love that child completely, without any distraction.”
This is why, Stahl said, “no matter how strict we were as parents—sit up straight, do your homework, eat your vegetables—we flip from being a disciplinarian to a mushball.”
Grandparents also now spend more on their grandchildren than any previous generation has. “Grandparents today are spending seven times more than grandparents did just 10 years ago,” Stahl said, citing big ticket costs like health care and daycare (and in her case, a piano).
Regarding her early work as a journalist, Stahl told the story of the Senate hearings on Watergate, which were broadcast daily on all three networks; Stahl was asked to be part of a panel of analysts that would discuss, each night, what had happened at the hearings that day, but her fellow male panelists talked over her and never let her speak. Her boss, after receiving viewer complaints—accusations that the men were being rude to Stahl—finally told the male reporters that they had to let her speak, or the whole thing would be shut down.
The moderator of the broadcast that followed threw out a question regarding the gossip surrounding a D.C. figure, and Stahl sat back, deciding she’d let the men deal with the gossip question.
“They sit there, and there’s dead silence,” said Stahl. “It was excruciating. Then Daniel Schorr jumps in and says, ‘You asked for gossip—well, we have a woman here.’ I was so angry. I started talking, but nothing sensible came out of this mouth.”
This related to Stahl’s analysis about working mothers of her generation struggling to work out a work/life balance. “We were just struggling to get into the workplace,” said Stahl. “We wanted to prove we could do the job as well as men, and that led to us trying to be like men. Men didn’t breastfeed, so we didn’t breastfeed, either.”
Stahl is still working, of course, and while her granddaughters aren’t particularly impressed that Grandma’s on TV—“They think you’re all on TV. To them, it’s just what grandmas do,” said Stahl—the oldest was at least wowed when Grandma got to meet Taylor Swift.
And Stahl explained that although 60 Minutes may appear to be still heavily skewed toward men, by way of the show’s correspondents, “Many of the producers are women. When I go to work, it doesn’t feel like a male enclave…Women do pretty well in journalism…I never felt like I was not one of the group. It’s a wonderful place to work. I love what I do, and they haven’t asked me to leave yet.”
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
Comic fans and cosplayers swarmed Motor City Comic Con this past weekend in Novi. The event draws tens of thousands of people and features elaborate costumes, comic book and art sales, and the opportunity to meet celebrities from various TV shows and movies of the past seventy years. Although the only comic books that I grew up with were about Betty and Veronica fighting over Archie, and I only know superheroes from the Avengers movies, I gamely dressed as Captain America and went to this year’s Comic Con to see what it was all about.
Even attendees who are more familiar with the comics world than I are often most excited to see the fantastic cosplays (comic con abbreviation for “costume play”) that people create to wear to the convention. For me, people watching and admiring the elaborate costumes of my fellow CC participants was definitely the best part, too. Although I wasn’t able to recognize some of the more obscure characters, the time and effort that went into many of the costumes was awesome to see.
Of course, there were lots of Harley Quinns, Game of Thrones characters (particularly Daenarys), and Captain Americas — my DIY costume paled in comparison to the people in full vintage Army gear carrying the original Captain shield — but there were also a number of female Lokis, a team of people dressed as Fallout fighters, and someone who we initially thought was Prince Robot from the Saga series, but turned out to be from the webcomic RGB Property of Hate. Not all the costumes were comics or gaming related, either. Two men were dressed as Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, seemingly for no other reason than that they looked shockingly like the two actors. The open, welcoming atmosphere is one of the best parts of Comic Con; people were more than happy to pose for photos and strike up conversations with one another about their costumes. People staged lightsaber and bow and arrow battles, Dr. Whos posed with blue TARDISes, and Storm Troopers and Red Shirts together bemoaned their laughingly quick and easy deaths.
MCCC is also a mecca for people seeking — of course — comic books. The cavernous space in which the convention is held was over half-filled with aisles of comic book vendors, selling issues ranging from $1.00 for four to over $500 for a single rare back issue of a Batman comic. To truly peruse all the comic book stalls would require spending the entire weekend at MCCC… and even then one might feel rushed. I was a particular fan of the art booths at the festival as well. Dozens of artists—including local artists Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner—showcased their art in various mediums. The art often featured unique interpretations of various well-known characters and emblems from comics and films, and included hand-sewn Chewbacca puppets, blown-glass Game of Thrones dragon eggs, steampunk pocket watches and paintings and posters of all types. Oddly, I even acquired a 1970s print of the state of Michigan with elaborate watercolor-esque images of various Michigan-related things surrounding it, so even for those of us who weren’t necessarily there for anything comic-related, there was worthwhile shopping!
One of the bleak areas of the convention was actually the portion where one could wait in line to meet celebrities. Aside from the exorbitant price to have a minute-long conversation with any one celebrity, many of the more obscure people sat forlornly as no one approached their table. Sure, there were long lines for Lena Headey (of Queen Cersei fame), but it was depressing to see people like Tara Reid and Adam West sitting alone for hours as people wandered past without giving them a second glance. It was almost surreal to walk along the empty aisles, while the “stars” sat about 30 feet back from the main thoroughfare against a backdrop of white curtains staring disinterestedly into space, guarded unnecessarily by bored-looking security personnel in neon vests. I escaped that portion of the convention as quickly as I could.
Overall, I was surprised and pleased by how much fun I — a first-time attendee at a comics convention who really doesn’t know much about comics — had at Motor City Comic Con. If nothing else, the people watching is truly worth the price of the ticket. I’m already planning my cosplay for next year. Hopefully it involves wings.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. Captain America is her favorite Avenger.
Motor City Comic Con happens each May at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Although the con is over for this year, the organizers host other smaller conventions and shows throughout the year.
At one point during Sunday afternoon’s 90 minute talk at Ann Arbor’s downtown library, Mary Norris, an author and a copyeditor for The New Yorker, said, “I’m with my people.”
As if to paint this as a vast understatement, an audience member (and fellow copywriter), during the Q&A portion of the program, held up a box of Palamino Blackwing pencils – which Norris had just noted as her copyediting instrument of choice – and proclaimed, “Blackwing 602s rock!”
More than 100 people showed up to hear from Norris about her new book, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, and ask questions about semi-colons, non-gendered singular pronouns, “insure” vs. “ensure,” and more.
Norris began her talk by talking about her seventh grade English teacher, in Brooklyn, Ohio, who taught students how to diagram sentences, but didn’t like the way spelling was taught in school.
“He had a brainstorm about having us write a story every week that would incorporate words from our spelling list,” said Norris, who noted her book’s first chapter focuses on spelling, “My approach was, I wrote what I wanted and just inserted the spelling words where I could.”
Norris told the AADL crowd that her teacher, Mr. Smith, had them read their stories to the class each Thursday, and this consequently became her favorite day of the week. Another boy in her class, known for telling funny stories, had gained notoriety, and according to Norris, Smith said one day, “It looks like we have two writers in our midst.”
“That was more than an encouragement,” Norris said. “It was a blessing.”
Norris started her career at The New Yorker as an editorial librarian, and when she caught a misspelling in a Christmas food shopping list in the magazine – a “flower” that should have been “flour” – she earned the editors’ thanks and attention.
Of the semicolon, Norris said, “I make fun of it. … I say it’s unnecessary, but that’s probably because I got all the way through college without knowing how to use it. … People who love it find it thrilling. When they use one correctly, they feel like there’s nothing like it. When it’s misused, it betrays that you don’t know anything about language.”
Though Norris is clearly deeply invested in language and grammar, she admitted that before she became a blogger for The New Yorker, she was more interested in writing about other topics, like her transgender sister. But when a short essay she wrote, titled “In Defense of ‘Nutty’ Commas,” went viral, her fate was sealed, and she ventured into posting grammar-oriented videos.
“The fact that the book was coming out made me more agreeable to doing videos, but it’s like the Peter Principle, where you get farther and farther from the things you do best,” said Norris. “It’s like, ‘Oh, she can write! Let’s have her do videos.’ I’m glad people like them, but I can’t watch them.”
Norris finally spoke of being part of the last generation to use typewriters in college. “You give yourself away when you leave two spaces after the period,” Norris said, noting that there’s an organization dedicated to preserving this particular practice, “I was denounced by the Wide Spacing Society on Twitter.”
But given the turnout and enthusiastic reception Norris received in Ann Arbor on Sunday, my guess is that despite this splinter group's shunning, she will long continue her reign as Comma Queen of the word nerd kingdom.
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
Disney’s Tarzan, unlike Johnny Weismuller Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie version, whose Tarzan confidently yodels his way through the jungle, is a coming-of-age story as well as a more sensitive exploration of what it means to be different. The musical traces Tarzan’s journey from infant boy orphaned on the shores of West Africa and raised by gorillas -- through young boy yearning for his ape father’s acceptance -- to young adult facing tests of love and loyalty after finally encountering humans like himself.
Tarzan features music and lyrics by Phil Collins, including the Grammy- and Oscar-winning song from the animated feature, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” with a book by Tony Award-winning playwright, David Henry Hwang.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Tarzan runs Friday, May 20 at 7:00 pm; Saturday, May 21 at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm; and Sunday, May 22, at 2:00 pm. For tickets, call 734-763-TKTS or visit the UM Michigan Union at 530 S. State, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109, Monday - Friday, 9-5 pm.