From the Fifth Estate to Ann Arbor: Harvey Ovshinsky's new memoir recalls his agitating and publishing days in Detroit

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Harvey Ovshinsky and his book Scratching the Surface

Ann Arbor’s Harvey Ovshinsky faced a problem when he settled in to write his memoir, Scratching the Surface: Adventures in Storytelling.

“I sat down with Kathryn [Wildfong] at Wayne State University Press, and she said, ‘Oh, my God, Harvey, there are three or four different books in here. You’ve got to pick one,’” Ovshinsky said. “I have all these dots and I really felt the need to connect them, and I knew I could. … What they all had in common was my need to scratch the surface. And that’s when [the book] came together.”

The book's focus was originally a puzzle to solve because Ovshinsky is a lifelong restless spirit. 

In the Mix: Charles Manier (Tadd Mullinex), Akshay Chacko, Witcharella, Charles Trees, Shigeto

MUSIC

In the Mix, March 15, 2021

An occasional series collecting mixes and compilations featuring musicians, DJs, and labels associated with Washtenaw County.

The edition includes Charles Manier (Tadd Mullinix), Akshay Chacko, Witcharella, Charles Trees, and Shigeto.

University of Michigan's annual Prison Creative Arts Project goes online for the 25th edition

VISUAL ART

Alvin Smith's painting Pointless Acquisitions

Alvin Smith, Pointless Acquisitions, from the 25th Prison Creative Arts Project exhibition.

For more than two decades, the University of Michigan's annual Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) has showcased the creative work of incarcerated people with an annual exhibition. The 25th edition of PCAP runs March 16-31, but it will be entirely online. While the pandemic forced PCAP to the virtual space, it's been on the organization's to-do list for a while.

“I hope that our artists are gratified to know that their work will be seen far beyond the gallery in Ann Arbor this year,” said Nora Krinitsky, director of PCAP, in a story published by U-M's Michigan News. “In that way, even though this is an unusual year, we’re able to serve PCAP’s mission of connecting people impacted by the justice system with those in the free world more than ever before.” 

Gallery viewers will be able to purchase the art via phone, and the artists receive 100% of the net sales revenue. PCAP associate director Vanessa Mayesky told Michigan News:

Friday Five: Kaleigh Wilder, Ki5, Hannah Baiardi, Emily Roll, Fred Thomas/Idle Ray

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 03-12-21 album covers

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features free jazz from Kaleigh Wilder, pop by Ki5, jazz-pop courtesy Hannah Baiardi, spoken word by Emily Roll, and indie-rock from Fred Thomas/Idle Ray.

 

With drama and humor, U-M professor Peter Ho Davies’ new novel follows a family through marriage, pregnancy, and parenting

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Peter Ho Davies and his book A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself

Family life has come into greater focus this last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. School online. Work from home. Everyone in your immediate family in the same space. 

Well beyond our one-year plus some of staying at home during this health crisis, Peter Ho Davies' new novel, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, sounds the depths of marriage, parenthood, and family life over many years. Davies, a faculty member at the University of Michigan, does not shy away from the pains and discomforts brought about by such arrangements, but his book also does not bypass the humor and little joys. Told in third person with the characters identified only by their roles of father, mother, and boy, readers may feel like they are on the outside looking in at the characters’ lives. Yet it’s an inside view, like a fly on the wall rather than peering through a window. The narrator homes in on the father’s perspective especially. 

Early on, challenges with a first pregnancy force a crushing decision, one that the characters process and must live with for the rest of the book. The fallout and emotions thread throughout the parents’ lives and their reflections on raising their second child. While we learn that the mother is coping through therapy, the father takes another approach of volunteering at an abortion clinic. As the father considers his earlier experience, the narrator describes: 

Friday Five: Oduor Nyagweno, Doogatron, Bubak, Tyrus Archer, con.

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 03-05-2021 album covers

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features Kenyan nyatiti music by Oduor Nyagweno from Dagoretti Records, techno from Doogatron, metal from Bubak, hip-hop from Tyrus Archer, and R&B electronica by con.

 

Transformative Sounds: Ann Arbor's Emilie Lin was a PhD psychologist who left that career to pursue her love of piano

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Emilie Lin

Emilie Lin has been a pianist her whole life. She began as a youngster in Taiwan, continued studying when she moved to the U.S. as a teenager, and eventually achieved a master's degree in piano performance from the University of Michigan, which gave her a full scholarship. In fact, Lin was a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at U-M when she decided to leave that role in order to refocus on her life as a pianist.

But despite devoting her life to music, Lin had never released an album.

Then, in less than 365 days, the Ann Arbor artist released two: 2020's Transforming and 2021's Love Endures.

"I never thought of making an album in the past until my oldest son moved to a different state to start his business in January 2020," Lin said in an email interview. "With more freedom to pursue my own goals, I became curious about my ability to compose beyond educational piano music. I was thinking how it would be so cool if I could be like Yiruma, whose 'River Flows in You' captured my husband's heart to make him stop by my studio and asked me whose music it is when I was playing it years ago. That was the first time he ever liked a piece I played well enough to ask who the composer is. I've played classical music almost all the time, a genre of music that does little for him, so I thought it's probably time for me to compose and play more contemporary classical music."

Ann Arbor native David Blixt discovered a cache of long lost novels by journalist-adventurer Nellie Bly

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Writer David Blixt and covers for the lost Nellie Bly novels

In December 2019, while researching a novel series based on the life of journalist Nellie Bly, Ann Arbor native David Blixt—a Greenhills and EMU grad who’s now a Chicago-based theater artist and writer—made an astonishing discovery.

“At that point, my office was right next to the kitchen, and Jan [Blixt, David’s wife, and the producing artistic director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival] was in the kitchen late in the afternoon that day,” said Blixt. “I was going, ‘Honey, this can’t be real. This can’t possibly be real. … Surely everybody knows about this, right?’”

Wrong. Blixt, following what seemed an unlikely-but-possible hunch, had stumbled upon 12 long-lost serialized novels that Bly wrote after her famous trip around the world concluded in 1890.

Born Elizabeth Cochrane in 1864 in Pittsburgh, Bly got her pseudonym from her first newspaper editor, who named her after a popular 1850 song by Stephen Foster. Scholars and biographers have long known that Bly wrote fiction for publisher Norman Munro’s New York Family Story Paper—she’d signed a lucrative, three year $40,000 contract—but few to no copies of that publication have survived, so Bly’s fiction has largely been lost to time for well over a century.

Until now.

UMS's stage-film hybrid production of "Some Old Black Man" explores race and generational conflict

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson in UMS's Some Old Black Man. Photo by Doug Coombe.

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson in UMS's production of Some Old Black Man. Photo by Doug Coombe.

This review originally ran on January 19, 2021. We're featuring it again because UMS is streaming "Some Old Black Man" for free March 1-12, 2021, but you have to register for the screening here.

The closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to engage in picayune arguments that quietly scratch at, and chafe against, far deeper issues.

Which is to say, a family clash about what to eat for breakfast—a conflict that kicks off early in the recently streamed University Musical Society theater production of James Anthony Tyler’s two-hander Some Old Black Man—is often about something else entirely.

In the case of NYU literature professor Calvin Jones (Wendell Pierce) and his ailing, 82-year-old father, Donald (Charlie Robinson)—who’s just been relocated from his home in small-town Mississippi to Calvin’s posh Harlem penthouse—a conflict about a yogurt parfait strikes notes of really being about control, and conflicting generational perspectives, and blackness, and ego, and masculinity.

That is an awful lot for a soupy bowl of granola and fruit to carry.

But Tyler understands that to mine down to the heavy, hard-to-face stuff, humans inevitably have to start the process by hacking away at nonsense for a while—with absurdly tiny pickaxes.

Friday Five: Sean Curtis Patrick, Jienan Yuan, Youth Novel, Weekend Hours, The Kelseys

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 02-26-2021

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists.

This week feature archival works from electronic artist Sean Curtis Patrick, piano miniatures from Jienan Yuan, screamo from Youth Novel, and polished pop from Weekend Hours and The Kelseys.