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.

 

Caroline Kim's characters in "The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories" ask what is most important in life

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Caroline Kim and her book The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories

A woman loses a child and yet she helps another, Suyon, pregnant with a baby rumored to not be by her husband, give birth. Then, with war breaking out in Korea, the woman meets an American, marries him, and moves to the United States. There, she finds herself engaging in animal husbandry and applies the same tactics she did with her acquaintance:

You get good at birthing horses and people send for you when they have difficult cases, mares too frightened and in pain to calm down, to do what is good for them.

You whisper the same nonsense you told Suyon: that they are beautiful and perfect and doing everything just right. Everyone, everything in the world loves them. 

This woman’s dedication and strength to carry on through these significant changes in the short story “Arirang" attest to the resilient characters in The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories by Caroline Kim. It also shows how universal and necessary that encouragement and support can be, something we all need.

Kim’s stories in her new collection ask what is most important in life, with the options ranging from fortune or pride to family, truth, connection, and expressions of love. When a woman breaks down in “Magdalena,” a mother and daughter who attend the same church try to help, despite not wanting to be associated with her. They grapple with whether to address the woman’s dire situation or to judge the woman and try to distance themselves. As the mother tells her daughter about the woman: 

Smooth Transitions: From opening for Jay-Z and a residency at Ann Arbor’s Alley Bar to spinning online, DJ Graffiti is in the mix

MUSIC INTERVIEW

DJ Graffiti at Live Ann Arbor

DJ Graffiti spinning at Live Ann Arbor. Photo by Doug Coombe.

From opening for Beyonce at the Palace to dad, entrepreneur, and local DJ, and back again—this is the story of Martin Smith aka DJ Graffiti and how he made the dream of becoming an internationally renowned DJ work during a global pandemic.

Let’s start at the start—the rise of DJ Graffiti. A young man, attending underground hip-hop shows, meeting DJs, starts making his own music, performing, and carrying around a box of mixtapes wherever he goes. He starts getting recognized.

This leads to mainstream DJ gigs, which Graffiti slays, opening for a Jay-Z tour at the Palace, then a Beyonce tour at the Palace, on the bill with Big Sean, opening for Dave Chappelle at the Fillmore. He expands his territory—hitting Chicago, New York, Miami, L.A., and Detroit after every major mixtape release. Then DJ Graffiti goes international. Tours the Caribbean. Goes on a European tour with Phat Kat—part of the extended family of Slum Village and J Dilla.

And that’s when things change.

U-M Zell visiting prof Sumita Chakraborty’s "Arrow" displays the poet's exploration of words' contradictory meanings

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Sumita Chakraborty and her book Arrow

Going into reading Sumita Chakraborty’s debut poetry collection, Arrow, it’s not a secret that the book follows traumatic experiences. As she describes in “Sumita Chakraborty on writing Arrow,” which was shared with me by the publisher, Alice James Books:

Much of this book resides in a range of aftermaths: in the aftermath of the severe and prolonged domestic violence I experienced as a child and adolescent; in the aftermath of sexual violence; in the aftermath of my sister’s death; in the aftermath of breakups; in the griefs and anxieties that follow in the aftermaths of unending sociopolitical events; in the aftermath of unending ecological devastations.

Knowing this informs but does not explain the poems in Arrow, but it sets the stage for the intense emotions and scenes depicted in them. 

Misfortune & No Wealth: Soul band The 24-Carat Black was discovered in Ann Arbor and recorded its 1973 underground classic in Ypsi

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

The 24 Carat's Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth album cover

The long-running 33 1/3 book series devotes each volume to the study of one classic album’s creation, impact and essence, and recent entry number 152 concerns an album made in Ypsilanti nearly 50 years ago. Author Zach Schonfeld relates the messy tale of quixotic ambition that birthed an album unknown but not unheard, commercially unsuccessful but the backbone of big hits for other artists: The 24-Carat Black's Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth.

Released by Stax Records in 1973, the album was the brainchild of Detroit native Dale Warren, a classically trained violinist who began his career arranging songs for Motown before migrating south to the funkier climes of Memphis. Employed by Stax, Warren’s talent for conducting helped build the lush, string-cushioned vibes of Isaac Hayes’ most iconic works along with other classic records of the R&B/soul label’s late era.

Warren composed his own ambitious set of socially conscious songs with the aim of producing a concept album about inner-city poverty, so he scouted for talent. At a University of Michigan frat party he discovered a nine-piece band of high school kids from Ohio with chops beyond their years. The band was re-christened The 24-Carat Black, an album deal was secured from Stax, and they headed for the legendary Morgan Sound studio in Ypsilanti to make a record.