Megan Giddings' debut novel investigates what's really going on in a research study in a small Michigan town

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Megan Giddings and her novel Lakewood

The town of Lakewood, where you don’t know what’s part of a research study and what’s separate or real life, provides the setting for a new book of the same name by Megan Giddings, a University of Michigan graduate. This shifting ground calls into question what is true in the experiences of the main character, Lena Johnson, who moves to Lakewood for the promise of good pay and health insurance (albeit as a subject in the research study). A dystopian novel apt for the times, Lakewood moves quickly and constantly probes what lines people will hold or cross for the sake of science or their family.

Early on, Lena mulls over a foretelling comment by another character:

To make life easier, we have to agree there is no such thing as normal, the doctor had said while typing on her laptop. If you think too much about how things should be, you forget how they are.

As the novel unfolds and Lena joins the study, supposedly on memory and funded by the government, she has to grapple with whether the increasing physical and mental side effects of the tests are worth it. She furthermore undergoes surveillance, notices that the town is predominately white while research subjects are black, and must endure extreme circumstances, including taking unidentified medications. Whether Lena will forge ahead with participating and if the purpose or outcome of the research will be revealed become the questions that propel the novel.

Giddings was scheduled to speak Wednesday, April 1, at Literati Bookstore, and the event was canceled owing to COVID-19. I interviewed her by email as planned prior to the pandemic.

Ann Arbor Art Center offers its "Art Now: Photography" as a virtual exhibit

VISUAL ART

Niki Grangruth and James Kinser Whistler's Mother (after Whistler)

Niki Grangruth and James Kinser's photograph Whistler's Mother (after Whistler).

With the coronavirus quarantine here to stay for the foreseeable future, the Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC) had a quandary with its sixth annual Art Now: Photography exhibit, which was scheduled to run in its gallery April 3 to May 2: cancel it, delay it, or make it an online exhibit.

A2AC opted for the online choice and launched Art Now: Photography on its original opening date over at annarborartcenter.org.

Juror Eleanor Oakes -- an assistant professor of photography at the College for Creative Studies and founder of Darkroom Detroit -- picked the theme "nothing is clear, nothing is certain" and the 36 photographs by 37 artists explore ambiguity, mental health, gender, and more.

Whether by chance or prescience, one photo stood out due to the way it dovetails with a current trend during the world's stay-at-home status.

UMMA's Art in Your Inbox project brings the museum's collection to you

VISUAL ART

Jose Ortega's El Bache

José Ortega, El Bache, ca. 1952-1953, Woodblock print on paper, UMMA museum purchase, 1954/1.59.

We usually travel to a museum to view its art. But with everything closed for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Michigan Museum of Art is bringing its collection to you.

UMMA's Art in Your Inbox officially launched on March 26, with the museum emailing images from its collection twice a week, accompanied by brief, thoughtful commentaries on the works. But the project's genesis came from UMMA staff members privately sending art images to one another; they found the exchanges comforting and decided to share their finds with the public. 

The pieces are chosen with society's current predicament in mind, such as Joanne Leonard's photograph Winged Ones, which features a child in angel wings staring out a window. But UMMA isn't just choosing isolation and illness art; inspired by Netflix's runaway hit Tiger Kingone email featured the Tigress and Cubs scroll by Konoshima Ôkoku, which linked then linked to 11 additional works in UMMA's collection featuring the big cats. Another Art in Your Inbox image was Julie Blackmon's photo Birds at Home, featuring five children sitting at a messy dinner table among 12 cracked eggs; the body of the email featured the headline, "Homeschooling for how long?"

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine: Volume 3

MUSIC

Washtenaw music in the time of quaratine: Volume 3

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (These are all studio recordings or professionally shot videos; visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is here.

Volume three is below featuring music from Sean Curtis Patrick, Vulfpeck, Linen Ray, Anna Burch, Stormy Chromer, and Andrew Brown's Djangophonic.

NEW WASHTENAW MUSIC IN THE TIME OF QUARANTINE: VOLUME 2

MUSIC

New Washtenaw Music in the Time of Quarantine: Volume 2

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (These are all studio recordings or professionally shot videos; visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is below:

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine

MUSIC

Boy screaming into microphone

As I was compiling new releases by Washtenaw-area musicians, my browser crashed under the weight of having 4,796 tabs open. Happens.

Here are the releases I could recall from my brain's memory cache, which is also ready to crash:

Quaranstreams Overload: A quick guide to finding Washtenaw-area concert streams

MUSIC

Quaranstream Overload

Portrait of the author as he's about to begin his own livestream concert (if he didn't look anything like this and was an image on a royalty-free stock-photo website).

When the quarantine started, we tracked all the livestreams we could find by Washtenaw musicians and published them on Pulp. Now that every musician who has access to an instrument and internet connection is playing a videostream concert, it's been near impossible to keep up. So here's the best way to find livestreams by Ann Arbor-area musicians:

Visit their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. Obvs. Just punch in the name of a musician you enjoy and you're likely to find something you'd like to watch.
Ann Arbor Loves Live Music was the most active of several concert-promoting groups on Facebook before the quarantine. Now it's the most active group to find links to livestreams.
If you like jazz, there's no better place to find out about Washtenaw livestreams, musicians, and album releases than the Facebook group Lifting Up A2 Jazz, run by the indefatigable Jennifer Pollard. It was a tremendous resource to find out about area jazz concerts in the pre-corona era and it continues in this capacity during the quaranstream era.
Search Facebook's Events section for things happening in Ann Arbor. And because nothing else is happening, you'll find all the musician livestreams in the Washtenaw area by artists who posted their concerts as Events.

I wish I could give you links to something other than Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, but I haven't seen many livestream links on Twitter or anywhere else. The only other thing I can think of is to subscribe to musicians' YouTube pages; some artists have been using the livestream feature there instead of Facebook Live. Twitch is another resource, especially for DJ sets, but I only know of two area groups doing streams there: MEMCO and Wax Kings.

Now, stay home and watch MY livestream featuring me learning how to play trumpet as I toe-strum a distorted electric guitar at top volume and my dogs run back and forth over synthesizer keys as they manically bark at imaginary delivery trucks.


Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Nessa’s new album explores an “Otherworld” as well as our own

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Nessa's Kelly McDermott

The third album from Ann Arbor's Nessa showcases an ensemble remaining true to its roots while stretching out thematically.

Led by flutist/vocalist Kelly McDermott, the band continues to develop its own particular strain of Celtic-inspired world music. And on the new album, Otherworld, that sound serves to explore two specific themes: of women finding truth and a prayer for the planet.

Joining McDermott in the core band are Rob Crozier on bass and other instruments; Dan Palmer, guitars; Mike List, percussion; Rick Beamon, drums; and Brian Brill, keyboards. Brill and McDermott produced the record.

The album opens with a composition about another world and devotes its second half to an “Elemental Suite” celebrating our own world. The title track is a haunting, flute-led instrumental that sets the stage for what’s to come. Thoughtful and enchanting, it effectively suggests the idea of another dimension. Written by Crozier, “RGB Reel” -- inspired by Ruther Bader Ginsburg -- showcases his expert bass playing. Dan Palmer’s “Buiochas” is a beautiful take on Irish jazz. 

The music on Otherworld is largely original compositions, but the band also weaves in reinventions of traditional songs, further extending the notion of both staying rooted and reaching out. “Sovay” is mellow and jazzy, while “Wraggle Taggle Gypsies” has an almost reggae feel. And “Stitch in Time” even manages to successfully work in rap elements.

The four parts of the closing suite each evoke their particular element. “Air for St. Brigid” features gorgeous wordless vocals; “Singing Waters” uses water sounds and a flute that suggests a flowing river. “Fire Dance” takes listeners from embers to a roaring blaze.

McDermott answered a few questions about the new album via email.

Video Premiere: Evan Haywood's politically pointed "Do Right by My Kin"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Evan Haywood's Perfumed Gardens is a gutbucket folk-rock album soaked in reverb and passion. In addition to 11 Haywood originals, he covers songs by Cody ChesnuTT, Gypsy Trips, Dave Bixby, and Roy Acuff, all while evoking Bob Dylan circa his Rolling Thunder Revue stage where he played with loose abandon.

The album came out in August 2018, but the Ann Arbor-based Haywood didn't release a video for songs on the album -- until now.  

"Do Right by My Kin," which premieres here on Pulp, is a screed against the rise of far-right conservatism, racism, and hatred that has increased in the United States since the 2016 election. The song's targets are obvious and so is Haywood's rage when he sings, "Do me a favor and do right by my kin / Better love your neighbor / Or we gonna make you pay for your sin."

I talked with Haywood over email about why he decided to release the video now, how it was created, and the song's influences, as well as the status of two other projects he's working on: the long-delayed new album by the hip-hop collective Tree City and a film he shot about Jamaica's music and politics.

Erin Craig's fantasy-horror YA novel "House of Salt and Sorrows" tells the mysterious story of 12 sisters facing a deathly curse

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Author photo by Cyndi Whipkey.

House of Salt and Sorrows, a fantasy-horror young adult novel, opens with a funeral and a grim question: which of 12 sisters will be the next to fall prey to a supposed curse and die?

This first novel by Erin Craig, a graduate of the University of Michigan, stars a strong female protagonist, Annaleigh Thaumas, who is the sixth of her siblings. As she ponders the latest death -- that of her sister Eulalie, who fell from a cliff -- Annaleigh imagines, "her falling through the air, the look of confusion on her face turning to horror as she realized that there was no escaping this, no way to go back and make it right.”

Annaleigh, however, begins to suspect that foul play is at fault for her sisters’ deaths, instead of a curse. She becomes determined to figure out who is behind the madness before more tragedies overtake her family. Eulalie’s sudden demise prompts Annaleigh to consider that, “Though it was all conjecture, I felt I was on the right path. My sister’s death had not been an accident. It had not been part of some dark curse. She was murdered. And I was going to prove it.”

Following Annaleigh on her search for answers becomes as tempestuous as the seas on which the Thaumas family lives. Along the way, Annaleigh falls in love, dances at balls both magnificent and grotesque, and sees ghosts and gods.

Throughout House of Salt and Sorrows, it becomes increasingly clear that people and places are not what they seem at first glance -- or even at second glance. Whether it all can be righted again is an ongoing question as tragedies continue to befall the Duke of the Salann Islands and his many daughters.

Craig’s novel was published last year. She currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and is planning a return to her Michigan roots. I interviewed her by email about her connection to Ann Arbor, opera background, writing process, reading, and upcoming plans.