“What does it mean to see?” --Jillian Walker
Speculative Histories was a Dr. Martin Luther King Day Jr. event sponsored by University Musical Society as part of its No Safety Net festival. Hosted at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch, award-winning playwright and UMS Research Residency artist Jillian Walker led a workshop that invited participants to engage with history in a way that may be new to them.
“I’m going to have my own experience of whatever writing is.” --Rebecca Biber
On Saturday, Jan. 13, at Bookbound Bookstore, Rebecca Biber read from debut poetry collection, Technical Solace. Her longtime friend Roy Sexton emceed the event. They know each other mostly through theater, where Biber often performs musical accompaniment for local shows. Sexton introduced her, listing some of Biber's accomplishments, but lingering over her musical talents. This was a fitting way to begin since Biber’s relationship to music is the first doorway into her work.
On Friday, Jan. 12, the Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women performed Hair and Other Stories at the Power Center courtesy of University Musical Society. The show uses black women’s relationship to their hair to explore larger truths about the society we live in. I am neither particularly fluent in the world of dance performance, nor am I deeply entrenched in the dance world. I am most accurately described as an enthusiastically casual appreciator.
I am, however, well versed in black hair culture.
This is probably why I should have known that the audience would be expected somehow to participate in the experience.
Black hair is a contact sport.
Me, the "Other" is a documentary that explores the ways race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender have impacted 12 Washtenaw County college students. The film makes its world premiere on Monday, Jan. 15, at the Michigan Theater.
"'Otherness' is never one thing" is the doc's guiding light as the filmmakers allow the students to tell their disparate tales in full so viewers can understand and appreciate their humanity. “I’ve come to see our differences in beauty like different flowers in one garden," said Shahrzad Mirafzali, co-producer of Me, the "Other" and University of Michigan School of Dentistry faculty member.
On Dec. 7 at Literati, Richard Retyi read from his new book, The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History, which tells 41 townie tales in a humorous, accessible fashion. But Retyi didn't originally set out to write a book. His project began as a podcast, [http://www.aadl.org/annarborstories|Ann Arbor Stories], which Retyi produces with Brian Peters in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library. (Retyi recently became the marketing and communications manager at AADL.) The podcast was modeled after another audio show, [http://thememorypalace.us|Memory Palace].
The last time I asked myself, “Was it what I was wearing?” was last Friday. I had been eating my dinner at the bar of a local restaurant when a man struck up a conversation with me. Eventually, he made a joke to the bartender about bringing me a “roofie colada.” The bartender responded disapprovingly. Then, the man doubled-down on his joke, adding, “Don’t worry; she won’t remember a thing.” As the evening went on, I couldn’t quite shake that joke. [https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/powerful-art-exhibit-powerfully-an…|What Were You Wearing?] is a pop-up installation that sets out to challenge the idea that sexual assault is somehow about clothing choice. On Monday, Dec. 4, this exhibit was at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, brought there in partnership with the [http://www.heforshe.org/en|HeForShe] student organization.
Poems Provoke: U-M's Institute for Research on Women and Gender discussed Petra Kuppers’ "PearlStitch"
The cover of Petra Kuppers’ [http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/pearlstitch.html|PearlStitch] is provocative. It draws the eye and keeps it as the viewer takes in an open mouth and an extended lace-covered tongue with a bead of clear fluid at its tip. Her poetry is provocative, too, and after the Nov. 29 panel of University of Michigan faculty members discussing PearlStitch as a part of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender’s "[https://lsa.umich.edu/women/news-events/all-events.detail.html/46079-10…|Gender: New Works, New Questions]" series, I knew I wanted to dive into Kuppers’ latest collection. But I wasn't unable to put my hands on a copy of the book following the reading as Ann Arbor bookstores were sold out.
“This is a lot of people for a poetry reading," said writer Cal Freeman. "I’ve read for three people before.” On Nov. 11, Michigan poet Freeman read from his new book, Fight Songs, at Literati bookstore. The crisp November evening seemed perfect for listening to regionally focused poetry as the temperature made its way downward.
Freeman is the kind of poet I would have spent a semester in a creative writing class peeking at over a copy of the latest student work being workshopped. He’s tall, though not quite lanky, and was dressed in mostly gray. I wouldn’t describe his look as rumpled, but the word crossed my mind. Very Midwestern.
When it comes to other adults’ sexual choices, I’m very live and let live. And in my personal life, I’m very willing to make a joke or tell a story laden with sexual innuendo, and I’ve long ago accepted that I’m the person who will robustly fall face-first into a strange double-entendre, I found myself a bit shy at the bookstore when I purchased my copy of Lynn Comella’s Vibrator Nation in advance of attending her discussion of the book which took place on November 14th at Literati.
This book was based on more than 80 in-depth interviews with sex-toy shop owners, employees of said stores, and pornographers. Comella herself worked at Babeland in New York City, which provided her ethnographic access from both sides of the sales counter. Her book synthesizes this and examines the role of feminist sex-toy stores on the larger adult industry.
Why study sex-toy shops?
[http://www.aadl.org/catalog/search/title/casablanca?search_format=u%7Cg…] is 75 years old.
I was invited to see the film at Saline's extra fancy [http://www.emagine-entertainment.com/locations/saline|Emagine] movie theater, with its leather recliners and cafeteria-style concessions. Casablanca is a beloved favorite of the person who invited me, and despite watching it numerous times, he was looking forward to seeing the film on the big screen.
I, on the other hand, was embarrassed by my reaction to his invitation. A normal person, a person with better manners would have answered the invitation with a polite "yes" or a polite "no." Instead, I said, “I bet I could write about it from the perspective of a first-time viewer.”