Paul Bernstein’s debut book of poetry, "What the Owls Know," chronicles a fully lived life

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Paul Bernstein and his book of poetry, What the Owls Know

A blurb on the back of What the Owls Know, Paul Bernstein’s book of poetry, says that the reader is guided through the “ground of a fully lived life.” There is no question that Bernstein’s life, like his poems, is fully realized.

Born in New York, Bernstein came to Ann Arbor in 1959 and returned to the city in the late 1960s seeking a Ph.D. in History. “I first published my writing while an undergraduate,” Bernstein says. “But then I got involved in politics. … I was involved with anti-war politics and at some point thought that I should give it up to focus on writing poetry but then protests heated up, the Weathermen began … and I realized it was not the time to get out.”

Brittney Morris' "Slay" imagines Black Panther's Wakanda as a VR video game beset by trolls

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Brittney Morris and her book Slay

A lot can happen in 11 days. One of the original Apollo missions could have gone to the moon and back. The Pony Express could have delivered one piece of mail from Missouri to California. A turtle can walk from New York to Ohio. And the most anticipated YA novel of the fall can be written!

After seeing Black Panther, Brittney Morris penned her debut book, Slay, a story about a young African-American woman who battles a real-life internet troll intent on ruining the video game she created, also called Slay.

“After I saw the movie, I was hoping someone would make a Wakanda simulator video game," Morris says, "because I immediately wanted to go back to Wakanda, and then I got to thinking about how controversial an all-Nubian VR MMO would be. I realized how much responsibility would be on the shoulders of someone managing such a game. And thus, the idea for Slay was born.”

Retired U-M professor Bruce Conforth co-authored the definitive biography of blues legend Robert Johnson

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Bruce Conforth and his book Up Jumped the Devil

Decades of painstaking research and meticulous attention to detail have led to the 2019 book Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, which aims to rewrite and correct the story about the legendary bluesman. Co-authored by retired U-M professor Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow, this book entertains with facts, cut through myths, and lets readers learn about a man who has for too long been reduced to a single (and impossible) anecdote about trading his soul to the devil down at the crossroads in order to play the blues.

“When Columbia released its Thesaurus of Classic Jazz [in 1959], it was the first chance for most country-blues artists to have their recordings on a major label," Conforth says. "Most people didn’t even know that these folks existed. And on this record was Robert Johnson. … The liner notes said that he was the greatest blues musician there ever was, but we had nothing to compare him to and didn’t know anything about him. Almost immediately this mystique formed around Johnson while at the same time people were saying, ‘Oh, we’ll never know anything about him.’”

Conforth, who grew up in and around New York City during the 1960s folk revival, took that as a challenge.

Sarah R. Baughman's middle-grade book "The Light in the Lake" marries science and magic

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Sarah R. Baughman and her book Light in the Lake

Author photo by Ashley Cleveland.

Sometimes it feels like monsters are everywhere and the world is out to get you. At times like this, we all need some magic in our lives to make it better. For 12-year-old Addie, whose twin brother Amos died recently, these truths can all be found in Maple Lake. 

Addie is the protagonist in Sarah R. Baughman’s debut novel, The Light in the Lake, and she spends much of the book in the coveted role of a summertime Young Scientist studying the very lake where her brother drowned three months ago. Using a notebook that Amos left behind and with the help of her new friend Tai, Addie learns that the lake has secrets that include both those of a scientific nature (pollution) and of a more supernatural nature (a mysterious creature described by Amos as living deep inside the lake). Addie straddles the two worlds, one foot firmly in her trusted science and the other not so firmly in a magic realm that she’s not quite sure she believes in but one that might ultimately bring her closer to her late brother. 

U-M grad and Michigan native Baughman says she has always been interested in the “connection between these seemingly different ways of looking at the world.” Though not a scientist by training, “I deeply value scientific knowledge and approaches to problems.” 

Pure Romance: Author and Wolverine State Brewing Company co-founder Liz Crowe brewed up some Summer Lovin’

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Liz Crowe, Lightstruck

The news is often negative -- sad stories that offer little hope, let alone a happily-ever-after ending. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that one of the top-selling genres of fiction books is romance, thanks to devoted readers who can’t get enough of their favorite heroines and heroes falling in love. On Saturday, August 17, Ann Arborites have the chance to hear not one but four local romance authors read from their books at the Summer Lovin’ Romance Author Panel at Nicola's Books.

According to organizer Liz Crowe, the event came about when August 17 was declared Bookstore Romance Day, “a day that was set aside to honor independent bookstores who appreciate the romance genre.”

After she learned of the date, Crowe contacted Nicola’s, which “responded enthusiastically.” That led to meetings about creating an event to honor the day. Crowe reached out to M.K. Schiller, the president of the Greater Detroit chapter of Romance Writers of America. Through her, Crowe reached authors Dana Nussio, Elizabeth Heiter, and Beverly Jenkins. “It’s a diverse mix of authors,” Crowe says. “They write about everything from romantic suspense to addiction recovery to the post-Civil War South.”

Edward Renehan's "The Life of Charles Stewart Mott" traces the life of the philanthropist and General Motors icon

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Edward Renehan, C.S. Mott

Despite what Shakespeare wrote, sometimes the good that men do lives on after them -- especially when that good includes a multibillionaire family fund that continues to do charitable works decades after the founder has passed away, which is the case with Charles Stewart Mott, the subject of a new book by Edward Renehan.

A former publishing executive, Renehan has written over 20 books including historical nonfiction for children and biographies of Pete Seeger and John Burroughs. Published by University of Michigan Press, The Life of Charles Stewart Mott came about because of a query Renehan received from the Ruth Mott Foundation, the foundation started by C. S. Mott’s late wife. “[They] asked if I would be interested in doing a book on C.S., as he was known. I did some research and realized what an incredibly fascinating individual he was. This is a man who was born 10 years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and died two years before the founding of Microsoft.”

Mott earned a degree in mechanical engineering and “participated in the market economy and industrial expansion in a big way,” Renehan says. “He was one of the truly great innovators of the auto industry, along with his peers like Alfred Sloan, Charles Kettering, and Pierre DuPont.”

Story of a Lifetime: Irene Butter shares her tale so people will never forget

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Irene Butter and her book Shores Beyond Shores

This story was originally published on May 3, 2018.

Dr. Irene Butter’s entire life has been dedicated to caring for others -- as a professor, a humanitarian, a storyteller. While serving as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Butter spent 30 years visiting schoolchildren to tell them her tale.

"I found out that the way students relate to me is that they have experiences in their own lives when they lost a parent or grandparent or their parents divorced or suffered illnesses … they really identify with my stories and that is what is rewarding to me."

And what a story it is, now in print: Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story. (Butter will be at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on May 8.)

Distilling the Process: Ann Arbor creatives R.J. Fox and Heidi Philipsen are working to bring "Love & Vodka" to the big screen

Love and Vodka

This story was originally published on April 25, 2019.

R.J. Fox doesn’t wait around for something to happen -- the Ann Arbor author goes out and creates his own opportunities.

Filmmaker Heidi Philipsen likewise makes things happen for herself. So perhaps it is kismet that these two talented and hardworking artists found each other and are making art together as they turn Fox’s book Love & Vodka into an independent film. 

Fox knew he wanted to be involved in filmmaking since he was in high school, and he currently teaches English and video production at Huron High School. “Everyone tells you that the odds are stacked against you, that it’s like making it to the NBA … so you have to have a mindset that you will find a way and get your work in the right hands of someone who wants to make your movie.”

Fox knew he found that person when he met Philipsen.

All the Small Things: Rick Bailey's essay collection "The Enjoy Agenda" is a humorous and touching look at some of life's little moments

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Rick Bailey and his book The Enjoy Agenda

Author photo by Tiziana Canducci.

With warm and inviting prose, Rick Bailey takes us through life's hilarious and melancholy moments in The Enjoy Agenda: At Home and Abroad. 

“Part of the pleasure in writing these essays is capturing moments that go flying by and would otherwise be forgotten," says Bailey. "Every moment is potentially reverberant. In the essay 'iSmell,' after a not particularly successful home repair event, the scent of WD40 on my fingertips causes me to remember my first experiences wearing cologne in seventh or eighth grade, and then to recall the smell of Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, and tobacco in Durham, North Carolina, where I spent some time in graduate school, leading to some thoughts on possibilities of digitized smell and the chemistry of smell in outer space. Reverberance is cool.”

These sorts of memories resonate through this charming book which includes stories of Bailey’s recruitment to a high school wrestling team, attempts to use mindfulness as a way to control blood-pressure results, and a long path to find just the right kind of milk. 

A Night of Fiction: Bookbound Bookstore hosts Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller

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juliet-escoria-elizabeth-ellen-mary-miller_0.jpg

Left to right: Juliet Escoria, Elizabeth Ellen, and Mary Miller.

While other towns struggle to maintain bookstores and aren’t able to host author events, Ann Arbor hosts myriad events featuring the writers behind the pages.

Bookbound Bookstore is hosting a night of fiction on July 10. But what isn't fictional is Ann Arbor's dedication to independent bookstores and author events.

“We are very lucky to be in a city with so many avid readers and folks who make an effort to shop local," says Bookbound co-owner Megan Blackshear. "Each local bookstore has their own areas of specialty and programming, so we complement one another to provide something for everyone. After the loss of Borders, Shaman Drum, and plenty of other great shops, we are grateful that Ann Arbor is proving that it is still Booktown.”

Bookbound's triple bill of celebrated authors on Wednesday evening features Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller