The Last Gasp of Summer: Michigan mystery authors offer three beach reads at Nicola’s

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Books by Pamela Gossiaux, Darci Hannah, and Greg Jolley

Is it almost over? It’s almost over.

But you still have time to enjoy some good summer books.

Still searching for the perfect beach read? Look no further than Michigan mystery writers Darci Hannah (Cherry Pies & Deadly Lies), Pamela Gossiaux (Trusting the Cat Burglar), Greg Jolley (Malice in a Very Small Town) who are appearing at Nicola’s Books on August 16 at 7 pm for "a late-summer mystery event, filled with great beach reads for your last summer gasp." 

Hannah began her writing career with historical fiction, penning 2010’s The Exile of Sara Stevenson. But when her agent recommended writing in another genre, Hannah started Cherry Pies & Deadly Lies and knew just where she’d start.

Callie Feyen's "The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet" encourages kids to read in the internet age

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Callie Feyen's The Teacher Diaries

Callie Feyen's new book begins with a kiss. But the writing of said book began with an essay -- one she wasn’t particularly keen to write.

“My editor at [T.S. Poetry Press] asked me if I wanted to write about teaching Romeo and Juliet to eighth graders. But at the time I thought it would be too painful.”

The longtime middle school teacher felt that way after she found herself at a school where lesson plans were scripted and tightly monitored; teachers received reprimands for going “off script.” After years of creative lessons plans and multisensory activities, Feyen was frustrated by being locked down in a specific teaching style and writing the essay would make her "remember how I used to be able to teach.” 

Feyen’s editor then suggested starting with an essay about the classroom experience; that essay ended up becoming the first chapter in The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet. The book details Feyen’s many years of teaching the Shakespeare classic to middle school students. 

Immersive India: Rasa Festival celebrates arts and cultural from the subcontinent

Rasa Festival 2018 logo

Building a month-long festival from the ground up is challenging enough when it focuses solely on one artistic discipline, such as music.

But last year's inaugural Rasa Festival was a multidisciplinary party with performing, visual, literary, media/films, and culinary arts from India, presented in various Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti venues.

It was a big achievement and the 2018 edition (September 1-October 7) looks to build on that success with more art exhibitions, dance performances, poetry readings, music concerts, film screenings, and a foodie event.

Here's the full calendar of events, many of which are free:

Forever Red: How an Englishman in Michigan sustained his Manchester United fandom

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Gary B. France - Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of United book

Imagine you love a sport. You live that sport. You follow that sport and know the players and the stats and the plays.

And then you move to a place where that sport is not only not revered but is called by the wrong name.

That’s what happened to Gary B. France 23 years ago when his physiotherapist job brought him from Lancashire, England, to southeast Michigan. He found himself starved for information on soccer (football) in general -- and more specifically, Manchester United, aka The Red Devils, aka The Reds.

“We are so used to 24/7 coverage these days that we might not remember that there wasn’t much back in the '90s," France says. "All I had was my own passion and the drive to remain connected to the sport.” 

In those days France got his sports fix during transatlantic calls to his father and from two-week-old British newspapers that he found in the Little Professor bookstore in Dearborn. By chance, he found an old shortwave radio and got BBC World Service, which gave coverage of the second half of one game once a week on Saturday mornings. “I just had to hope it was my team!” laughs France.

A History of Mystery: Aunt Agatha's says goodbye after 26 years

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

October 5, 1992: Jamie, right, and Robin Agnew (shown with their daughter, Margaret) soon after they opened Aunt Agatha's bookstore.

Whodunit? They Did It: Jamie, right, and Robin Agnew (shown with their daughter, Margaret) soon after they opened Aunt Agatha's bookstore. Photo by Benjamin Rusnak for a story in the October 5, 1992, edition of The Ann Arbor News.

The world wide web can do many things: find the recipe for that cookie you had at camp that one summer, identify the weird rash you have on your arm, and tell you the name of the band that sang "Life in a Northern Town."

But there are many things that an algorithm simply cannot provide and many of those things can be found in bookstores like Ann Arbor's Aunt Agatha’s, home of new and used mysteries, detection, and true-crime tomes: the smells of old books that have been opened, read, and reread by many loving hands; stacks of dog-eared novels waiting to find their reader; sounds of pages turning, people murmuring over what they are reading. 

I love this author! I’ve read all of her books -- isn’t she great? She is so underrated.

Since 1992, Robin and Jamie Agnew's Aunt Agatha’s is the place that finds the authors you haven’t heard of before and makes you a lifelong fan, a store where writers who are at the beginning of their career blossom into major forces.

And it all ends this August.

Russell Brakefield explores music, myth, and Michigan in poems

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Russell Brakefield

Photo by Jon Rosenberger.

Music and myth. Michigan and memory. These subjects course through Russell Brakefield’s first collection of poetry, Field Recordings, which was published this spring by Wayne State University Press. As a Michigan native, when I read his poems I feel the desperation of winter, the joy of berry picking in the summer, and the layers of time. These place-based, lyrical poems highlight the discordant notes of relationships, plans, hopes, and sleep. 

Brakefield grew up in West Michigan, studied at Central Michigan University, and earned his M.F.A. in poetry at the University of Michigan in 2011. He taught at the University of Michigan following his M.F.A. and then also worked at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor starting in 2013. In 2017, he moved to Colorado and now teaches at the University of Denver, where he says he is learning a different landscape in the West. 

Here, Brakefield shares his experiences in a bookstore and with reading and writing poetry, as well as what’s inspiring him and what’s next.

The Tea Is Lit: Arbor Teas Summer Reading Series

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Arbor Teas Summer Reading Series logo

The first book about pouring hot water over cured leaves, The Classic of Tea, was written in 780 A.D. by Lu Yu. While it's ostensibly a how-to guide for cultivating and brewing the best teas, Yu couldn't resist waxing poetic over his shrubby beverage:

Tea can look like a mushroom in whirling flight just as clouds floating from behind a mountain peak. Its leaves can swell and leap as if they were lighting tossed on wind-disturbed water. Still others twist and turn like rivulets carved out be a violent rain in newly tilled fields.

Many writers have feted tea since then, from Lu Tung and Marcel Proust to Henrik Ibsen and Alexander McCall Smith, so Arbor Teas dipping its leaves into literature with its Summer Reading Series feels like a natural fit.

Since 2016, Arbor Teas has serialized fiction on its website each summer, beginning with Lauren Doyle Owens' lighthearted marriage drama The Wintree Waltz, continuing with David Erik Nelson's "till death do we part" sci-fi story Expiration Date, and this summer's historical novella An Exchange of Two Flowers by Sarah Zettel, who reads from her work on Monday, June 25 from 7-8:30 pm at AADL's downtown branch.

To find out how a family-owned organic tea company decided to start publishing fiction, I emailed with Arbor Teas' Lea Abbott.

Accessing the Future: Petra Kuppers' "Ice Bar" explores disability culture via speculative fiction

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Petra Kuppers' Ice Bar

Themes of women, water, and power intertwine in delightful ways in Petra Kuppers’ latest book, Ice Bar, which features post-apocalyptic science fiction and psychedelic fantasy short stories where many of the characters are disabled in some way or another.

"They might use a wheelchair or have family members in psych wards or they themselves have been institutionalized," said Kuppers, a University of Michigan professor. "Normally in [these genres], disability is either erased or the person is made the bad guy. I wondered what would happen if I used a disability perspective to write my own stories in which [disability] is neither horrific nor celebratory but rather part of human life.” 

Real Love: Beverly Jenkins writes romance fiction to tell African-American history

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Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins wants to challenge your thoughts about romance fiction.

When her first book, Night Song, was published in 1994, there wasn’t a market for romance novels featuring people of color, and many African-American-focused novels centered on slavery. But Jenkins continued to pursue her vision of highlighting the love stories of black people, often set in the 19th century. Now, 37 novels later, the Detroit-raised Belleville resident is a superstar in romance fiction.

The prolific writer earned the celebrated Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, further cementing Jenkins' status as a legend in the romance market. But Jenkins isn't just about love stories. She has said she wants to show how black people in America have “turned their lemons into lemonade,” and Jenkins continues with her mission to educate folks about African-American history with her emphasis on Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the end of American slavery on June 19, 1865.

On Monday, June 18 at AADL's Malletts Creek branch, Jenkins will present "The Historical Background of Juneteenth" from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. During this event, Jenkins will talk about, educate, and celebrate this milestone in American history.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Beverly Jenkins about her literary influences, if men read her work, and the importance of providing love stories featuring minorities.

Culottes, Canes & "Calypso": David Sedaris at Literati

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

David Sedaris

David Sedaris was his usual charming, generous self when gave a packed reading on Friday at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor in support of his new book of essays, Calypso. And, of course, he was hilarious, telling dirty jokes, cursing, and plotting revenge on his West Sussex neighbors.

In Calypso, Sedaris has returned to the humorous essay form with which he’s made his reputation. His siblings, parents, and boyfriend, Hugh -- familiar to long-time readers -- appear once again. But many of these essays are darker in subject and tone than Sedaris’s previous work. They describe aging, illness, and the unexpected death of his sister, among other things. In the book’s first sentence, Sedaris announces, “Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age.”

Sedaris didn’t read that essay on Friday, but he did read the text of a commencement speech he recently gave at Oberlin College, which touched on similar themes. Encouraging young writers to pursue their vocation (at any cost), he said, “At 22 you are built for poverty and rejection. And you know why? Because you are so good looking.” He also said: “Be yourself. Unless your self is an asshole.”