David Fenton's "The Activist’s Media Handbook" traces his life in the media, from the "Ann Arbor Sun" to progressive public relations

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

David Fenton, The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons from 50 Years as a Progressive Agitator

Activist and public relations firm founder David Fenton launched his very first PR campaign in Ann Arbor in 1971: Fenton worked to get John Sinclair out of prison where he was serving a sentence for giving drugs to an undercover agent.

Following this effort, Fenton wrote for the countercultural newspaper Ann Arbor Sun where he worked on a campaign to increase sales by running a contest called “Win a Pound of Colombian Marijuana.”

Fenton’s new book, The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons From 50 Years As a Progressive Agitator, spends two chapters on his time in A2 and also details what happened before and after.

Of his time working at the newspaper and in activism, Fenton writes:

Everybody's Kranky: Bruce Adams' new book chronicles the rise of Chicago's thriving 1990s independent music scene and the influential record label he cofounded

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bruce Adams and his book You're With Stupid

For a guy who cofounded a record label named kranky—small k, thanks—that used marketing slogans such as "Honk if you hate people, too," Bruce Adams is one of the nicest people in the music industry.

Adams' new book, You're With Stupid: kranky, Chicago, and the Reinvention of Indie Music, recalls not only the rise of his experimental label but also the inventive, genre-hopping sounds that were coming out of the city in the 1990s. It was also a time when major labels swooped into town to sign the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair after Nirvana showed corporations that the independent music scene could sometimes provide commercial hits.

A former Ann Arbor resident, Schoolkids Records employee, and WCBN-FM DJ, Adams moved to Chicago in 1987 to work for various music-distribution companies. He also worked at the influential Touch & Go Records as a publicist, handling bands such as Ann Arbor's Laughing Hyenas as well as Slint, Die Kreuzen, The Jesus Lizard, and many other bands that took the energy of punk rock and twisted it into new forms of dynamic and frequently very heavy music. 

But in 1993, Adams and his colleague Joel Leoschke looked at the stacks of indie-rock CDs and 7-inches flooding into the Cargo Distribution warehouse where they worked and decided they wanted to do something completely different with their record label. The duo took their inspiration from 1970s progressive-music labels such as Editions EG, which counted Brian Eno's transformational ambient albums in its catalog, and ECM Records, which focused on jazz (and classical) that came from a more European approach to improvisation; more open to exploring space and unique timbres rather than blues-informed swing. They also looked toward German kosmische musik of 1970s groups such as Neu! and Cluster as well as then-contemporary psychedelic bands such as Spacemen 3, which played drone-based rock 'n' roll.

Adams and Leoschke wanted kranky to represent music that was artful, hazy, and deep—and they found the perfect first band for their new label: Labradford.

Prazision was the debut album by the Richmond-based duo (later trio) Labradford, which used guitars drenched in reverb, 1970s analog keyboards that weren't popular then, and sung-spoken vocals that blended into the vast smudge of ambient sounds. 

The label went on to release albums by godspeed you! black emperor, Stars of the Lid, and kranky's most popular act, Low, the slowcore band fronted by the husband and wife duo of Alan Sparhawk and the recently deceased Mimi Parker. The label still continues to this day, releasing forward-looking music by Grouper and Jessica Bailiff as well as albums by Dearborn's Windy & Carl and Ann Arbor's Justin Walter.

Adams and Leoschke used what they learned from working for indie labels and distribution centers in order to not make the same mistakes they saw happening over and over: treat the bands with respect, pay them, and only release music you love. In the words of American poet Joe Perry, kranky "let the music do the talking."

A lot of music memoirs are filled with gossipy details, but since Adams really and truly is a nice guy, You're With Stupid avoids any deep, dark revelations or pointed barbs. It's more a survey of the vast amount of creative musical endeavors that defined Chicago in the 1990s rather than salacious tales of excess.

Adams will discuss You're With Stupid at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown branch at 6:30 pm on Thursday, November 17. I'll be the guy interviewing him—Adams doesn't say in the book why he sold his portion of the label to Leoschke in 2005, so I'm going to ask him that—and we'll talk about the kranky's groundbreaking music and the 1990s Chicago independent music scene.

For those unfamiliar with the label, Adams picked five tracks and added commentary to introduce new listeners to the kranky sound:

Things to Do: Pulp Event Roundup for November

Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver reunite for a Nervous But Excited show at The Ark.

Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver reunite for a Nervous But Excited show at The Ark. Photo via The Ark's Facebook event.

To fill up your November calendar, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of arts-related events, exhibits, and more throughout Washtenaw County. Check out some local cool happenings in music, visual art, theater and dance, and written word and film.

MUSIC

Bill Edwards
November 11
Canterbury House, Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bill Edwards performs tracks from his new Americana album, Thirteen Stories. Throughout his latest release, Edwards pens sentimental stories from different perspectives, including a hall-of-fame baseball player, a seasoned songwriter, and a nostalgic boater. Read our preview and interview here.

Nervous But Excited
November 11
The Ark, Ann Arbor

Ten years after their sold-out finale at The Ark, the local folk duo of Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver reunite for one of their final Nervous But Excited performances. Their repertoire ranges from smart, introspective narratives to the tactfully political while interspersing songs of love and loss.

Olivia Van Goor
November 11
Blue Llama Jazz Club, Ann Arbor

The Milford jazz vocalist is influenced by swing and bebop jazz from the mid-20th century. Van Goor unearths and reshapes gems from the Great American Songbook and other jazz standards in a way that’s beyond replicating what has already been done before. Read our past interview with Van Goor here.

Deep Dive: Kim Fairley's new memoir recalls how she grew up “Swimming for My Life”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Kim Fairley and her book Swimming for My Life

Swimming was not just swimming for Ann Arbor author and visual artist Kim Fairley.

The sport was layered with physical challenges, abuse from coaches, and family expectations that exceeded what was reasonable, all of which she depicts in her new memoir, Swimming for My Life.

At the start of her book, Fairley shares an early, positive memory of swimming at the beach where she struggled in the waves and remembers, “The ocean reverberated in my head, but when I glanced up at Dad, I saw his pride: my daughter, my oldest.” Following that experience, Fairley’s parents encouraged her to join a swim team in third grade in Cincinnati where she grew up. While Fairley did not immediately love swimming even back then, her attempts to stop were not heard even though she tried to tell her father:

The 35th Annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival features seven Ann Arbor authors and many more Michigan and international writers

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival logo

The 35th Annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival features 31 authors in a mix of online and in-person events, November 6-18. Three of those evenings feature Michigan-based authors, including seven writers who live in Ann Arbor—two of whom we've interviewed recently.

Michelle Segar and Scott Hershovitz are the writers who spoke with Pulp about their new books, and they're joined at the festival by fellow Ann Arbor authors Ken Wachsberger, Ann S. Epstein, Julie Goldstein Ellis, Nancy Szabo, and Phil Barr.

Most of the in-person events are at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, but the Ann Arbor District Library will host children's authors Ruth Behar and Sarah Sassoon, and a local authors gathering will be at the new Ann Arbor shop Third Mind Books.

Get the full list of events below, with each author's event web page linked in the book title for registration and more information:

Now and Later: H.R. Webster engages in associative thinking to form her poetry in “What Follows” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet HR Webster and her book What Follows

H.R. Webster’s poems in What Follows scrutinize the space after trauma, in womanhood, around death, and when someone has gone too far.

The poet does not shy away from what is unfolding but rather turns an intent eye on each scene where “There is the calf’s share / blooming in my coffee” or “A killdeer faking it in the parking lot.”

In the poem “Ritual,” we learn that things commonly desired and sought after nevertheless disappoint because “It does not light / the growing dark, does not lift its wings in flight.” 

Webster’s collection implicates the discomforting present and its aching aftershocks. The titular poem confronts how “Death came and took from you a virginity you did not know you possessed, but guarded, closely.” The poem goes on to ask, “What fruit rots first.”

This question characterizes many of the poems that start at the moment when the experience begins to decay—sometimes right away: “On first dates men often ask how would you rather die, / I kid you not, drowning or fire.”

U-M researcher Michelle Segar lays out “The Joy Choice” in her recent book on sensible eating and exercise plans

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Michelle Segar is next to her book cover The Joy Choice.

Exercise and eating both come down to our daily choices, and it does not have to be as hard as it seems, says author Michelle Segar, a lifestyle coach and researcher at the University of Michigan. 

In her recent book, The Joy Choice, Segar details a new way to make these decisions, including diagrams that show how to apply her research-based method. She writes: 

Our choice is our choice. It no longer represents overcoming perceived deficiencies, following someone else’s rules, or being selfish. We make room for the unanticipated while still meeting our own self-care needs, simultaneously renewing our energetic resources for the people, goals, and projects we care most about. 

Segar’s Joy Choice strategy and decision tool were designed to assist you at the point when you and your eating or exercise plans run up against real-life interruptions. The genius of this tactic comes from working with, rather than against, the unanticipated challenges so you can keep making strides toward your target despite life’s unwelcome twists.  

One way that Segar helps address these “choice points”—the moments when you are faced with continuing to pursue your exact plan or changing course—is by identifying the ways that both internal and external issues could derail making your desired healthy choice. Segar calls these forces “decision disrupters.” An example of one of the four disruptors that she features is “accommodation,” about which Segar writes, “[T]here’s real science about the damage that can occur when our automatic and consistent go-to is giving other people’s needs priority over our own. As with most things in life, seeking balance and finding compromise is key.” While our decision disrupters may not be readily apparent, we can address them once we learn about them—and prevent them from upending our goals moving forward.

Segar calls “choice points” the “true place of power” because it is at these times when you can make a choice that aligns with your greater goals. Segar says:

When the exercise and eating goals we have selected (as opposed to those that have been imposed on us by society or others) align with our core values, needs, and priorities, they become integrated into and a natural affirming part of who we are. This in turn increases the value proposition for making choices that favor healthy eating and regular exercise. Because we no longer feel that we should make those choices, our internal conflicts with them are gone or greatly reduced, and so now we want to make them and make them more effortlessly. 

Making decisions that support your healthy behavior goals becomes enjoyably straightforward with Segar’s Joy Choice strategy. 

AADL hosted Segar for a reading on June 24, a video of which is included at the end of this post. This fall, I interviewed her about The Joy Choice

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang reaches for poetry “when argument fails, when there can be no objectivity, when things have become personal”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait photo of author Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is next to her book cover for You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s new book, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids, begins with desire and dreams and concludes with anger, love, and home. In the pages in between, the expansive lyric essays travel broadly from Kathmandu, which is “the ancient city of my youth while I am disappearing into summer, fire, and sea,” to the basement of the Detroit Institute of Arts where “we discover the museum’s stash of old film reels.” The essays consider how to have one’s own dreams, embrace identity, experience violence against identity, and engage with family (not to mention ex-family members). 

Leaving a place and leaving a marriage become both a backdrop and an integral part of the essays. In “Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu,” Wang writes:

Human Nature: U-M prof Scott Hershovitz talks philosophy with his kids in the book "Nasty, Brutish, and Short"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Scott Hershovitz alongside his book cover for Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Author photo by Rex and Hank Hershovitz.

U-M professor Scott Hershovitz divulges conversations with his two young sons and connects those chats to philosophical concepts in his new book, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids. Among the topics are swearing, sports, racism, and religion.

Hershovitz delves into both questions that his children raise and questions that he and his wife, Julie, face as parents. What makes the book so approachable is that the conversations are set in humous, relatable, day-to-day scenarios. For example, the subject of individual rights emerges when one of the children, Hank, takes ages to decide what to have for lunch after being offered a quesadilla or hamburger:

Shirley Ann Higuchi tells her mother's tale and the bigger story of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII in “Setsuko’s Secret” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Shirley Ann Higuchi and her book Setsuko's Secret

Shirley Ann Higuchi illuminates a dark time in U.S. history in her book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.

Through the lens of long unspoken family stories, Higuchi recounts how Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and businesses, then forced to live in one of the 10 concentration camps created during World War II as the result of unfounded security concerns. The memories and trauma of that time are still felt today. 

Higuchi, who grew up in Ann Arbor and went to the University of Michigan, will speak about her book at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, September 22, 6:30-7:30 pm. She is a lawyer for the American Psychological Association, a past president of the D.C. Bar, and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which operates a museum on the site of the former camp.

In Setsuko’s Secret, Higuchi writes of the camp where her parents met, Heart Mountain: