You may come to the Ann Arbor District Library to pick up a book or movie or sewing machine or electric guitar knowing well in advance that’s why you’ve entered one of AADL’s five locations.
But if you come to visit us and you can’t quite figure out what you want to check out, you might ask someone on staff for suggestions -- and we’re always happy to oblige.
In that way, our 2018 staff picks for books, film, music, TV, podcasts, and more is one massive suggestion list.
We don’t limit our picks to material that came out in 2018; we list things that made an impact on us during the year, no matter when the media was released. Plus, we’ve added a Pulp Life category -- both on the blog and in this year-end roundup -- to note life experiences that we loved in 2018, from parks to restaurants.
And if you need help finding the material, or you’re looking for even more suggestions, just ask. We've already started making our lists for 2019.
Jessica Care Moore and Ursula Rucker are rockstars.
Google that shit.
On December 11 at the University of Michigan’s Trotter Multicultural Center in conjunction with the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies hosted Jessica Care Moore and Ursula Rucker for an hour-long discussion titled "Herstory: Hip Hop and Poetry."
Moore, a Detroit native, is most noted for her five straight victories at the "Showtime at the Apollo” competition as well as her publishing company Black Moore Press and her numerous books of poetry.
Rucker, who hails from Philadelphia, has released six albums of her poetry and has collaborated with many well-known hip-hop acts including fellow Philadelphians the Roots.
On Tuesday the women were resplendent. Moore sported a high-crowned red fedora and a colorful denim jacket adorned with an image of the late Ntozake Shange (Google that shit). Rucker had her hair pulled back and her face framed with black cats-eye glasses. Both women were performance-ready and engaged the audience with their own poetry and, perhaps most importantly, historical perspective.
Three years ago, I nervously walked on a warmly lit stage as the last performer, and only freshman, in Poetry Night in Ann Arbor. An annual tradition that returns Dec. 15 at the Mendelssohn Theater, Poetry Night is an outstanding opportunity for teen poets to bleed part of their written body out into the world.
The structure of this event was refined recently by the new Neutral Zone Literary Arts Director, Molly Raynor. What once was a mass performance of youths ranging from beginners to seasoned poets is now a nurturing and intimate evening of some of the best performers Ann Arbor has to offer.
A friend of mine once almost gleefully described her hometown as having a great shop for all her foodie needs. A place to get cheese. A butcher with local meats. A restaurant selling pies. All nearby and not big-box stores. I thought of her joy in this collection of local businesses when I first encountered Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit, a new cookbook by Lisa Ludwinski based on her bakery of the same name, Sister Pie. Ludwinski started the business in 2012 in her parents’ kitchen in Milford, Michigan, and joins the many excellent establishments in the Detroit area that provide baked goods.
But not just any baked goods.
Aimee Bender holds a special place in my heart.
Several years ago, I found myself thinking about Bender's work, a story of hers that I remembered. I took to the internet, looking for the name of the story; instead, I found someone’s dating profile, someone who also adored Bender’s writing.
I was sucked in, reading every detail.
In a romantic comedy, this would be the moment I decided to find this girl and make her love me. But I don’t live in a romantic comedy, so I thought, “I should be dating where this girl is dating.”
I followed that girl.
With this in mind, when I learned Aimee Bender would be speaking at UMMA as a part of the Zell Visiting Writers Series alongside poet Philip Metres on November 15, I knew that I, again, would follow that girl.
Longtime Hamtramck resident Steve Hughes is a force of nature in his hometown. For over half a decade, Hughes curated the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts’ Festival where artists opened up the studios in their homes and attendees went on an “art crawl.” Hughes is also a founding member of Public Pool, an art cooperative that formed in 2010 with the goal of creating and supporting a wide range of art experiences. A year later, Hughes then decided that a literary component of the visual arts events was needed and so he created the Good Tyme Writers Buffet.
The literary series began with a dozen authors reading for about 10 minutes; it has since cut the number of readers and added a DJ. Hughes received a grant through the Knight Foundation and shaped the project into what it is today: a space for audiences to enjoy an evening of reading based on a theme. “We get people from the neighborhood, friends of the authors, readers," Hughes says. "A good mix of people who come out on a Saturday to hear the readers, listen to music, eat and drink.”
The readings are connected to the visual arts show in the space. “This month the show is called Bread and Clutter,” Hughes says. “So our six authors will read about food.”
For each event, Hughes writes a short story that connects to the theme. “I give myself an assignment every month,” he says. “And the only constraint is that it has to be read within a 10-15 minute time frame.”
This series and these stories led to the book, Stiff.
Patti F. Smith is the author of the history books "Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor," "A People’s History of the People’s Food Co-op," and the forthcoming "Forgotten Ann Arbor" (spring 2019). (She's also a regular contributor to Pulp.) Her debut fiction novel, "Head Over Feet in Love," comes out as an ebook on November 14 and as a print edition in February 2019. Smith gives us some background on the book, followed by an excerpt from the novel.
The first draft featured protagonist Rebecca Slater as a famous author who got six-figure advances, whose book was being made into a movie, who employed several assistants to help her with fan mail. The second draft saw Becca as a famous author who got six-figure advances but no mention of movie deals or assistants. The third draft found Becca as an author with a cult following; she still made a living from it but no more talk of hefty advances or net worth. The fourth draft presented Becca as a teacher who wrote books on the side, making money but not enough to live on.
In the final version, Becca hasn’t even gotten published yet.
Many things changed in the years that I wrote and rewrote Head Over Feet in Love -- Becca and her friends went from flip phones to smartphones, DSL to wi-fi, having a million dollars in the bank to scraping by as a teacher. But through it all Becca lived with bipolar disorder and anxiety.
Just like me.
When attending the One Pause Poetry Salon, it struck me that its atmosphere is hard to come by. Part discussion, part reading, and part classroom, people attend to experience a community around poetry and to have an outlet in which to read and converse about poetry, a space that motivates and inspires.
The events, which are weekly from 8-10 pm on Wednesdays through December at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty, start with a free write for 12 minutes because, according to Mike Zhai who runs the Salon, 10 minutes seems too short and 15, too long. While classical music swells and night surrounds the market’s greenhouse, attendees diligently compose lines in their notebooks. A time to read and respond to the results of that writing session follows. Each person has the option to share or not and to chime into the conversation or not. This environment brings low stakes and high returns for people at any point in their journey with poetry.
“It’s fine for people to come and share their own poems or read their favorite poetry by others or just come and listen,” said Zhai. “It’s pretty informal in that way. I want to create this nexus between appreciation and creation.”
When Stephany Wilkes became a knitter in 2007, she walked into a yarn shop and asked, “Where’s your local yarn section?” The shop attendant pointed her to a single brand of U.S.-made yarn. Nine years later, when I walked into a yarn shop for the first time, much had changed. I had several U.S.-made yarns to choose from -- even some Michigan-made yarns -- but found myself asking another question: “Why is this so expensive?”
The answer, as I later found, is that milling wool grown in the U.S. is so costly that most ranchers either send their wool overseas to be processed or use the fleeces as compost. Due to decades of adverse agricultural and trade policy, the cost of processing wool in the U.S. is very high. Wilkes' book, Raw Material: Working Wool in the West (Oregon State University Press, 2018), tells us how the bottom fell out of the U.S. wool industry and also shows us the way back to environmentally beneficial and economically profitable U.S. wool.
As for Wilkes, once she learned that a key factor in the high cost of U.S. wool is the lack of qualified shearers, she did the only logical thing: became a shearer herself. Raw Material is Wilkes' account of her unlikely career change from a software engineer at a San Francisco firm to a self-employed sheep shearer and wool classer. Along the way, she introduces us to many of the people who are working against the odds to bring U.S. wool back to life and make wool profitable for farmers and affordable for handcrafters.
I got the chance to talk to Wilkes in advance of her November 5 appearance at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost -- from copyediting to cover design -- and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books -- print, digital, or audio -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.
Started in 2017, Fifth Avenue launches its second round of books on Sunday, November 4, with a reception from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown branch, featuring author readings from the imprint's five new titles.
After "READ MORE," click the book titles to read interviews with the books' creators: