Back for its 8th year, the Midwest Literary Walk showcases nationally-lauded authors and poets at various venues throughout downtown Chelsea. The event will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm and is free to the public.
This year’s exceptional lineup opens with Christopher Sorrentino, author of The Fugitives, former National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, at 1 pm at the Chelsea Depot at 125 Jackson St. Set in Michigan, The Fugitives blends the literary fiction and crime thriller genres. The Los Angeles Times describes it as a “stunning new novel… with exceptional interior monologues animated by deception, double-dealing and a doomed affair…”
At 2 pm, National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, will also read at the Chelsea Depot. The hauntingly beautiful Gold Fame Citrus takes place in a future American West ravaged by drought and follows a young couple and mysterious child as they try to make their way to a better life.
The Midwest Literary Walk then moves to the Clocktower Commons at 320 N. Main St. for Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus), winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry, and Jamaal May, an American Library Association Notable Book honoree. At 3 pm, the two poets will discuss their art form, interspersed with readings of their work.
At 4 pm, novelist Paula McLain, whose bestsellers include Circling the Sun and The Paris Wife, will take the stage at the Clocktower Commons. McLain’s latest, Circling the Sun, brings to life the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
At each reading location, the authors’ books will be available for purchase from Literati Bookstore, and time for book signing is incorporated into all sessions. Additionally, many downtown Chelsea businesses are offering discounts to attendees of the Midwest Literary Walk on the day of the event. Following the final reading, participants are invited to the Chelsea Alehouse at 420 N. Main St. for a casual afterglow.
Tune in to WDET's Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson on 101.9 FM to hear an interview with a different author each Friday between now and the Midwest Literary Walk. The show airs from 9-10 am and re-airs from 7-8 pm.
Community contributor Emily Meloche is an Adult Services Librarian at the Chelsea District Library.
The 8th Annual Midwest Literary Walk will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm at venues throughout downtown Chelsea, and is free to the public. For more information on the 2016 Midwest Literary Walk, the authors, and their works, please visit midwestliterarywalk.org.
On April 14, my favorite podcast, Buzzfeed’s Another Round, put on a live show at the Michigan Union. If you don’t have a favorite podcast, what makes you think you’re some kind of special non-nerd? Another Round is now your favorite podcast--get listening! If you have a different favorite podcast, that’s fine. I also used to have a different favorite podcast. But it also means that you just haven’t listened to Another Round yet. So get listening!
Hosted by the unbelievably sharp duo Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, Another Round is a show featuring interviews with such amazing people as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hillary Clinton, and Queen Latifah, among many others. However, the show is much more than just interviews. It's also chock full of brilliant critiques on race, gender, and politics, hilarious opinions on animals, amazing stories, live bourbon drinking, and advice about calling your mom. Thanks to U-M's School of Social Work People of Color Collective, the show was free and open to the entire public. Heben and Tracy performed to a packed audience that rightfully lost its mind when they showed up.
The show started with the segment “Tracy’s Animal Corner,” in which we learned how truly terrifying owls are. I'll admit to having a positive association with owls before this event, but I think I may have switched sides and now agree with Tracy that they probably are demon animals brought up from Hades. The second segment of the live show, “Is This Real Life?” generally addresses what truly abhorrent thing white folks have recently done. Luckily for the audience’s mood, this particular story leaned more towards hilarious than rage-inducing. And I learned from it that apparently most white folks don’t know about shea or cocoa butters, so get on that.
The guest interview was Flint musician Tunde Olaniran, who was smart and funny as he talked about music, belonging, choreography, and the Flint water crisis. He finished with an amazing performance that had everyone out of their seats and dancing. Despite all of the mega-celebrities that Heben and Tracy have interviewed, they treat all of their guests with the same respect and excitement, which was wonderful to witness in person.
I left the show feeling uplifted and inspired. As a white woman, this podcast and live show is not made for me, and that’s a good thing. It’s made for black people, and I feel lucky just to be able to listen in. Tracy and Heben had wonderful and moving advice about being confident for the young black women in the audience, and I saw a few people tear up amidst all of the laughter. As corny as it might sound, I felt honored to share the same space as Heben and Tracy even for just a few hours, and I could tell I wasn’t alone. Now go start listening to Another Round!
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at AADL.
This year's Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals are happening Saturday, April 16 at Espresso Royale on State Street.
The top 12 competitors from this season will deliver their best poetry for the chance to win one of four team spots to represent Ann Arbor at the National Poetry Slam, plus there will be a full feature performance by internationally acclaimed poet Tim "Toaster" Henderson.
Laboring all year to cook up their best poetic recipes, 12 champion poets will rush the stage with only three minutes each—holding nothing back—to tell it all and tell it well! The audience erupts with boos, roars, applause - or silence - to cast their votes in front of five randomly selected audience member judges.
Excitement rises as the number of contenders drops to nine, then seven, then five, until only four triumph, earning the right to represent Ann Arbor at the National Poetry Slam!
And, as if 12 award-winning local poets weren't enough to blow your mind and soothe your conscience, internationally acclaimed poet Tim "Toaster" Henderson is traveling in to offer a feature performance. Henderson, based in the Bay Area but originally from Chicago, is one of the most captivating poets and performers of our generation. Come ready for an epic final showdown at Espresso Royale on State St. on April 16.
Community contributor Garret Potter is a slam poet and a co-organizer of the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam along with Lindsay Stone.
The Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals take place Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 7 pm at Espresso Royale at 324 S. State St. in Ann Arbor. Advance tickets are $8 student, $10 general, the cost is $15 at the door. Visit the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam's Facebook page for more details.
The Ann Arbor Poetry Slam is free and open to the public and happens every first and third Sunday at Espresso Royale on State Street.
The Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan presents dozens of humanities-related events every year. A highlight of 2016 is the Jill S. Harris Memorial Lecture on April 5, when writer and The Nation columnist Laila Lalami will talk about the long and rich history of Muslims in the United States.
Lalami is a writer whose insightful cultural commentary, literary criticism, and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, among many other publications. She has also written three books, including the The Moor’s Account, a 2015 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A work of historical fiction, the book is the imagined memoir of Estebanico, a real-life Moroccan slave--and the first black explorer of America--who accompanied the Castilian conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez from Spain to the US Gulf Coast in 1527. The book gives an alternate narrative of the famed expedition, illuminating the role that black men played in exploring the New World.
In her April 5 talk, Lalami aims to illuminate the history of Muslims in America--from 14th-century Moors and Syrian auto workers in the early 1900s, to African slaves and Palestinians immigrating after the 1948 establishment of Israel. Lalami proposes that, not unlike the part Estebanico played in the New World exploration, the part Muslims have played in U.S. history is misunderstood and underestimated, and that they are often seen as “latecomers to America, recent arrivals who’ve grafted themselves into an already thriving country.”
Lalami makes direct connections between anti-Muslim sentiment--on the rise for sure, but not a new thing--with this “forgotten history” of American Muslims. But through better understanding of history and its transmission, Lalami proposes that fiction can help us fill in some of the detail missing from the mainstream narrative of Muslims in America.
Community contributor Stephanie Harrell is the communications specialist at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan.
Muslims in America: A Forgotten History, An evening with Laila Lalami is the 2016 Jill S. Harris Memorial Lecture, taking place Tuesday, April 5, 2016 from 4-6 pm in the Rackham Amphitheatre. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited; please arrive early.
The Threads All Arts Festival is a new cross-disciplinary arts festival that’ll take place in the Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor on April 1-2, 2016. It’s two days packed with music, dance, poetry, film, theater, and visual art, and the two-day pass to the festival costs $5.
The festival came together after six students at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance thought up the idea, and then U-M’s EXCEL program funded the project.
Launched in September 2015, EXCEL stands for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, Career Empowerment. Jonathan Kuuskoski, Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship and Career Services at U-M SMTD, says that the goal of the program is to catalyze success for all of U-M SMTD students and alumni through curricular and co-curricular programming and ongoing mentorship. The Threads festival is one of twelve projects funded by the Performing Arts EXCELerator program.
Kuuskoski says he’s proud of the work that the Threads team has done so far. He says the project was selected and funded at the highest level because it is “a very audacious idea, but one that seemed to be rooted in a very present community need.”
I met Meri Bobber, one of the students on the Threads team, through my work as the manager of digital media at the University Musical Society - you'll catch several UMS Artists in Residence participating in the festival.
Through Bobber, I connected with the full Threads team (Nicole Patrick, Meri Bobber, Sam Schaefer, Peter Littlejohn, Lang DeLancey, and Karen Toomasian) to chat about what’s exciting about the project and what we can expect in the future.
Q: How did the festival first come together?
A: Sam and Nicole were sitting together dreaming of attending the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin. They realized that if they were dreaming this hard about attending, they should also probably put together their own festival. At first it was a joke, but then they won a grant. The festival had to happen.
Sam and Nicole quickly realized the festival was in no way possible with just the two of them, and they reached out to four people that seemed to fill every role possible. This team has been digging deep to put together the Threads Festival. We have all helped each other develop ideas, compromise on our way-too-ridiculous ambitions, and organize an event that represents the amazing, unique town that is Ann Arbor.
Q: You talk about how it’s important to you that both students and Ann Arbor community participate. Why is this important to you?
A: The purpose of all of our work is to make something great for Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor, in its awesome uniqueness, is not JUST a college town and not JUST a little city. Its special blend of communities, artistic and otherwise, is what makes it different from any other place in the world. To celebrate the city’s whole artistic community through this festival, we strive to bring students and non-students together.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the festival?
A: WE CAN HARDLY WAIT FOR ALL OF IT. We are looking forward to seeing all of the tiny pieces that we have thought about as independent or abstract come together into one coherent thing. We can't wait to feel the sense of unity and action that we hope this festival will create. We’ll consider this year a success if people walk out smiling, or rather, thinking. We're such dorks about everything...we were stoked to order porta-potties. It's just amazing. All of it.
Q: You’re aiming to make this an annual festival. That’s an ambitious goal. What do you hope for the festival in the coming years?
A: We want Threads to help expose budding artists in this area. They are working their butts off, but in a town where there are (thankfully) a ton of live performances, many don’t have a large turnout. Simply put, we want people to look forward to this festival as a way to discover artists, so that they can look for these artists around town and see/hear/interact with them beyond just this one day.
We would also love to find a way for the festival to feature a larger outdoor presence in the future. We want guests to be able to leave behind the distractions of daily life, and experience a multi-stage festival event for a few days in an open and peaceful outdoor environment where the music and the river, or wind, or even the sound of crickets can exist in a way that allows a unique experience to emerge.
We want this festival to find longevity far beyond this season so that there is just one more GREAT thing about Ann Arbor.
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Threads All Arts Festival is takes place in the Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor on April 1-2, 2016.
Judging by the ebullient standing ovation welcome received by public radio talk show host Diane Rehm at Rackham Auditorium on March 17, Mick Jagger isn’t the only septuagenarian rock star out there.
Stepping onto the stage in black high heels, and an elegant, knee-length, long-sleeved black dress, Rehm – with her trademark mane of thick, white hair – acknowledged the sold-out crowd appreciatively before taking a seat facing Michigan Radio Stateside host Cynthia Canty.
The event, which ran just over 90 minutes, was part of a national tour to promote Rehm’s new memoir, On My Own, which chronicles the end of her husband’s life and his struggle with Parkinson’s; Rehm’s transition to a life without her partner of 54 years; and her ongoing fight to promote “death with dignity,” or patients’ rights to have a say in how and when they arrive at their life’s end.
Thursday’s program began with a discussion about how, after Rehm’s husband John had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 9 years, he announced that he was ready to die. The doctor in John’s room at an assisted living facility sympathized, but because of legal, moral, and ethical reasons, he couldn’t help.
“After the doctor said that, John said, ‘I feel so betrayed,’” Rehm told the audience. And when the doctor suggested John could determine his own fate by no longer eating, drinking, and taking his medications, John began his 10 day descent toward death.
“Jenny (the Rehms’ physician daughter), on the phone, said, ‘But Dad, we can keep you comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I don’t want comfort. I’m ready to die,’” Rehm recalled, noting that John also, just one day after making his decision, “looked great. He said, ‘I feel better than I have in months.’ And I think it was because he’d taken his life back into his own hands.”
On the final night of this 10-day period, Rehm said she’d been trying to sleep on two chairs that she’d pushed together in John’s room when, at 2 am, she pulled out her iPad and “began writing – what I was thinking and feeling and how awful it was… He couldn’t carry out his death in the way he wanted to.”
When a caregiver arrived, Rehm went home to shower and walk the dog. Though she hadn’t planned to be away long, she soon got a call telling her she needed to return immediately, and when she got back to the facility, John had died 20 minutes earlier.
“I hated not being there to hold his hand,” Rehm said. “I’d held his hand half the night.”
The on-stage conversation’s tone shifted significantly, when Canty asked Rehm to talk about how the couple met. Rehm beamed at the question, saying he looked like a football player, with broad shoulders developed by working on the rock quarry at his father’s farm, and a crew cut.
“I heard John before I saw him,” said Rehm. “He had this huge, booming voice.”
John worked as a foreign trade attorney, while Rehm had a secretarial job at the State Department. Rehm hadn’t attended college, and because the people around her were so educated, she strove to learn more on her own, and had gathered a stack of books – Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, etc. – on her desk. The collection of classics intrigued John, who asked her about them, and soon they made a bet on the World Series (Rehm won) and made a dinner date.
The rest, as they say, is history. And while Rehm told stories of cooking together and dinner party crises, she also took pains to be candid about the struggles in her marriage, emphasizing the idea that no marriage is perfect.
“John was raised by himself,” said Rehm. “For John to share his life with one other person was very hard.”
Rehm spoke of John’s intense need for solitude (while she was gregarious), and the way he would sometimes not speak to her for weeks at a time. Even so, Rehm maintained they generally had a good marriage. She said that now, each morning, when she starts work and records promos for her show, “I look through the glass behind me…and I look up at the sky and I talk to John. That’s part of my grief. That’s part of my connection to him. And I swear he talks back.”
When Canty asked Rehm to define grief, the radio host confessed that she didn’t believe in closure, and said, “Grief is taking the pillow from the left side of the bed and, after 54 years, moving it to the center.”
Rehm also talked about her plan – made before her husband’s death – to retire this fall (“the younger generation needs to hear younger voices,” she said), but told the crowd, “You and I have had such a long relationship that it’s hard to leave.”
The point Rehm returned to again and again, though, is the need for everyone to have a candid conversation with those closest to them about what they want, regarding treatment, when confronted by death.
“It’s something we need to plan for as carefully as we plan and save for college,” said Rehm, who also later noted, during the Q&A, “Medical students are taught the importance of keeping patients alive. You try the next treatment, you try another therapy. But too often, what they’re not taught to do is listen to what the patient wants… We here in this country are death-averse. We shy away from it. But our population is aging. We’ve got to confront the reality that death is as inevitable as birth.”
Rehm also noted that she didn’t believe that death was an end. “It was raining outside once, and John said, ‘I wonder if there’s rain in Heaven. Maybe the drops will be bigger,’” Rehm recalled. “I thought that was wonderful. He was looking ahead.”
The Q&A portion of the night began with a fan asking Rehm to imagine being on stage with Donald Trump instead of Canty. “I don’t think I would be here,” quipped Rehm.
In the end, not every fan who lined up behind two microphones got to ask a question – if they did, the event might still be going – but after Rehm finished her final response by saying, “By the way, I love you, too,” the night ended as it began: with a thunderous standing ovation.
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
The event includes a book fair, panels with authors and publishers, an open mic, and a keynote by poet and 2015 National Book Award finalist Ross Gay. On Friday, March 11, there’ll be a kick-off reading at Literati Bookstore, featuring Ross Gay along with Fred Arroyo, Peter Geye, Emily Schultz, and Amber Sparks.
The festival was founded by Robert James Russell and Jeff Pfaller, having worked together on the literary journal Midwestern Gothic. To make Voices of the Middle West happen, they work together with co-organizer and co-curator Laura Thomas at the Residential College.
As an editor at Joyland Magazine, I've participated in the book fair, and this year, you can also find me at the festival chatting up the UMS Artists in Residence program. I gave Rob a call to chat about the festival.
Q: I want to get your founder/curator view of things. Can you tell me how the festival first came together?
A: Yes, so, Jeff Pfaller and I were always looking to do more with Midwestern Gothic. We always wanted to do more, and legitimately, we love the writing community. So we tossed around ideas for a long time, and we came up with Voices.
It’s a totally free event, and we’re doing it purely as a way to get the community together. Personally, I don’t really view writing as a solitary thing. I mean, the actual writing itself is a very small part of the writing process. I think most writers really are social. They want to be together, talk about books and talk about writing.
I go to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference every year, and I really like it, but it’s really expensive, and I recognize that not everyone can do that. We wanted to make Voices accessible to those who can’t go to bigger, expensive conferences and festivals.
At the time we already had a working relationship with U-M’s Residential College, where I also teach, and we kind of approached them and said, hey, we have this idea for this, would you be interested? It turned out they were looking to do something like the festival already, and it worked out well.
The RC’s Laura Thomas, our co-organizer and co-curator, she’s fantastic. You know, there a lot of moving parts to this, and let’s just say that with Laura’s help, it’s been easier to put together than it should be.
Q: I like that. How big has the festival been?
A: So, last year our foot traffic was about 2,500 throughout the day. We’re hoping for at least a 10% increase in that.
Q: How has the festival changed year to year for you?
A: I would say coverage, and you know, awareness that we exist now. Quite frankly, we have put on two pretty awesome festivals. Our first year keynote was Curtis Sittenfeld. She is great. Last year we had Stuart Dybek. And this year we have the poet Ross Gay.
This year we have some people driving up from Missouri, people who are driving over from Minnesota, to experience the festival. That's the biggest honor I could ever have.
Q: What would you recommend to a newbie to the festival?
A: I would say, spend the whole day, because we have panels all day with really fantastic, captivating, exciting authors.
But I would also recommend spending a lot of time in the book fair, which I think is unique in that we do get a good crowd, but you can also actually have one-on-one time with the authors and the publishers, and they actually want this to happen. I think at bigger festivals like AWP, it’s very hard to do that.
Q: So, this is maybe like a pick your favorite child question?
A: Yes. I guess my final answer is: Pick a couple panels that you're really excited about, and then spend the rest of the time at the book fair.
Q: And is there anything you are particularly looking forward to yourself this year?
A: Ross Gay's keynote I think is going to be incredible. He was just shortlisted for a National Book Award for poetry last year. I had the pleasure of being on faculty alongside him at a writing retreat last year, and I had read some of his work before, but I had never seen him read in person. When I saw him read, I said, "We have to get this guy". Because he is the most dynamic, the most electric reader I have ever seen. That is not hyperbole, he is fantastic.
People will be utterly transfixed. We are having a kick-off reading Friday night at Literati, and he is going to be reading there. Saturday’s keynote will really be about the craft of writing. I would say both of those things you can’t miss.
Q: Awesome. Anything else you want to make sure is in this preview?
A: That it’s free. [laughs] My own official motto this year has been: If you are remotely in the area and you are a writer or a reader, you should come to this.
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Humankind’s oldest art form is also the basis of one of The Ark’s longest running events. This year marks the 29th Anniversary of The Ark’s Annual Storytelling Festival, a two-night event that brings the oral tradition from the primordial bonfires of yore to The Ark’s warm and welcoming concert hall. Saturday night this year’s featured storytellers will spin yarns geared toward a mature adult audience, and Sunday afternoon they’ll switch gears to entertain an all ages crowd.
Over the years the festival has welcomed a bountiful mix of perspectives and storytelling styles, and this year is no exception. This weekend’s three featured storytellers -- author, playwright, storyteller, and NPR correspondent Kevin Kling; acclaimed musician and children’s entertainer Bill Harley; and local Irish performer Yvonne Healy -- spoke to me about what kinds of stories they will tell each night, and how their work has changed with the rise of radio storytelling shows like The Moth and Snap Judgement.
Headliner Kevin Kling is known for his humorous personal stories about his Midwestern upbringing and his experience with physical disability. Though he has been featured regularly on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Kling says he prefers performing in front of a live audience.
“Garrison Keillor really put us on the map, and somebody said, I thought very accurately, that he plays a microphone like a Stradivarius,” Kling says of his distinctly Midwestern colleague. “He's so wonderful on the radio. He really has found that medium. I'm a bit different in that I love a live audience. There's something visceral and chemical, something that happens on stage that neither sound waves nor lightwaves can quite fill. That to me is the magic of a live performance. You don't see a lot of standing ovations in front of the radio.”
Kling says he always knew he wanted to be a performer, but early on he had no idea he would get paid to simply stand on stage and talk about his life. He says his professional career as a storyteller began in that most fabled of artistic proving grounds: the dinner party.
“I was in the kitchen at a party, you know that's always the best place, and I was just blabbing away,” he says. “Little did I know there was a theater producer in the kitchen and she said, ‘Do you want to be in our season next year?’ And I said, ‘Doing what?’ And she said, ‘Just what you did in the kitchen.’ Before I knew it, before I knew what I was, I was on stage telling stories in a theater in Minneapolis. And then I went to Seattle, and then off-Broadway, doing pretty much what I did in that kitchen.”
Kling says he doesn’t know exactly which of his two-hundred-plus stories he will tell this weekend. He likes to show up to a venue with a good chunk of his repertoire in mind and read the crowd before deciding where to take the audience for the evening. One topic he is certain he will touch on, though, is disability, something he’s an expert on. Kling was born with a deformed left arm, and he lost the use of his right one after a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Still, he assures us he’ll keep things as light as possible no matter how serious the subject matter he chooses to delve into might be.
“It will be done with humor,” he says. “That's the best way for me to get through that because you can laugh at something that doesn't control you anymore. Everybody in the audience knows loss. People say, ‘What's the difference between stand-up comedy and storytelling? You close a door with a joke with comedy, but with storytelling you open a door with a joke. It's like you're saying, ‘Now that we're all here, let's get to it.’’
Joining Kling on stage this weekend is another nationally renowned storyteller, Bill Harley. Dubbed “The Mark Twain of contemporary children’s music,” Harley pairs wit, humor, and song to embellish tales of his childhood, coming-of-age, and family life.
When asked why he is drawn primarily to telling stories from his youth, Harley responds, “I find that if I talk seriously about childhood, then everybody usually comes along. That's the birthplace of our disaster, so that's pretty fertile territory.”
Harley says he probably won’t tailor the topics of the tales he chooses for the adult and family sessions this weekend, but rather the manner in which he tells them.
“It's not so much structure as it is language, nuance and subtext,” he says. “If you talk about childhood or coming-of-age seriously, those experiences we carry with us through our whole lives, everytime we touch on those experiences it brings up something that touches us, that reaches adults just as much as it does younger kids. Obviously with the family show, I'm less likely do to do a 40-minute story. With a family show you can't mess around. You've got to keep your pedals moving and your foot to the floor and be very aware of what`s going on. With adult performances, there's a lot more nuance, and there's a lot more chance for discovery.”
Harley’s performances will ensure the melodic comfort The Ark typically traffics in won’t be entirely lost for the weekend. He says audiences are often surprised and delighted by the way he flirts with the intersection between song and spoken word.
“When you sing a song, people go, ‘Okay, we know that,’” he says. “And then you put your guitar down or you're holding your guitar and you start to talk, and all of a sudden people are kind of waiting for the talking to end and the music to begin again. And slowly, they realize this is something other. I always have people come up to me and say, ‘I haven't been to something like this for years. I can't remember the last time I sat and listened to something like that.’ It's an amazing experience.”
Local Irish storyteller Yvonne Healy rounds out this weekend’s bill with a rollicking blend of traditional Irish folklore and mythology and flamboyant tales of her own personal experience. Healy, now a resident of Howell, was born in Ireland and raised in the U.S. She says her upbringing straddled the cultural mores and traditions of both countries and gave her a master class in the art of storytelling.
“Inside the house was Ireland, and outside the house was the United States,” she says. “So inside the house we spoke Irish, and we danced Irish dances and sang to Irish music. We behaved in an Irish way, and part of that is learning to tell stories properly, with proper accent and proper detail. I learned by rote, phrase by phrase.”
Healy’s father had a profound influence on her interest in telling stories. She describes him as an alternately charming and argumentative contrarian who could worm his way out of any situation with a good yarn.
“I asked him one time, ‘How is it that you never get beat up?’ And he said, ‘Well I got beat up once. Now, whenever I get to that point, and I like getting them to that point, then I tell them a story and confuse them. And then they let me go.’ So really, talking is a martial art.”
Like this weekend’s other two storytellers, Healy says she doesn’t yet know exactly what stories she’ll bring to the stage. She says Sunday she will stick to traditional folklore and mythology because she believes children, who are are developing their perspective on life, need the neatness of literary devices and literary structure. For Saturday night, she says she will cull stories from her own life. With more and more people being introduced to live storytelling via NPR, she says that seems to be what people want to hear these days.
“I think it’s because we have such an educated populace,” she says. “We can figure out where stories are going to go, but real life is not neat like a fictional story is. Real life is messy and doesn't have those kind of fictional constructs, and so that's very interesting to us. We spend a lot of time alone or with screens in our contemporary society, and I think having deep, real conversations with other people face-to-face is very moving for everybody.”
Healy elaborates on that last remark. Live storytelling, she says, is a conversation between the performer and the audience.
“The story changes depending on how the audience reacts,” she says. “If you're losing some people in some place, you kind of come back and go back into the thread and go off on another digression, but only if the audience is responding to it. A story is really co-created by everybody in the room.”
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer, and he would love to tell you the story about the time he saw a UFO.
The Ark’s 29th Annual Storytelling Festival runs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. & Sunday, at 1 p.m. The Ark is located at 316 S. Main St. Tickets are on sale now through the Michigan Union Ticket Office and at The Ark's website. Tickets are priced at $20 for the Saturday evening show and $10 for the kids’ show on Sunday afternoon.
When author Mo Daviau approached the podium at Literati Bookstore to read from her debut novel, Every Anxious Wave on Monday, February 15, she was friendly, enthusiastic, and eager to bring the audience in on the joke.
Her demeanor seemed well-matched to her subject matter - NPR describes her book as "a bittersweet, century-hopping odyssey of love, laced with weird science, music geekery, and heart-wrenching laughs." In it, 40-ish indie music fanatic Karl discovers a wormhole in his closet that enables time travel, and he uses it to send mega-fans back to experience concerts they missed - until a friend gets misplaced in time and Karl must connect with a prickly astrophysicist to untangle the problem.
Daviau started her talk with the confession that she'd recently heard from a reader who took issue with a character's trip to see the Traveling Wilburys perform live in 1990. The reader indignantly pointed out that the Traveling Wilburys never performed live, not in 1990, or ever. Daviau laughingly told the audience she'd come up with an explanation about the character technically crashing a recording session, but she good-naturedly thanked her concerned reader for pointing out her failure to properly research the performance history of the band.
Daviau's fiction debut was released February 9, but before that, it was a work in progress during Daviau's time in the University of Michigan's Helen Zell Writers' Program, where it won a Hopwood Award. The book carries a very sweet dedication to Daviau's father, who was 65 when the author was born, and who passed away when she was a young teenager. This is part of her inspiration for this story: because she had so little time with her father, Daviau says she thinks about time travel every day.
In her Q&A, Daviau said the discovery of a college radio station at age 11 started her on her love affair with indie rock. She came full circle with her early love of college radio by becoming a college radio DJ herself while attending Smith in the 1990s. She explained that main character Karl is some version of herself - but that she "found it easier to project feelings of regret on a schlubby bar owner" than on a woman like herself. But did she nail the male voice? "I just went for it," she admitted. "I'm interested to hear from real men how I fared with this." Reversing the question and answer portion, an obliging dude in the audience shouted, "Sounds authentic to me!" to the amusement of all.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and might time travel back to see the Monkees Reunion Tour at Pine Knob in 1995, if only to get a t-shirt that's the right size this time.
The book tells the tragic story of teens Joana, Emilia, and Florian, refugees fleeing from Poland and the advance of the Red Army at the end of World War II. Each from a different background and a different country, their paths cross aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a real, historic ship that almost no one, including myself, seems to have heard of—despite it being the scene of the worst maritime disaster in world history.
Literati staff opened the evening with a quick introduction of the local author, making sure to mention that her novel Between Shades of Gray was the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti reads book of 2014. Then Sepetys stepped over to the microphone to introduce herself, her background, and her newest story. Her enthusiasm for writing and storytelling was obvious, but it was clear by the way she lit up as she launched into the Wilhelm Gustloff's tragic tale that she was really in it for the history.
According to her avid research, the Wilhelm Gustloff was a German cruise ship that set sail into the Baltic Sea at the end of World War II packed with thousands of refugees searching for safety. The ship, designed to carry a maximum of 1,400 passengers, was filled with so many fleeing survivors that when it finally set sail, it carried 10,000 passengers, pressed into dining rooms, dance halls, and even the emptied swimming pool. Rooms meant to fit two contained 15 or 20 people. The ship was so heavy, it was forced to sail in deep water—and that's where a Soviet submarine found it and where three well-aimed missiles led to the world’s most fatal maritime tragedy, sinking the ship and sending 9,400 people to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Using only a handful of black and white photographs and her undeniable enthusiasm, Sepetys managed to paint a vivid picture of the tragedy and of her research process and keep the crowd completely rapt. With the flair of a master storyteller she managed to pull the audience into the story, hold us in suspense, impress on us the horror of the Gustloff's sinking—and then lighten the heavy atmosphere with a few anecdotes about her search for facts on the ship and its history.
Salt to the Sea was a mammoth effort in research for Sepetys, as she traveled to Poland and several neighboring countries to meet survivors of the disaster, hear stories from men who had dived the wreckage of the Gustloff, and wade through mountains of artifacts and heirlooms from those who lived the tragedy.
Sepetys explained that she chose to tell the story through characters from several different nationalities—Polish, Estonian, Lithuanian, and others—because she had found that the narrative of history could drastically change based on whose cultural experience was being told. You might write a book and think you know what it’s about, she said, but the story is really decided by the reader—and different countries can take one story in some vastly different directions.
She offered up her 2013 novel, Out of the Easy, as an example. Translated into dozens of languages, no two countries seemed to agree on what the book was about. Sepetys, when she wrote it, meant it to be about a girl living amongst the bordellos and brothels of 1950s New Orleans and struggling to shape her own destiny and make a life for herself outside of “The Big Easy.” But in France it’s marketed as a story of feminism in historical context. In Germany it’s a noir thriller. In Poland it’s about decisions and the dynamics that affect choice. And in Thailand, I kid you not, it is called The Hooker Book.
This diversity of interpretations fascinated Sepetys, and gave her a goal for this newest book: to show how the significance of a story could change from person to person, country to country. The author's genuine excitement was infectious and even the Q & A portion of the evening was entertaining as Sepetys enthusiastically answered questions from the audience and listened intently when audience members told their own family refugee stories. It was evident that the stories left the greatest impression on her and she made it clear that telling those stories was Salt to the Sea's main purpose. What exactly affects how history is shaped? Who decides how the stories get told and which stories get told?
Ambitious though it seems, Salt to the Sea works to tell a multitude of those stories within one, tragic story—history, as it is written by the victors and as it is written by the victims.
Salt to the Sea was released on February 2nd.
Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and if she ever writes a book she is totally calling it The Hooker Book.