Review: Kate DiCamillo packs the Downtown Library on Sunday


Kate DiCamillo brought some tales of despereaux-tion to the Downtown Library on Sunday.

Kate DiCamillo brought some tales of despereaux-tion to the Downtown Library on Sunday.

Bestselling, award-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux) drew a few hundred excited fans – clutching books as if they were treasures – to the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown Library on Sunday afternoon; and she not only read from her new novel Raymie Nightingale, but self-deprecatingly shared the reason for her “late start” as a writer.

“When I was in college, I had a professor who said to me, in my senior year, … ‘You have a certain facility with words. You should consider graduate school,’” said DiCamillo, dressed in sneakers, black jeans, and a black V-neck T-shirt, with a pink long sleeved shirt wrapped around her waist. “That’s exactly what he said, but I was 20 years old, and so, I heard something entirely different. I thought he was speaking to me in code, and that he was saying, ‘Wow. You are super-talented. I think that you’re probably the next Flannery O’Connor.’ So I thought, ‘Why should I bother with graduate school if I’m really talented? I’m just going to go be a writer.’ So what I did was, I used my mother’s JC Penney credit card and I got a black turtleneck, and then I was set to go. I just sat around, wearing the black turtleneck, looking bored and disdainful and having people go, ‘Oh, that’s Kate. She writes.’ I did that for 10 years. … You can dream all you want and have great story ideas in your head, but eventually, you’re going to have to sit down and figure out a way to do the work. And I didn’t figure that out until I was 30.”

DiCamillo’s now established her regimen, obviously, having published about 20 books over the course of 20 years. The author spoke about how a novel now generally takes a year and a half – working through 7-8 complete drafts – for her to write, and she advised aspiring writers to read as much as they can. But the suggestions didn’t end there.

“Another thing you have to do is find out a way to make a deal with yourself about how you’re going to do the work of writing. For me, it’s two pages a day. I’m not offering that as a directive, but saying that’s what I have found works for me. So I make myself write two pages a day, whether I feel like it or not. And guess what? I never feel like it. So what I do is, I do it first thing in the morning. I come downstairs, I pour the coffee, I go right in there and write the two pages before I can talk myself out of it. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve got a voice in my head that goes, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t write a book. This is never going to work.’ I have found that that voice sleeps in ’til about 9 o’clock. So I get up at 5:30, 6 o’clock, … and when that voice shows up to say, ‘You fraud, you don’t know what you’re doing,’ I’ve already done the important work.”

With an easy, approachable charm, DiCamillo – her hair a gently messy, white-blond cloud – answered kids’ and adults’ questions for nearly an hour on Sunday, addressing her characters’ often-odd names (“The only explanation I have is, I am a strange person, and I grew up in the South”); how she doesn’t write from an outline (“It’s a terrifying way to write, but I find that if I know what’s going to happen, I have no interest in writing the story”); how she struggled to write following the huge success of her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie (“I knew I was going to have to go in a completely different direction, and so, enter the mouse with extremely large ears [Despereaux”); why authors and illustrators usually have no communication with each other until after a book’s publication (“It was long my suspicion that authors are crazy, and artists are even crazier, so why should we have them talking to each other? I ran that by the publisher, and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s it’”); and how the experience of her father’s abandonment when she was 6 shaped her and made Raymie Nightingale – in which a girl enters a pageant in hopes that a win would convince her father to come home – one of her most personal books (“(Raymie’s) the kind of kid that I was: worried and hopeful and watching all the time and flexing my toes. … That’s as close as I’ve ever come to putting myself in a book”).

One of the scores of kids seated on the floor asked what drove DiCamillo to write stories.

“Part of it is being a reader and living for books,” DiCamillo said. “And you get told those stories, and you feel like you want to tell a story back. And part of it is, as hard as writing is for me, when I’m writing a story, I’m connecting to the world and to myself, and it helps me understand things. It makes the world make more sense if I’m writing.”

Indeed, one of the most sad and funny moments of DiCamillo’s talk arose when a fan asked where Flora & Ulysses’ surreal plot – focusing on a squirrel that’s sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and gains super powers and writes poetry – came from.

“My mother passed away in 2009,” DiCamillo said. “She had a tank Electrolux vacuum cleaner that she loved. And in the last year of her life, she said to me many times, ‘What’s going to happen to the vacuum cleaner after I’m gone?’ I kept on saying, ‘I’ll take the vacuum cleaner. Don’t worry about the vacuum cleaner.’ … She passed away, and I did what I promised. I took the vacuum cleaner, but I had to put it in my garage, though, because I’m allergic to cats, and my mother had the world’s most evil cat named Mildew. … So I put the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and every time I pulled into the garage, it would make me feel really sad, and make me miss my mother. So that’s one place where the story started. And the second thing that happened is, the spring after my mother died, a squirrel was on my front steps, draped in this very dramatic fashion and clearly unwell.”

DiCamillo called a close friend who said she’d come over and “whack him over the head.”

“I’m on the cell phone, right next to the squirrel, as she’s saying this, so I start to back away, because I don’t want him to hear it,” DiCamillo continued. “So I go in the side door, and I look out the front door, and guess what? He did hear it. He was gone. He clearly thought, ‘There’s better ways to die. I’m going elsewhere.’ So it made me feel sad, and it made me remember a wonderful essay that E. B. White wrote called ‘The Death of a Pig.’ … Before Charlotte’s Web came out, he was thinking about how to save a pig’s life, so I started thinking about how to save a squirrel’s life … And I combined the squirrel with the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and that’s where the story came from.”

Finally, an adult in the crowd asked about DiCamillo’s recent reference (in an interview) to a White quote that goes: “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” The fan asked DiCamillo to talk about the quote further in light of recent, tragic events.

“I think that we need stories more than we ever have needed stories, and we need to collect around stories and read stories out loud together,” said DiCamillo. “Stories teach empathy. You learn to think about what the other person is feeling, and it is so necessary to imagine yourself into somebody else’s shoes. And I think we need that so much right now.”

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.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #604


Calling all bloggers!

"It washed over me for the first time in my life how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment..." -Sue Monk Kidd

With references to William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Suzanne Feldman's debut (and a winner of the Missouri Review Editors' Prize) Absalom's Daughters* is a tale of sisterly adventure through the 1950s Jim Crow South.

Young Cassie helps run the family laundry with her mother and grandmother in the black part of Heron-Neck, Mississippi. She has no idea that Judith who is white, is her half-sister, though she knows that it is her grandmother's plan to orchestrate the births in her family so that her descendants can, one day, pass for white.

When their father Bill Forrest runs off leaving the family destitute, Judith finds a letter from a mysterious sender in Virginia explaining they are heirs to a rumored family fortune, surely enough money for her to run off to New York City to be a singer. Sensing that her grandmother's design on the jazz-playing Albino boy from New York City visiting one of the white families on the hill, Cassie realizes this may be her only opportunity to escape. The girls steal a car, and with a ham, a gun, and a map so old that state lines are blurred, they head north. While getting their first taste of freedom, courting danger at every turn, they are also reminded of the tyranny of skin color, and the heavy responsibility of being the master of your own fate.

"Feldman’s prose blisters and pops with sparks...In this novel, most things are not as they seem, and Feldman doesn’t hew too close to reality. The sisters encounter mules who were once men, discover towns that appear in one place on the map and another on the road, and Cassie even spends a few days as a white girl. Eventually she decides to return to the skin she was born with; as a mysterious woman tells her near the end: 'What’s important is the past.'" (Kirkus Reviews)

* = starred review

Arts Writers! UMS Seeking Candidates for a New Fellowship

Calling all bloggers!

Calling all bloggers!

The University Musical Society (UMS) is seeking applicants for their Wallace Blogging Fellowships. This recently-announced opportunity aims to promote cultural events taking place throughout southeast Michigan, and includes a stipend and special access to UMS events and guests.

So, know anyone in the area who is over 21 and loves the arts? Send the application their way! The deadline to apply is July 15, so get those writing samples ready!

Arts & Culture Events for Your Fourth of July

Fourth of July on Independence Blvd, 1959

Don’t miss the 26th annual Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July parade. Featuring musical groups, floats, and a bicycle-decorating contest, the parade starts at William and State St. at 10 am.

Cobblestone Farm is also celebrating Independence Day - 19th century style - with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic songs, kids games and farm activities, from noon - 4 pm at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Rd.

Veterans and active duty military members can enjoy a free screening of the classic World War II film The Dirty Dozen at the Michigan Theater at 1:30 pm. All others pay admission.

Capitol Steps, America’s premier satire group performing political parodies since 1981, is back in town this evening for two concerts at the Power Center, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20 for students, $35, $40, $45.

And if you need an extra dose of patriotism, your local public library has a couple special Independence Day-related collections: First, a Star-Spangled Bannercast, featuring U-M Professor Mark Clague talking about the musical heritage and cultural history of our national anthem; and second, our OldNews local history site has a feature of past Tree Town 4th of July celebrations with photographs and articles from the Ann Arbor News.

Happy Fourth, Ann Arbor!

Review: Zilka Joseph Poetry at Ann Arbor Book Festival


Zilka Joseph reading her poetry at the Arena.

Zilka Joseph reading her poetry at the Arena during Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Poetry is a democratic form of art; perhaps one of the most accessible genres of writing as it’s meant not only to be read, but heard and performed. The echoes of poetic language are all around us from the piece of a song you catch as you walk by an open cafe door to the movement of a conversation between strangers. Despite poetry’s underlying prevalence in our lives, one of the least expected venues for poetry may just be a sports bar.

Still, on Saturday, June 18th, The Arena in downtown Ann Arbor opened its doors to the Ann Arbor Book Festival Book Crawl and three local writers, including poet Zilka Joseph. A long-time Ann Arbor resident, Zilka has been nominated twice for a Pushcart prize and her poems have appeared in many publications from Poetry (forthcoming–look for it later this year) to the Kenyon Review Online. Her work was honored through several awards including a Hopwood, the Elsie Choy Lee Scholarship from the Center for Education of Women, and a Zell Fellowship from the University of Michigan. Against the backdrop of Michigan football memorabilia and muted ESPN highlight reels, Zilka read from her recent collection, Sharp Blue Search of Flame.

Zilka Joseph (left) and her book Sharp Blue Search of Flame (right).

Zilka Joseph (left) and her book Sharp Blue Search of Flame (right).

This collection is remarkable with its breadth and enchanting language, encapsulating the boundaries--artificial and real--of life in India and the United States. All the while, Zilka’s poems search for something larger, something beyond us and all around us. This may be spiritual or it may be the commonality of human experience. From guiding the reader/listener on an internal journey to mapping identity in a complex world, Zilka brings the cyclical nature of life and self-discovery to the forefront of her work.

This sentiment of self-reformation resonates in poems like Birds in a Blizzard where Zilka writes “your ancestors are wanderers,” or in Child of Churning Water where she asks “Who shall I be now? Where can I perch?” Zilka’s interest in rebirth extends outward to broader stories of mythology, cycles, and origin. With Apples and Oranges, the Adam and Eve story is reframed to challenge the common narrative of this tale.

In between her poems, Zilka offered insight into her creative process and the emotional source of her writing. “I feel as though I’ve lived many lives,” she told the audience. “We always find ways to reinvent ourselves even from our darkest moments.” The multitudes of Zilka’s lives seem to lend themselves to the deep introspection present on the page.

As she went on to read What Burns (Who Will Remember), a poem about the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a young woman in India whose death sparked international protest, the tone of the room changed to one of solace. A police officer in the audience was moved by this piece and pledged to read more about the story so as to better serve the community he works in, demonstrating the social value of reading poetry in public.

Art is ultimately a celebration of the unexpected, observed moments that are truly human and full of life. Hearing such beautiful poems read in an unexpected setting reminded me of the boundaries we often create in our own environments, and the importance of seeking uncommon moments of beauty.

Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.

Visit Zilka Joseph's website for more info on her and her work. The Ann Arbor Book Festival is an annual event. Check their website for next year's dates and additional events.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #603


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #603

“Women of Manhattan, magnificent as they were, they forgot sometimes they weren’t immortal...” -Marisha Pessl

If you loved Jennifer Close's Girls in White Dresses (2011), you would not be disappointed with these two debuts just now hitting the shelves.

A Dangerous Age by former model and the editor of Elle Accessories Kelly Killoren Bensimon catches up with four friends over the course of a sweltering Manhattan summer.

These fortysomething best friends have been meeting every Tuesday night for twenty years. Once the toast of the town, they are secretly falling apart at the seams. As Lucy, once a supermodel, now a freelance writer, watches her marriage to a renowned artist slowly falling apart, she becomes reckless when she starts receiving mysterious text messages from another man. Billy, an unemployed food and wine expert, quietly struggles to make rent each month, is exploring supper-club subscriptions. Lotta, a successful art dealer, dependent on cocktails and recreational drugs, is courting a total breakdown; while Sarah, a well-heeled socialite chasing after reality-show fame is paying the price with her reputation.

As these women of a very dangerous age navigate their ways around a city that worships only the young, it is anyone's guess how they will emerge at the end of a very bumpy summer.

"The dialogue is funny, and a plotline involving a mysterious blogger who’s terrorizing all of New York is intriguing and twisty."-Kirkus Reviews. A breezy beach read for fans of Sex and the City.
Fabulous Fiction Firsts #603

Bestselling author Emma Straub praised Rich and Pretty as "smart, sharp, and beautifully made," Rumaan Alam's portrait of two childhood best friends transitioning into their adult lives is vividly rendered, set against a tantalizing background of moneyed New York City that is impossible to resist.”

Sarah is rich—the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite. Lauren is pretty, and smart enough to snag a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan where they met. They have been inseparable through high school and college, first jobs and first loves, and the uncertainties of their twenties. Now in their thirties, Sarah works at a charity thrift store and is planning her wedding to her doctor fiance. Lauren, steadyly making a good name for herself in publishing is care-free and single. As a way to reconnect, Sarah asks Lauren to be her maid of honor and help plan the wedding. But the closeness Sarah was hoping to reignite looks like a thing of the past when Lauren misbehaves on a bachelorette trip.

"With astute descriptions of how values, tastes, desires, and ambitions change over two decades, Alam’s tale of a divergent friendship smartly reflects the trial and error nature of finding a mate and deciding how to grow up." -Publishers Weekly. Try this if you enjoyed Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #602


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #602

Inspired by Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, debut novelist Weina Dai Randel sets out to write stories of Chinese women who succeeded in mapping their own destinies and tries to redress the often misrepresented and misunderstood Empress Wu with The Moon in the Palace .

When a monk foretells that 5 year-old Mei will one day be both the mother of emperors and an emperor in her own right, her father takes this to heart and sees that she is schooled in poetry, history, mathematics, calligraphy, and even Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

At 13, the orphaned Mei enters the palace to serve in the royal household where she will need to draw on all she had learned from her father to survive the intrigue and duplicity of the Imperial Court and to earn favor with the emperor. Her only ally is a boy named Pheasant but their involvement might put both of them in danger.

Mei's story continues in The Empress of Bright Moon as she ascends to rule as China's only female emperor in more than four millennia.

For historical fiction readers who enjoyed Empress Orchid and The Last Empress by Anchee Min.

PREVIEW: A2CAF: The Comic Show That Wants To Change Your Life


A2CAF logo.

The Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival is this weekend at the Downtown Library.

These days, comics are everywhere. Superheroes dominate the silver screen. Graphic novels burn up the best-seller lists. And of course, comic-cons are a nationwide craze.

But graphic storytelling is about more than comic commercialism. And this weekend, the Ann Arbor District Library is presenting a lineup of some of the most popular cartoonists with young readers and a slew of local talent to deliver an event more about passion for comics than profit: the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival.

Taking place Saturday and Sunday at the library’s main branch, A2CAF (as the show is known for short) is the continuation of the popular event formerly known as Kids Read Comics. The 2016 edition of this free festival not only brings over 50 comic creators to its "artist's alley" area to share their work with school-aged readers and their families – it will also host dozens of hands-on creative workshops all over downtown. And in a special Friday event, the show will welcome librarians and teachers to meet with the talent so they can boost their own comics bona fides. All in all, the guests and programming will work to build a love of the medium in all its attendees.

"Our ethos is 'A life can be changed by comics.' Mine was," explains A2CAF co-founder and organizer Dan Mishkin. And he should know. The Michigan-based writer spent years crafting stories for DC Comics including runs with Superman and Wonder Woman in addition to being co-creator of heroes like Blue Devil and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld (which was recently adapted as a series on Cartoon Network). The A2CAF team hopes to inspire a new generation of comic lovers. As Mishkin says, "You don't have to be a professional for your mind to be opened up by comics."

Getting the community excited about the medium starts with the all-star lineup of cartoonist and writers. This year, the keynote presenters will be the creator of the Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel El Deafo Cece Bell and her husband Tom Angleberger who is the mastermind behind the Star Wars-themed Origami Yoda series, amongst other books. Joining them on the show floor will be acclaimed artists like Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic's popular Amulet series), Ben Hatke (Zita The Spacegirl), and the team behind Oni Press's hilarious new comic BroBots, J. Torres and Sean Dove.

Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger and El Deafo by Cece Bell.

Books by A2CAF's keynote presenters - Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (left) and El Deafo by Cece Bell (right).

"These are all people who are committed to young readers and committed to comics, who you can see in their every move that they love this artform," Mishkin says. "We don't have the people who just sit behind their table and hope someone will talk to them. We also don't have the people who think that they're only there to sell their books. That's not our reason for being. Our reason is to instill a love of comics."

The organizer is also keenly aware of how much local flavor has been added to the show over the years. "Maintaining a variety is something that's really important to us, and it involves finding local people and being responsive to that," he explains. "We're always refining the mix of guests. It's not just about the professionals. It's about both the New York Times bestseller and the local person who's just starting out. You'll see a lot of Southeast Michigan and mid-Michigan creators who have a day job, but they're doing their webcomic on the side. It works out really well for them and for us to give them a showcase."

But as all artists presenting their wares at the show get to table for free, the organizers have an expectation for what the talent bring to the festival. "You need to represent what we're all about. I only half-jokingly say 'We don't care if you sell anything at your table.' Because for us, it's much more important that the artists engage with kids and teenagers and parents and teachers and librarians so that the passion for comics comes across."

That love extends into A2CAF's second major feature: its wide range of programming. Across the weekend, the library itself will hold comics-making workshops, a ceremony for the kids-focused Dwayne McDuffie Award, and signings for some of the biggest talent on hand. And on Friday, the A2Inkubate unconference will present educators and librarians with a chance to collaborate on methods for bringing comics to their students. But beyond that, programming will also pop up across downtown at spots including the Vault of Midnight comics shop, the 826 Ann Arbor Robot Supply & Repair storefront, and the Ann Arbor Art Center.

"It just makes sense to share the event with organizations with whom we share a mission. We're all in a Venn diagram of these things," Mishkin says. "It's really about turning young people onto having a passion for comics and doing it in a non-commercial setting with a lot of hands-on experience. During the show we're really, really hands-on. It's all about getting kids and teens to learn how to make comics. [Local cartoonist] Matt Feazell has his wonderful 'How To Make A Mini Comic' 90-minute workshop, which is so great, and there are other things that are geared towards different levels of ability. Some are geared towards storytelling, but one of the great revelations about doing these workshops is that kids are not inhibited about drawing. They just go ahead and do it.

"We're very much focused on hands-on workshops, and we also have programming that fits into the category of 'spectacle.' So if you're shy or somewhat inhibited, you can sit in an audience and watch artists compete with each other as they draw improvisationally. You can even shout out suggestions for what they can draw. And it always turns out that the kids that moms and dads think are inhibited get really into shouting out ideas for the cartoonists. We keep it fun, and there's a low barrier to participation."

That idea of an easy path into comics is what started the show now known as A2CAF. In 2009, the nonprofit called Kids Read Comics that runs the show launched their first event at the Chelsea District Library. And in 2016, the shift in name from Kids Read Comics to Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival represents a fulfillment of the team's mission. "I think the change in name means very, very little about [any kind of change in] the character of the show. It's an attempt to better state what we've been about all along," Mishkin explains.

For those curious about the festival's shift, the organizer explains that one key element of the previous iteration wasn't working. "Teenagers don't like being called 'kids.' With a distance from being a kid or a teenager myself, I failed to see that there was going to be an off-putting message in the word 'kids' for some of the people we really wanted to bring into the show. It was never our intention to say that teenagers shouldn't be involved. It was very much our intention that they should be there. They should be there to find really cool stuff, but if the name pushes them away, that's a big problem.

"The word 'Festival' instead of 'Convention' means you're not thinking about more 'adult' comics. You're thinking about joy."

Kiel Phegley is an Ann Arbor based writer, and teacher. His work has been published by CBR, Wizard Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Marvel Magazines, MTV Blogs, and many other print and web outlets.

A2CAF takes place at the AADL's main branch at 343 Fifth Avenue on Saturday, June 18 from 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM and on Sunday, June 19 from 12:30 to 5:30 PM. For more info on the show and Friday's A2Inkubate conference, check out

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #601: Spotlight on Australian Fiction


Relativity by Antonia Hayes

In Antonia Hayes' debut novel Relativity, nerdy, bookish and a ready target for bullies, 12 year-old Ethan Forsythe is obsessed with physics and astronomy. Raised by Claire, a single-mother who gave up her career as a ballerina, Ethan is increasing curious about his father whose identity Claire refuses to disclose.

When a seizure sends Ethan to the hospital, they discover his remarkable abilities might be related to a previous brain injury suffered as an infant that sent his father, Mark to prison. Meanwhile, Mark, who tries to rebuild his life in the far-reaches of Western Australia, is back in Sydney, to attend to his dying father who is asking to see Ethan, his only grandson. When Ethan secretly intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he unleashes long-suppressed forces that—like gravity—pull the three together again, testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

"With a heart-wrenching plot and a style reminiscent of Jodi Picoult, this is an excellent novel with deep characterization and powerful imagery.” -Library Journal

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

2014 winner of the Colin Roderick Award, and set in the remote coastal town of Thirroul at the end of WWII, The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is the story of Anikka "Ani" Lachlan, a transplant from Scotland who is trying desperately to make a home for herself and her 11 year-old daughter Isabelle.

After her husband, the railway-man Mac(kenzie) was killed in an accident while on the job, Ani was given the job as the librarian in the railway's lending library. Returning to settle at Thirroul are Roy McKinnon and Dr. Frank Draper, childhood friends who for years, have vacationed at this idyllic spot with their families. McKinnon, a published poet has lost his words from his battlefield experience; while Draper who could not reconcile with his inability to save the 550 prisoners in one of Hitler's concentration camps, has turned bitter and sardonic. They soon find refuge in the library, and gradually a friend in Ani.

Over the course of a year, with Ani as his muse, Roy manages to write again. His first poem is an anonymous offering to Ani, who mistakes it for a hidden birthday gift from Mac. Despite the promise of a new publisher, Roy's despondency grows as Ani never acknowledges the gift. Frank fares better, being taken in hand by Roy's patient and take-charge sister, Iris.

"Multilayered, graceful, couched in poetry, supremely honest, gentle yet jarring, Hay’s thought-provoking novel pulls you along slowly, like a deep river that is deceptively calm but full of hidden rapids. Much to ponder." -Kirkus Reviews

Readers interested in the Australian setting might enjoy (the film adaptation of) Peter Carey's Oscar & Lucinda; the winner of the 2001 Orange Prize - The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville; The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (a soon-to-be released feature film); and Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany.

Preview: 2016 Allied Media Conference: Holistic Solutions for a More Just and Creative World

Preview: 2016 Allied Media Conference: Holistic Solutions for a More Just and Creative World.

The awesomely expansive 2016 Allied Media Conference will be held in Detroit this year and aims to “bring together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change: filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists.” The content of the conference is diverse too, including workshops, shows, and dance parties.

I interviewed Morgan Willis, Program Director of the AMC, about what we can expect from this year’s conference.

Q: You talk about AMC as a collaboratively-designed conference. Can you give a sense of the number and scope of collaborators who have worked on this year's event?
A: The Allied Media Conference is created each year through the passionate contributions of hundreds of coordinators, presenters, and volunteers. The AMC organizing process has been developed from an iterative cycle of feedback and learning between AMC participants and organizers. Through trial and error, survey and response, the organizing process is a continuous work in progress.

This year we have 60+ volunteer coordinators of the 28 different tracks, practice spaces, and network gatherings at the conference. We also have approximately 10 full time and part time staff members that work on the conference, as well as an advisory board of nine intergenerational, long-time AMC participants. We share the conference organizing process through our zines “How We Organize the AMC” and the “AMC Presenter Guidelines.”

Q: Who do you hope to see at AMC?
A: The AMC is a conference that is excited to center participants who live at the margins of conventional conference spaces: immigrants, youth, elders, black and brown folks, queer folks, parents, and others, while remaining open to our vast network of participants across all identities and spectrums. We hope to see first time AMCers, returning participants, Detroiters and media-makers from all over the continent.

Q: How does being situated in Detroit influence the conference?
A: This year will be the AMC’s 10th anniversary of being held in Detroit! Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions. Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each of the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them to the conference. Detroiters are also a significant percentage of our coordinators, participants, presenters and attendees.

Our offsite tours and field trips allow participants to see a variety of grassroots media-based organizing initiatives and experience different parts of the city that they may not know about or have access to. One of the most popular tours that is back this year is “From Growing Our Economy to Growing Our Souls” which explores Detroit history and emerging visionary organizing, led by Rich Feldman of the Boggs Center. Other tours will explore urban farming, “green” infrastructure, the Motown United Sound Recording Studio, and more unique places and initiatives in Detroit.

Q: Any tips for navigating the conference for newbies? How about return visitors?
A: As the AMC continues to grow, we hope to ensure that it is a welcoming space for first timers while also cultivating the intimacy and network building that many returning AMCers value so much. This year we will be offering “homeroom” sessions for first timers, hosted by returning AMCers who will help orient first timers to the AMC and offer best practices for navigating through the conference. We will also be sharing a list of “10 Things to Know as an AMC First Timer” on our website ( so stay tuned!

One thing we always emphasize to both newbies and returning visitors is to plan your schedule in advance. We just released the online schedule and we highly recommend that attendees read through the 250+ sessions to get a feeling for what you’re most interested in before you arrive. This will also help you identify people and organizations you’d like to connect with so you can grow your network and build long lasting relationships.

Q: What are you personally looking forward to in this year's conference?
A: The Opening Ceremony is always a highlight! This year, through a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts museum, we will host the Opening Ceremony inside the beautiful Detroit Film Theater, which has double the capacity of our previous venue. The event is produced by Tunde Olaniran and will bring together performers, activists, and live music as a celebration of the powerful wave of creative movement-building happening across the country.

I’m also especially excited to see the evolution of workshops from last year into tracks (series of multiple workshops) this year, like the “Black Death Mixtape” session, which has expanded into the “Black Survival Mixtape” track. And I love the return of tracks and network gatherings focused on important topics such as climate resilience and disability justice.

We will also be hosting several community dinners this year, which are a way for attendees to meet and connect over affordable, delicious, and locally sourced food. I’m especially looking forward to the Saturday night community dinner, “Bil Afiya: A Community Feast” at Cass Corridor Commons!

Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The 18th Allied Media Conference takes place June 16 - 19, 2016. AMC offers housing, registration, childcare information, and more online. Registration is on a sliding scale from $75-$500.