Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes: Chef and U-M alum Abra Berens offers recipes and social context for them in her new book, "Grist"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Abra Berens and her book Grist

When you start paying closer attention to a food or beverage, you notice more details among different types or brands. Experts who focus on wine or coffee, for example, are able to discuss the nuances and tasting notes of unique varieties.

But those aren’t the only foods and drinks that foodies and cooks can get to know on a deep level.

Abra Berens, a chef, author, former farmer, and U-M alum, brings this level of attention to beans, grains, legumes, and seeds in her new cookbook and guide, Grist. She writes about how her interest in grains took root:

Utah poet laureate and U-M grad Paisley Rekdal considers the implications of cultural appropriation in literature in "Appropriate: A Provocation"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Paisley Rekdal and her book Appropriate

Paisley Rekdal examines cultural appropriation in literature in her new nonfiction book, Appropriate: A Provocation. However, this collection is not essays, as one might expect. 

Instead, Appropriate consists of letters addressed to a student who is a new writer, and this structure offers a different, more conversational, and inquisitive tone. This recipient is not based on any specific person but inspired by many students and colleagues. The letters refer to the student as X. 

Early on, the first letter defines the subject of cultural appropriation as being about identity. It is also, “an evolving conversation we must have around privilege and aesthetic fashion in literary practice.” Rekdal’s examples of the issue—both positive and negative, including hoaxes in which authors pretend to have another identity—demonstrate how important attention to the topic is.

Rekdal offers ways to understand, analyze, and navigate cultural appropriation. Rekdal asks many questions and also offers a list of them for evaluating one’s own work to let the reader consider what their answers are, too. She includes her own experiences from teaching, participating in conversations, and writing appropriative works herself. 

You might be wondering whether cultural appropriation should just be off-limits, but Rekdal brings a more nuanced view, one that acknowledges some literature as effective and other literature as harmful. She writes to X, “When we write books that appropriate the experiences and identities of other people, X, we enter into the system in which we all participate but over which we individually have very little control.” This issue is so risky that Rekdal anticipates this question of “Do you opt-out?” The matter cannot be distilled so simply, though, because Rekdal offers instances when authors successfully write other identities than their own.

The question then becomes about what factors contribute to literature that engages in cultural appropriation working or not working. The answer changes, in part, based on the current moment in history and politics, notes Rekdal:

AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Homepage

AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Homepage

This is the fifth year we've compiled Ann Arbor District Library staff picks, featuring tons of recommendations for books, films, TV shows, video games, websites, apps, and more.

The picks are always an epic compilation of good taste, and last year's post was more than 35,000 words—incinerating phone data plans and overheating computers as the massive page loaded.

In a sincere effort to keep your electronics from catching fire, we've split up the hundreds of selections into four categories:

➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Words
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Screens
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Audio
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Pulp Life

And since we've saved your phones and laptops from the flames, tell us what you enjoyed this past year in the comments section below—doesn't need to be something that came out in 2021, just some kind of art, culture, or entertainment that you experienced over the prior 12 months.

 

AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Pulp Life

WRITTEN WORD

AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Pulp Life

➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Homepage
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Words
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Screens
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Audio

AADL 2021 STAFF PICS: PULP LIFE
Games, apps, sports, outdoors, and any other kind of hard-to-categorize cultural and life activities:

 

AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Words

WRITTEN WORD

AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Words

➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Homepage
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Screens
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Audio
➥ AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Pulp Life 

AADL 2021 STAFF PICS: WORDS
Books, audiobooks, graphic novels, comics, websites, and more:

Ann Arbor writer Zilka Joseph shares two poems and an excerpt from her new book, "In Our Beautiful Bones"

WRITTEN WORD

Zilka Joseph and her book In Our Beautiful Bones

Zilka Joseph resides in Ann Arbor, but the poet's work is inspired by her Indian and Bene Israel roots and traversing Eastern and Western cultures.

Her latest book, In Our Beautiful Bones, was published this fall by Mayapple Press. It was nominated for a PEN America award and a Pushcart, and it's been entered for a Michigan Notable Book award: 

In Our Beautiful Bones traces various stages in the poet’s journey as an immigrant from India who makes a new life in the US, and her encounters with racism and otherness. In it she explores her Bene Israel roots, the origins of her ancestors, her life in Kolkata, the influences of British rule and a missionary education, her growing knowledge of what racism and marginalization means, how Indians and Indian culture is perceived and represented. While delving unflinchingly into the violence and global impact of colonialism, the weaponization of the English Language, the evils of tyranny and white supremacy, and the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere, she creates powerful collages from mythology, folklore, fairy tales, Scripture, world cultures, literature, music, food, and current events. Traditional and experimental forms, historical information, sensory riches, wit and word play, and an unwavering and clear voice make this book a compelling read. In Our Beautiful Bones is a multi-layered, sharply ironic and sometimes pathos-filled critique of the world, and at the same time it is visionary and a triumph of the human spirit.

We asked Joseph if we could publish a poem from In Our Beautiful Bones and she was kind enough to send us two poems and "two short extracts from a long and significant collage poem. I chose these three as I think they offer a glimpse of various complex aspects of my book," she said in an email.

Also, Joseph spoke with Nancy Naomi Carlson and Nawaaz Ahmed (who we interviewed recently) about In Our Beautiful Bones on October 6 as part of Literati's At Home series and we've included that video below as well as three previous Pulp pieces on the poet.

Factsheets, Funny Folks & Freaks: Christopher Becker recalls his DIY days in the '80s and '90s zine scene

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Factsheet Five issue 54

This essay is related to the Ann Arbor District Library exhibition "'Sorry This Issue Is Late...': A Retrospective of Zines From the '80s and '90s," written by curator Christopher Becker, former editor of Factsheet Five and now a library technician at AADL.

Let me start at the end.

I was living in San Francisco in one small room of a shared apartment. Piles and piles of zines—self-made, usually photocopied publications—surrounded my bed and computer so that they were the first and last thing I looked at every day.

And every day there were more, threatening to spill into the narrow walkway I had created in the room.

I worked at Factsheet Five, a magazine that printed reviews and contact information for over 1000 zines every issue, and a year earlier I had taken over the day-to-day operations of the magazine and moved it to my bedroom.

In the mornings, I rode my bike to the post office to pick up the mail, sometimes up to 50 pounds. Through a combination of multiple messenger bags, panniers, and bungee cords, I brought the mail back, looking like an overburdened caricature of a tuktuk driver from Thailand. All the mail—the zines, so many zines, the letters, the issue requests and subscriptions, the packages of books and CDs, had to be sorted and then the day’s work began: reviewing.

It was a dream come true to work at Factsheet Five and I’m sure I’ll never have such a rare experience again in my life. It felt thrilling and important to be at the heart of so much creativity and live vicariously through all the lives of the zine publishers.

But lately, staying on top of the flood of zines and the reviews was overwhelming and I was exhausted.

I began to understand why Mike Gunderloy had left the magazine he had founded, why Hudson Luce had only published one issue after he got it, and why R. Seth Friedman, who then took over, had handed the daily operations to me after several years.

Race, Class & Miscegenation: Jean Alicia Elster fictionalizes family history in her new young adult novel, "How It Happens"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jean Alicia Elster and her book How It Happens

Jean Alicia Elster’s new young adult novel, How It Happens, chronicles the hardships and inequality faced by Black women from the late 1800s through 1950 and beyond. The story she tells has a personal note. It is the fictionalized account of three generations of Elster’s family, starting in Tennessee with maternal grandmother, Addie Jackson, and continuing in Detroit with her daughter, Dorothy May Ford, and granddaughter, Jean. 

The book begins with a prologue that defines “miscegenation,” meaning the marriage, sexual relation, or other intimate affiliation of a person who is white and someone of another race. This topic has a lasting effect on this family when a prominent white man becomes the father of Addie’s daughters. The events that happen to the characters illustrate how race and class work against the women of this family in those eras. 

May Ford describes how it happens to her daughter Jean: 

Ann Arbor's Linda Cotton Jeffries keeps readers in suspense with her new mystery novel, "Seeing in the Quiet"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Linda Cotton Jeffries and her book Seeing in the Quiet

Two suspected murders 20 years apart, one of a child and another the death of an old woman. An observant photographer who was a child at the scene of the first murder and documented the second. A killer with a grudge. A kind-hearted detective who is a growing love interest. 

These situations lay the foundation for Seeing in the Quiet, a new mystery novel by Ann Arbor author Linda Cotton Jeffries. At just under 200 pages, the plot-driven book moves quickly while the characters try to unravel what happened at each of the potential murders set in Pittsburgh. 

Main character Audrey Markum lives with hearing loss, but her sense of sight has sharpened to the point that Detective Rod Rodriguez calls her “Scout” when she is called in to photograph crime scenes. She also is launching her wedding photography business. One case of a suspicious death brings Rod and Audrey closer and closer. 

While all of this is happening, Gary Adams, the killer of his son who was the childhood friend of Audrey, is getting released from prison. He knows Audrey’s role in discovering his crime. Audrey finds herself facing multiple dizzying situations: the threat of a known killer, an unsolved murder, and the budding of a promising new romance. 

Jeffries has published two other books with AADL's Fifth Avenue Press. I interviewed her about Seeing in the Quiet and writing life. 

Nawaaz Ahmed’s characters in "Radiant Fugitives" grapple with identity amidst slow political progress and fallout from their personal choices 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Nawaaz Ahmed and his book Radiant Fugitives

What motivates us? What power do we have over the trajectory of our lives? How can people be so close and so far away from each other at the same time? 

These questions and many others linger as the story of a divided family and the people in their orbit unfolds in Radiant Fugitives. This first novel by Nawaaz Ahmed, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, is told by Ishraaq, who is the newborn baby of Seema, a mother estranged from her family for the choices she’s made. Ishraaq serves as a keen, omniscient observer who understands each person’s perspective and how we are all driven by love or fear or both. This unique position of the narrator shows the reader how each person contributes to events and the emotions surrounding them. 

Seema takes on many roles in her life, starting as her father’s star performer in poetry recitations and changing as she falls from his graces. She goes on to come out as a lesbian, work as a political activist, and then marry a man she meets at a protest. Amidst her experiences, the broader climate of political progress with Obama’s presidential election, Kamala Harris’ rise, and expressions of islamophobia emphasize identity politics. The whole time, she struggles to find her place and find acceptance, as Ishraaq narrates: