Detroit is many things to many people. Ken Meisel’s poetry collection Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit outlines these many views through substantial narrative poems that tell stories about the city. The wide-ranging poems examine specific places in the city, people such as its famous musicians, and historical events, including riots, the World Series, and Devil’s Night.
The collection opens with a poem called “Detroit River, January, 1996” that sets the scene for both the book and its perspectives of the city: “River on this coal-blasted shore, / River whose name now starts with a fist, / ends its knees in St. Lawrence.” The poem concludes with an emphasis on the river’s persistence, “River of sunken beer bottles, churn on,” just as the place will carry on through time and everything that has happened there.
The poet peers at the various scenes and underbelly of the city, not overlooking the rough edges, as the poem, “The Gift of the ‘Gratia Creata,’” with a note setting its location in “Hamtramck, MI” declares:
Streets of Your Town: Jeff Vande Zande’s new short story collection focuses on "The Neighborhood Division"
In the neighborhoods, streets, homes, rooms, and basements of author Jeff Vande Zande’s new short story collection, The Neighborhood Division, people live out their lives, their relationships, and their struggles.
Yet, something is always a little unsettled. A car that follows a character on his run, with threats emerging from the driver. The paranoia of being mugged haunts a female character. A man lives shackled in the basement, unbeknownst to the residents. A neighborhood, where no outsiders are supposed to come in, restricts its residents under the guise of making lives better for them.
These stories peer into the disarray of lives behind the four walls that they call home and also question the character’s choices. In the story called “That Which We Are,” a widower reflects on his marriage. His wife used to save money during the year so that she could give it to people in need during the holidays. Yet, he coveted the money for household expenses and splurges, like a television. He reconsiders:
From the Fifth Estate to Ann Arbor: Harvey Ovshinsky's new memoir recalls his agitating and publishing days in Detroit
Ann Arbor’s Harvey Ovshinsky faced a problem when he settled in to write his memoir, Scratching the Surface: Adventures in Storytelling.
“I sat down with Kathryn [Wildfong] at Wayne State University Press, and she said, ‘Oh, my God, Harvey, there are three or four different books in here. You’ve got to pick one,’” Ovshinsky said. “I have all these dots and I really felt the need to connect them, and I knew I could. … What they all had in common was my need to scratch the surface. And that’s when [the book] came together.”
The book's focus was originally a puzzle to solve because Ovshinsky is a lifelong restless spirit.
With drama and humor, U-M professor Peter Ho Davies’ new novel follows a family through marriage, pregnancy, and parenting
Family life has come into greater focus this last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. School online. Work from home. Everyone in your immediate family in the same space.
Well beyond our one-year plus some of staying at home during this health crisis, Peter Ho Davies' new novel, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, sounds the depths of marriage, parenthood, and family life over many years. Davies, a faculty member at the University of Michigan, does not shy away from the pains and discomforts brought about by such arrangements, but his book also does not bypass the humor and little joys. Told in third person with the characters identified only by their roles of father, mother, and boy, readers may feel like they are on the outside looking in at the characters’ lives. Yet it’s an inside view, like a fly on the wall rather than peering through a window. The narrator homes in on the father’s perspective especially.
Early on, challenges with a first pregnancy force a crushing decision, one that the characters process and must live with for the rest of the book. The fallout and emotions thread throughout the parents’ lives and their reflections on raising their second child. While we learn that the mother is coping through therapy, the father takes another approach of volunteering at an abortion clinic. As the father considers his earlier experience, the narrator describes:
Ann Arbor native David Blixt discovered a cache of long lost novels by journalist-adventurer Nellie Bly
In December 2019, while researching a novel series based on the life of journalist Nellie Bly, Ann Arbor native David Blixt—a Greenhills and EMU grad who’s now a Chicago-based theater artist and writer—made an astonishing discovery.
“At that point, my office was right next to the kitchen, and Jan [Blixt, David’s wife, and the producing artistic director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival] was in the kitchen late in the afternoon that day,” said Blixt. “I was going, ‘Honey, this can’t be real. This can’t possibly be real. … Surely everybody knows about this, right?’”
Wrong. Blixt, following what seemed an unlikely-but-possible hunch, had stumbled upon 12 long-lost serialized novels that Bly wrote after her famous trip around the world concluded in 1890.
Born Elizabeth Cochrane in 1864 in Pittsburgh, Bly got her pseudonym from her first newspaper editor, who named her after a popular 1850 song by Stephen Foster. Scholars and biographers have long known that Bly wrote fiction for publisher Norman Munro’s New York Family Story Paper—she’d signed a lucrative, three year $40,000 contract—but few to no copies of that publication have survived, so Bly’s fiction has largely been lost to time for well over a century.
Caroline Kim's characters in "The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories" ask what is most important in life
A woman loses a child and yet she helps another, Suyon, pregnant with a baby rumored to not be by her husband, give birth. Then, with war breaking out in Korea, the woman meets an American, marries him, and moves to the United States. There, she finds herself engaging in animal husbandry and applies the same tactics she did with her acquaintance:
You get good at birthing horses and people send for you when they have difficult cases, mares too frightened and in pain to calm down, to do what is good for them.
You whisper the same nonsense you told Suyon: that they are beautiful and perfect and doing everything just right. Everyone, everything in the world loves them.
This woman’s dedication and strength to carry on through these significant changes in the short story “Arirang" attest to the resilient characters in The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories by Caroline Kim. It also shows how universal and necessary that encouragement and support can be, something we all need.
Kim’s stories in her new collection ask what is most important in life, with the options ranging from fortune or pride to family, truth, connection, and expressions of love. When a woman breaks down in “Magdalena,” a mother and daughter who attend the same church try to help, despite not wanting to be associated with her. They grapple with whether to address the woman’s dire situation or to judge the woman and try to distance themselves. As the mother tells her daughter about the woman:
U-M Zell visiting prof Sumita Chakraborty’s "Arrow" displays the poet's exploration of words' contradictory meanings
Going into reading Sumita Chakraborty’s debut poetry collection, Arrow, it’s not a secret that the book follows traumatic experiences. As she describes in “Sumita Chakraborty on writing Arrow,” which was shared with me by the publisher, Alice James Books:
Much of this book resides in a range of aftermaths: in the aftermath of the severe and prolonged domestic violence I experienced as a child and adolescent; in the aftermath of sexual violence; in the aftermath of my sister’s death; in the aftermath of breakups; in the griefs and anxieties that follow in the aftermaths of unending sociopolitical events; in the aftermath of unending ecological devastations.
Knowing this informs but does not explain the poems in Arrow, but it sets the stage for the intense emotions and scenes depicted in them.
Misfortune & No Wealth: Soul band The 24-Carat Black was discovered in Ann Arbor and recorded its 1973 underground classic in Ypsi
The long-running 33 1/3 book series devotes each volume to the study of one classic album’s creation, impact and essence, and recent entry number 152 concerns an album made in Ypsilanti nearly 50 years ago. Author Zach Schonfeld relates the messy tale of quixotic ambition that birthed an album unknown but not unheard, commercially unsuccessful but the backbone of big hits for other artists: The 24-Carat Black's Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth.
Released by Stax Records in 1973, the album was the brainchild of Detroit native Dale Warren, a classically trained violinist who began his career arranging songs for Motown before migrating south to the funkier climes of Memphis. Employed by Stax, Warren’s talent for conducting helped build the lush, string-cushioned vibes of Isaac Hayes’ most iconic works along with other classic records of the R&B/soul label’s late era.
Warren composed his own ambitious set of socially conscious songs with the aim of producing a concept album about inner-city poverty, so he scouted for talent. At a University of Michigan frat party he discovered a nine-piece band of high school kids from Ohio with chops beyond their years. The band was re-christened The 24-Carat Black, an album deal was secured from Stax, and they headed for the legendary Morgan Sound studio in Ypsilanti to make a record.
Three essays fill Saturation Project, a new book by Christine Hume, a professor at Eastern Michigan University. Described as a lyric memoir, the text obliquely depicts various moments, ranging from Hume’s childhood to interactions with her daughter.
In the first essay, “Atalanta,” first-person accounts about personal thoughts, family, and a daughter intermingle with Greek mythology and examinations of feral kids raised by bears. Wanderings in the woods and through memories merge with ancient stories and animals in such a way that the distinctions between them blur, as Hume elaborates:
I read the story of Atalanta as if I were swallowing it, but it swallows me. Then I tell it to my daughter because I don’t have a childhood I can tell her about yet. I steal Atalanta’s, which is like mine in that the most longed for moments are inaudible.
It’s as if the essays are a way of remembering, but recollections are transposed, taking inspiration from other places.
Phil Christman traverses time, politics, and culture in his nonfiction essay collection "Midwest Futures"
This story was originally published on February 6, 2020.
What words come to mind when you think of the Midwest?
You may think about its geography, the middleness, or its position and moniker as the heartland with farming and small towns.
You might look at a map to see the 12 Midwestern states (from east to west): Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.
Perhaps you reflect on its seeming representativeness of American life. Or you study its history containing the displacement of indigenous peoples, manufacturing, and struggling economies.
Myriad ways, even contradictory ones, coincide to describe and understand the Midwest. Writer Phil Christman navigates them in his new book, Midwest Futures, a wide-ranging set of 36 brief essays organized in six sections. Part criticism and part descriptive essay, this nonfiction collection likewise exists as many things at once and navigates assorted perceptions, politics, history, literature, cultures, and pop culture of the Midwest.