You've probably never heard of the American Plan. It isn't something that is talked about in most college history classes or in high schools’ curricula. The name sounds benign at first glance -- maybe it was a plan to help Americans overcome some obstacle or temporary setback in life?
Except it wasn't.
The American Plan allowed local municipalities, law enforcement, and health agencies to round up women suspected of having sexually transmitted infections (STIs), assumed to be prostitutes, or just considered “promiscuous” and throw them in jail to "treat" them. The women rarely received the benefit of due process and were often imprisoned for years, exploited and subject to abuse.
In his poems, Keith Taylor draws attention to what you might not notice and highlights its character and depth. In doing so, he does what identifying things by name achieves for him: helps us see and know living things, moments, scenes.
When he was working on a collection of poems, Marginalia for a Natural History, in his own form of eight nine-syllable lines, he serendipitously encountered a damselfly with a nine-syllable name. It was not just any insect but the ebony jewel-winged damselfly.
His personal discovery was in line with his view of writing poetry as a demand of gods in whom he doesn’t really believe. “Those gods again. They’re out there. They give you these things,” he said at the “Exit Interview with Keith Taylor and Cody Walker” event at Literati Bookstore on Friday, April 20. The event celebrated Taylor’s retirement from the University of Michigan this spring.
When the NASA spacecraft New Horizons did a Pluto driveby at 32,000 MPH on July 14, 2015, it was the first close-up view we had of our solar system’s most distant planet.
And yes, it's a full-blown planet, despite what you may have heard on Aug. 24, 2006, when Pluto was reclassified by astronomers as a “dwarf planet.”
Please do not try to tell planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern otherwise.
“What the astronomers did was really a travesty; planetary scientists don’t buy that b.s.,” said Stern, whose new book, Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, recounts the spacecraft mission he led, which provided unprecedented photos and information about the Milky Way's tiny trouper. (He will be at AADL’s downtown branch on Thursday, May 10, at 7 pm.)
“We know what planets are, and if you go to planetary science meetings, Pluto is called a planet every single day,” Stern said. “Don’t follow what the astronomers do any more than if I tried to classify black holes as a non-expert. But the journalists who lapped it up in 2006, if that would have happened in the ‘90s, there would have never been a mission.”
The internet shows us the good, the bad, and the horrific of human nature.
You can find every kind of hate group imaginable, people telling other people to kill themselves, tweets that destroy your soul. It can be easy to forget that most people are good; it sometimes makes you want to throw your computer into the Huron River, rip the router out of the cabinet, and live under a tinfoil hat.
But every now and then something phenomenal happens.
Something like the thing that happened to Ann Arbor's Common Language Bookstore this past month.
Dr. Irene Butter’s entire life has been dedicated to caring for others -- as a professor, a humanitarian, a storyteller. While serving as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Butter spent 30 years visiting schoolchildren to tell them her tale.
"I found out that the way students relate to me is that they have experiences in their own lives when they lost a parent or grandparent or their parents divorced or suffered illnesses … they really identify with my stories and that is what is rewarding to me."
And what a story it is, now in print: Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story. (Butter will be at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on May 8.)
And if it weren’t for Kehinde Wiley, the prolific black painter most recently in the news for his portrait of President Barack Obama, there’s a chance that this event wouldn’t have happened.
The cover of Silencer prominently featured one of Wiley’s paintings, which is what drew AADL staff member and program host Sean Copeland to the book as he was working at the library. Copeland, not a poetry superfan, took the book home, read the work, and knew that others should experience it. (Read Copeland's interview with Wicker here.)
Over 30 people attended the Friday night event on what turned out to be the first spring-like day Ann Arbor had seen in a while. Wicker, in fact, remarked on that saying to the crowd, “It’s a Friday and you came here to see poetry. You could be on a lawn somewhere drinking beer.” (Video of the event coming soon.)
Marcus Wicker's poetry doesn’t mince words. He keeps it real.
Mixing hip-hop rhymes with poetic prose, Wicker's books deal with tough topics such as racism, classism, and police brutality -- subjects American society swiftly tries to hide from. Wicker, an Ann Arbor native, challenges those in power with every phrase he puts on the page.
A Pushcart Prize winner and two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, Wicker received fellowships from Ruth Lilly and Cave Canem to name a few and has written articles that have appeared in The Nation, Oxford American, and Boston Review. He currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Memphis and is the poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review.
All accolades aside, the most impressive things about Wicker are his ability to call readers to action and his ability to mix modern communication and hard-hitting wit within his work. He even injects humor as a great contrast to the serious topics.
"Self Portrait with the Ashes of My Baby Blanket":
Ashes because she set fire to it in the burn barrel.
Leave her alone, with your newfangledness.
I was a clingy, fearful thumb-sucker, and she knew I needed reinventing.
She tore it away and I screamed and she burned it.
Begone, soft, pale yellow. She knew if I kept it I’d stumble over it
The rest of my life, how far I would travel without it,
And how many strange birds I would trap
in the story of its burning.
At a Literati reading this past Friday, poet and professor Laura Kasischke introduced Diane Seuss by reading one of her poems, “Self Portrait with the Ashes of my Baby Blanket.” The poem centers on Seuss’ mother, who is an important figure in her new book of poems, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. The first and last poem, "I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise” and “I Climbed Out of the Painting Called Paradise,” introduce the reader to a heavenly, creative world that Seuss is able to inhabit but one that her mother, who is not a writer, cannot. Seuss “leaves” the painting to rejoin her family at the end of the book.
As an archivist, Pat Thomas is focused on letting the subject speak or sing unadulterated. So, whether it's working on album reissues for the Light in the Attic label and others, or writing about the Black Panthers and other political movements, Thomas wants voices and ideas to be presented as the artists and activists intended.
Thomas' latest search for the truth is Did It! From Yippie To Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary, which follows his other graphics-heavy book for Fantagraphics, Listen, Whitey!: The Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975.
When Michael Gustafson, co-owner of Literati Bookstore with his wife, Hilary, put a typewriter out for public use in the basement of the store, he wasn’t sure what would come of it.
"There was no concrete plan,” he says. “It was more of an experiment.”
Literati’s logo features a typewriter based on a Smith Corona that Gustafson inherited from his grandfather, and he decided it would be fun to give customers the chance to use a typewriter when they visited the store.
He had no idea it would be as popular as it is.