Jane Austen once said, “There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.”
But Ann Arbor-area fans of Ms. Austen have no reason to stay home these days as local booksellers and libraries are honoring the bicentennial of the author’s death with book readings, workshops, and events celebrating the beloved author and her work.
“I’m going to have my own experience of whatever writing is.” --Rebecca Biber
On Saturday, Jan. 13, at Bookbound Bookstore, Rebecca Biber read from debut poetry collection, Technical Solace. Her longtime friend Roy Sexton emceed the event. They know each other mostly through theater, where Biber often performs musical accompaniment for local shows. Sexton introduced her, listing some of Biber's accomplishments, but lingering over her musical talents. This was a fitting way to begin since Biber’s relationship to music is the first doorway into her work.
The inspiration for his hero’s name comes from his nephew and ancestral home. His love for thrillers comes from his father and brothers. And being an architect leads to a unique and intriguing writing style. These influences all lead to the successful Nolan Kilkenny series by bestselling author Tom Grace.
The first Kilkenny book, Spyder Web, is a thriller that launched the former NAVY seal protagonist into a pursuit of modern day pirates who stole intelligence programs from the CIA -- the titular SPYDER program. Book six of the Kilkenny saga, Undeniable, finds the hero involved in a race against time to find a cure for a young boy suffering from a genetic disease. Genetic testing shows that the boy, adopted in a “blind” adoption, and Kilkenny have the same biological father. This revelation thrusts Kilkenny into the world of reproductive technology of clones, stem cells, DNA -- and blackmail.
Jessica Shattuck says that it wasn’t a big secret in her family. She always knew her grandparents were “ordinary Germans” during and before tWorld War II. “But in my late teens, I grasped that they had also enthusiastically joined the Nazi party in the late 1930s,” Sattuck said. Learning this family history from her grandmother prompted Shattuck to begin writing what became her new book, The Women in the Castle, which she'll read from, discuss, and sign at Nicola's Books on Friday, Jan. 12.
The list below is a collection of books, music, movies, and more that made an impression on our eyes and ears in 2017.
What does having an amazing university, a plethora of fantastic local independent bookstores, and a pretty slam-bang public library system (if we do say so ourselves) bring to a town?
Authors. Lots and lots of authors.
In fact, so many authors pass through the area that sometimes it can be hard to keep track of who is speaking and when and where. To help guide you, Pulp curated a highlights list of January 2018 author events.
On Dec. 7 at Literati, Richard Retyi read from his new book, The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History, which tells 41 townie tales in a humorous, accessible fashion.
But Retyi didn't originally set out to write a book. His project began as a podcast, Ann Arbor Stories, which Retyi produces with Brian Peters in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library. (Retyi recently became the marketing and communications manager at AADL.) The podcast was modeled after another audio show, Memory Palace.
Poems Provoke: U-M's Institute for Research on Women and Gender discussed Petra Kuppers’ "PearlStitch"
The cover of Petra Kuppers’ PearlStitch is provocative. It draws the eye and keeps it as the viewer takes in an open mouth and an extended lace-covered tongue with a bead of clear fluid at its tip. Her poetry is provocative, too, and after the Nov. 29 panel of University of Michigan faculty members discussing PearlStitch as a part of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender’s "Gender: New Works, New Questions" series, I knew I wanted to dive into Kuppers’ latest collection. But I wasn't unable to put my hands on a copy of the book following the reading as Ann Arbor bookstores were sold out.
The end of pregnancy is a strange time. You wait for the biggest change that can happen to a person other than death and yet, for most, you don’t know when the change will happen.
When will the baby be born? When will a woman become a mother?
When I was pregnant with my son, I read the title essay of A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother by Anna Prushinskaya probably 15 times. It became almost a talisman to me, a promise that he would eventually be born, that I would be able to cross over to motherhood.
When my water broke just like Anna described in her essay, unexpectedly and fast, I still had no idea what was coming. I was still perched between womanhood and motherhood.
In A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother, Prushinskaya writes beautifully about her experience balancing between places, between states: between pregnancy and motherhood, and between her Soviet homeland and her current home of Ann Arbor.
I spoke with Prushinskaya about her experience writing the book, how motherhood has changed her as a writer, and the birth of her second son. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Your essay “Uncertainty: Or a Woman Is a Woman, and Then Sometimes She Is a Mother” meant so much to me as I was preparing for the birth of my son. The description of your house shifting after your son’s unexpected home birth sticks with me -- it encompasses so much that is heartbreaking and wonderful about birth. You also had your second child at home, right? How did that change the feel of your house?
A: I’m so happy to hear that reading that essay was helpful -- one of the wonderful things about publishing these essays has been getting the chance to hear more birth stories and other experiences related to pregnancy, birth, motherhood (or not). I did end up having my second son at home, too. I don’t think I will ever feel the same about school buses! I live by a school, and right around the time my second son was born, I could see the school buses lining up through the windows. Now around that time if I’m home, I’m taken back to the birth, even if for a moment.
Q: One of the most profound changes that I went through after giving birth was a sudden, almost painful, tenderness, as though I had lost all of my armor. I’m so impressed with your ability to stay articulate in your writing through the postpartum emotional landscape. Was that difficult?
A: Actually, the experience of writing this felt similar to my experience of growing a baby and giving birth, in that I also sort of felt like a portal for the writing. Writing this book, the writing just sort of flowed, and I haven’t experienced that kind of creative energy since. So, it was surprisingly easy to get the pages written in that way, although I agree with you, for me the postpartum emotional openness was also wild. The more difficult aspect of working on this book was being more open with the world about my experiences, and I doubt I would have been able to write this book and allow for that kind of openness without the context I was writing in. (Though I don’t think pregnancy and birth exclusively allow for this kind of experience -- I imagine other trying and transformative life experiences can carry the same kind of energy.)
Q: Your book includes photographs between each essay. What made you decide to include these?
A: MG Press, my publisher, also puts out a journal called Midwestern Gothic, in which the work of Midwestern photographers is featured alongside writing. My publisher suggested that I have a look through the MG photos for possible interstitials for the book. I had been thinking about how to create pauses between the essays, and I wanted the pauses to invoke a similar feeling of an imprint in time. So I found the images sort of serendipitously within the MG photo collection.
Q: What has been the most surprising way that motherhood has changed you as a writer?
A: I’m not sure if it’s a direct correlation, but becoming a mom made me want to have more direct impact through my writing. For example, I wanted to learn more about the 1,4-dioxane pollution here in our area and ended up writing some stories on the issue about one year after my first son was born.
Q: The last essay in the book takes the form of a short play. What made you chose to write it this way, and why did you pick this piece to end the book?
A: I mention the 36 questions to love study in the book, the study I came across in The New York Times, which “explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions.” I was thinking about my relationship with the baby, who felt sort of like a stranger though I was already in love with him, and I was also with the baby for long stretches of time, which I remember as feeling very strange at first. So, that’s the inspiration for that piece. I liked that piece as the end because for me motherhood creates more questions than answers.
Q: You mention a wide variety of writers throughout this book. Is there a book or author that you return to over and over again?
A: Yes, definitely! I have a few that I have returned to a couple of times, including many of the authors I mention throughout the book. Right now the book I am re-reading is Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Anna Prushinskaya will do a quick Michigan book tour for "A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother" in spring 2018, kicking off at Literati around early April.
“This is a lot of people for a poetry reading," said writer Cal Freeman. "I’ve read for three people before.” On Nov. 11, Michigan poet Freeman read from his new book, Fight Songs, at Literati bookstore. The crisp November evening seemed perfect for listening to regionally focused poetry as the temperature made its way downward.
Freeman is the kind of poet I would have spent a semester in a creative writing class peeking at over a copy of the latest student work being workshopped. He’s tall, though not quite lanky, and was dressed in mostly gray. I wouldn’t describe his look as rumpled, but the word crossed my mind. Very Midwestern.