University of Michigan lecturer Jennifer Sperry Steinorth experimented with an erasure project, which became “Her Read: A Graphic Poem” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth and her book "Her Read: A Graphic Poem"

On the pages of Her Read: A Graphic Poem, author Jennifer Sperry Steinorth finds the imp, ocean, mother, pain, love, religion, and womxn. This book of erasure poetry simultaneously works as a graphic poem with artwork from the original text “radically altered” to make new visuals and word art. The source text, which is The Meaning of Art by Herbert Read, is obscured to varying degrees, sometimes visible very faintly under paint or Wite-Out while at other times incorporated into original artwork. 

Pages and lines take on new shapes as the poem is conjured from the existing words and letters. Early on, the poet describes an outlook, noting: 

An Ode for the Anthem: Mark Clague’s “O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner”

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Mark Clague and his book “O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of The Star Spangled Banner”

It seemed a little on the nose to be reading U-M associate professor Mark Clague’s new book, O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner, on the 4th of July—at U-M’s Camp Michigania, no less—but that’s nonetheless when and where I absorbed enough national anthem-themed information to sweep an entire Jeopardy! category.

Indeed, to say Clague is thorough in his research would be a gross understatement.

The Pleasure Principle: The characters in Lydia Conklin’s short story collection, “Rainbow Rainbow,” seek gratification and identity 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Lydia Conklin and her short story collection, “Rainbow Rainbow”

Characters in Lydia Conklin’s Rainbow Rainbow perch on the precipice of something—a decision, a change, the start or end of a relationship, or even the dangerous cliff above a quarry where people swim and occasionally fatally fall.

Each story in this collection probes personal boundaries and desires to see how far the characters will stretch and when they will run in another direction. Queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming identities inform these stories as well as the book title, which is not only the name one of the story but also an Easter egg in one of the other tales, which reveals the meaning of the appellation Rainbow Rainbow.

Conklin is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan and they will be an assistant professor of fiction at Vanderbilt University this fall. 

Throughout the large—and small—turning points the characters face, they seek out their own needs and endure the pain of loss or the fulfillment gained. When distance grows between lesbian partners living in Wyoming, one of them grasps the extent to which their connection has deteriorated because the other was secretly pursuing her passion. On recognizing the shift, the narrator shares, “The words sent a crack of pain down my neck. We’d drifted so far apart. I’d failed to recognize creative euphoria in my own partner, living beside me in the middle of nowhere for three months. What was wrong with me?”

The beginning of the end had already begun. 

Take Me to the "River": Former AADL staffer Shutta Crum discusses her latest book of poetry and her path from librarian to author

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Shutta Crum and her new book of poetry, The Way to the River

Shutta Crum worked for 24 years surrounded by books.

Now the former librarian at Ann Arbor District Library is adding to the stacks she used to stock, writing both children’s books and poetry.

When asked how librarianship connects with writing, Crum talked about how the job motivated her to become an author. “I knew I wanted a book of mine on those library shelves,” she said.

Crum's latest collection of poems, The Way to the River, navigates real and metaphorical waters, from looking for osprey where “Rainwater pelts river water” to recalling tumultuous moments when the poet asks someone terrorizing her, “what door you jimmied / to escape and machete through my memory.” The ever-present passage of time surges through these lines as Crum looks back and ahead. 

The Way to the River begins with the reflection “Why Poetry,” which shares a preface by Crum and her poems, “Aboutness” and “How Poetry Reframes the Moment.” Her depiction of poetry tells us, “Poems are mini stories, fleeting images, quick gestures of recognition and a lilt of music for the soul,” a statement that also aptly describes her poetry. The following poems in the book form the “colorful collage” that Crum sees in poetry. 

The Return of AADL's Fifth Avenue Press: Local authors celebrate the release of their books on May 22

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fifth Avenue Press logo

The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press, which started in 2017, helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost—from copyediting to cover design—and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books—print, digital, or audio—in whatever ways they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Fifth Avenue launches its fourth round of books on Sunday, May 22, with a book-release celebration from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown location, featuring author readings from many of the imprint's 10 new titles.

Click the book titles below to jump to interviews with the authors and illustrators:

Answer Me This: U-M lecturer Phil Christman explains it all in his new essay collection, “How to Be Normal” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Phil Christman photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography

Author photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography

Phil Christman takes on the problem of How to Be Normal in his new essay collection by interrogating broad categories of life. Like his earlier book, Midwest Futures, the essays are wide-ranging. For How to Be Normal, Christman tackles topics including “How to Be a Man,” “How to Be Religious,” and “How to Care.” Christman takes unexpected turns by bringing in references including Star Wars, Mark Fisher, and Marilynne Robinson. 

One of Christman’s essays, “How to Be Cultured (I): Bad Movies,” begins with a reflection on watching such films as a shared hobby his father. He analyzes Mystery Science Theater 3000, failings of adults seen through a child’s eyes, Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among others. The issues in the films can be generalized, as Christman writes:

Time is punctuated by motherhood, the pandemic, and a family rupture in poet Carmen Bugan’s new collection, "Time Being"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet Carmen Bugan and her book Time Being

Carmen Bugan’s new poetry collection, Time Being, shows how the coronavirus has meant many different things to many people and also that it put us into our own bubbles. Bugan’s isolation includes her children, garden, home in New York, connection to Michigan, and eventual divorce. Her poems chronicle the months of isolation, motherhood, the excessive losses to the virus, and the ways that the pandemic, despite upending everything, was nevertheless not the only thing happening in 2020 and 2021. 

Bugan turns her outlook inward in Time Being. Part I serves as foreshadowing with the poem “Water ways” when the outcome of making footsteps on sand is that “the ocean erases them impatiently” as a parallel to the later repetitive, near-daily baking during the pandemic. In Part II when the pandemic strikes, the poems question, “But who could have imagined our / new lives six months ago?” and “Who would have known we’d be staying home / Nearly a year, the house growing around us / Like a shell, shutting out the life we knew?” The situation could not have been anticipated, as “Water ways” alludes:

Patti F. Smith taps into the stories of brewpubs, brewers, and their beers in her new book, "Michigan Beer: A Heady History"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patti F. Smith and her book Michigan Beer: An Heady History 

Patti F. Smith's introduction in her new book, Michigan Beer: A Heady History, may activate your thirst to take a seat at one of the state's many current establishments:

Like the waves that crash in the magnificent Great Lakes that surround Michigan, beer and brewing has constantly moved and evolved in the state. […] Come along on a trip through the history of Michigan’s brewers and beer as we explore, region by region, the history of brewing in our great state. 

But Michigan Beer reports on mainly pre-World War II businesses and their beverages. Smith highlights the “first wave of brewers” who came to the U.S. from countries like Germany and Prussia. She also describes the “second wave” who endured or sprung up after Prohibition and also struggled during WWII. The “new wave” gets a dedicated chapter at the end of the book regarding breweries in the 1980s and onward. 

Michigan Beer is organized by regions of the state: the Upper Peninsula, Western Michigan, Mid-Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Southeast Lower Michigan, plus the “new wave” not divvied up by location. Each chapter spotlights numerous corners of the state from Copper County and Escanaba to Grand Rapids and Detroit, with many more cities showcased. Readers can look up their hometown, college town, or favorite vacation spot and see what breweries were once pouring there. 

Angeline Boulley’s YA Novel, "Firekeeper’s Daughter," Follows a Native Teen Who Discovers Intrigue and Betrayal in Her Upper Peninsula Community 

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Angeline Boulley and her book Firekeeper's Daughter

Angeline Boulley photo by Marcella Hadden

When author Angeline Boulley wrote her new young adult novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, she had a goal for the thriller. She writes about her main character, Daunis Fontaine, in her Author’s Note:

Growing up, none of the books I’d read featured a Native protagonist. With Daunis, I wanted to give Native teens a hero who looks like them, whose greatest strength is her Ojibwe culture and community.

Daunis fills that role with resilience as a narrator, woman, community member, and confidential informant. 

Ann Arbor District Library will host Boulley for an author event on Wednesday, April 6, at 7 p.m. at the Downtown Library. 

In Boulley’s novel, Daunis experiences multiple tragedies in her Ojibwe community in a short amount of time. She then discovers that there is a related, ongoing federal investigation about a drug ring. Firekeeper’s Daughter tracks the steps that Daunis takes to unearth what is going on in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At the same time, Daunis is entering her first year of college and grieving the deaths of loved ones.

As Daunis becomes embedded in the investigation, she must learn how to be a confidential informant and also reckon with the pressures and dangers of her role. FBI agent Ron Johnson tells her:

“If you as an agent of the law, obtain evidence illegally, then the information is inadmissible in court under the Fourth Amendment. It’s called fruit of the poisonous tree. It’s better for you to volunteer information and let us ask for clarification.”

Early on in the novel, she begins walking a tightrope of her role as a CI and relationships with her family and friends. The situation blurs as Daunis pretends to be dating one of the agents, Jamie Johnson, who has also joined the local hockey team to advance his undercover ruse.

Ojibwe teachings guide her actions, and Auntie, without knowing what Daunis is involved with, also advises her that:

“You need to be careful, Daunis, when you’re asking about the old ways.” She looks at me the way Seeney Nimkee does sometimes at the Elder Center. “There’s a saying about bad medicine: ‘Know and understand your brother but do not seek him.’”

Daunis continues exposing secrets and also learns about the further tragedy that, “Not everyone gets justice. Least of all Nish Kwewag.” As Boulley also highlights in her Author’s Note, Native women experience high rates of violence. 

Prior to her talk at AADL, I interviewed Boulley about her novel and plans. 

Jennifer Huang reconceptualizes home in their new poetry collection, "Return Flight"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jennifer Huang and their new poetry collection, Return Flight

Poems in Jennifer Huang’s Return Flight map the ways that a person can depart and return to themself, though sometimes that self is no longer the same. Huang holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program, and their collection won the Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry in 2021 judged by Jos Charles. 

Some of Huang’s lines suggest disillusionment, given that “This is not what I imagined.” Other lines show a separation from oneself and the effect of external influence when, “The distance between me and I grew / So you could love me as you’ve / always imagined.”

Return Flight plays with desire and how to get what is wanted and what is the cost.

Another poem, “Departure,” describes a meal at which “We would / choke down our food to get seconds though there was always plenty,” and when faced with delicacies, the father would "tell me, Chew slowly and feel what you are eating.” That advice to process slowly and notice could be extrapolated to a number of situations in these poems. 

The search for self continues even as that evolves in Return Flight. The poem “How to Love a Rock” teaches us, “How you / worry now, let it go.” As the self is reclaimed, uncertainty remains when, “Unborrowed from rocks and salt and dirt and root, where I go from / here, I don’t know.” It could be anywhere, which fits with what Huang writes in the acknowledgments: “This collection is, in part, a search for home—and the realization that home is not a destination but a journey.” 

Huang was a resident of Michigan and now spends their time in Michigan, Maryland, and other places. I interviewed them about Return Flight.