Tall Tales: Steve Hughes spins surreal stories in "Stiff"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steve Hughes and his book Stiff

Longtime Hamtramck resident Steve Hughes is a force of nature in his hometown. For over half a decade, Hughes curated the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts’ Festival where artists opened up the studios in their homes and attendees went on an “art crawl.” Hughes is also a founding member of Public Pool, an art cooperative that formed in 2010 with the goal of creating and supporting a wide range of art experiences. A year later, Hughes then decided that a literary component of the visual arts events was needed and so he created the Good Tyme Writers Buffet.

The literary series began with a dozen authors reading for about 10 minutes; it has since cut the number of readers and added a DJ. Hughes received a grant through the Knight Foundation and shaped the project into what it is today: a space for audiences to enjoy an evening of reading based on a theme. “We get people from the neighborhood, friends of the authors, readers," Hughes says. "A good mix of people who come out on a Saturday to hear the readers, listen to music, eat and drink.”

The readings are connected to the visual arts show in the space. “This month the show is called Bread and Clutter,” Hughes says. “So our six authors will read about food.”

For each event, Hughes writes a short story that connects to the theme. “I give myself an assignment every month,” he says. “And the only constraint is that it has to be read within a 10-15 minute time frame.”

This series and these stories led to the book, Stiff.

An excerpt from "Head Over Feet in Love," the first novel by Ann Arbor's Patti F. Smith

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patti Smith's Head Over Feet

Patti F. Smith is the author of the history books "Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor," "A People’s History of the People’s Food Co-op," and the forthcoming "Forgotten Ann Arbor" (spring 2019). (She's also a regular contributor to Pulp.) Her debut fiction novel, "Head Over Feet in Love," comes out as an ebook on November 14 and as a print edition in February 2019. Smith gives us some background on the book, followed by an excerpt from the novel.

The first draft featured protagonist Rebecca Slater as a famous author who got six-figure advances, whose book was being made into a movie, who employed several assistants to help her with fan mail. The second draft saw Becca as a famous author who got six-figure advances but no mention of movie deals or assistants. The third draft found Becca as an author with a cult following; she still made a living from it but no more talk of hefty advances or net worth. The fourth draft presented Becca as a teacher who wrote books on the side, making money but not enough to live on.

In the final version, Becca hasn’t even gotten published yet.

Many things changed in the years that I wrote and rewrote Head Over Feet in Love  -- Becca and her friends went from flip phones to smartphones, DSL to wi-fi, having a million dollars in the bank to scraping by as a teacher. But through it all Becca lived with bipolar disorder and anxiety.

Just like me.

The One Pause Poetry Salon creates a "nexus between appreciation and creation"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

One Pause Poetry group shot

When attending the One Pause Poetry Salon, it struck me that its atmosphere is hard to come by. Part discussion, part reading, and part classroom, people attend to experience a community around poetry and to have an outlet in which to read and converse about poetry, a space that motivates and inspires. 

The events, which are weekly from 8-10 pm on Wednesdays through December at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty, start with a free write for 12 minutes because, according to Mike Zhai who runs the Salon, 10 minutes seems too short and 15, too long. While classical music swells and night surrounds the market’s greenhouse, attendees diligently compose lines in their notebooks. A time to read and respond to the results of that writing session follows. Each person has the option to share or not and to chime into the conversation or not. This environment brings low stakes and high returns for people at any point in their journey with poetry. 

“It’s fine for people to come and share their own poems or read their favorite poetry by others or just come and listen,” said Zhai. “It’s pretty informal in that way. I want to create this nexus between appreciation and creation.”

Wooly Business: Stephany Wilkes tracks the fall and potential rise of the U.S. wool industry

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Stephany Wilkes, Raw Material

When Stephany Wilkes became a knitter in 2007, she walked into a yarn shop and asked, “Where’s your local yarn section?” The shop attendant pointed her to a single brand of U.S.-made yarn. Nine years later, when I walked into a yarn shop for the first time, much had changed. I had several U.S.-made yarns to choose from -- even some Michigan-made yarns -- but found myself asking another question: “Why is this so expensive?”

The answer, as I later found, is that milling wool grown in the U.S. is so costly that most ranchers either send their wool overseas to be processed or use the fleeces as compost. Due to decades of adverse agricultural and trade policy, the cost of processing wool in the U.S. is very high. Wilkes' book, Raw Material: Working Wool in the West (Oregon State University Press, 2018), tells us how the bottom fell out of the U.S. wool industry and also shows us the way back to environmentally beneficial and economically profitable U.S. wool.

As for Wilkes, once she learned that a key factor in the high cost of U.S. wool is the lack of qualified shearers, she did the only logical thing: became a shearer herself. Raw Material is Wilkes' account of her unlikely career change from a software engineer at a San Francisco firm to a self-employed sheep shearer and wool classer. Along the way, she introduces us to many of the people who are working against the odds to bring U.S. wool back to life and make wool profitable for farmers and affordable for handcrafters.

I got the chance to talk to Wilkes in advance of her November 5 appearance at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Fifth Avenue Press launches its second round of books with a release reception

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fifth Avenue Press logo

The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press 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 -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Started in 2017, Fifth Avenue launches its second round of books on Sunday, November 4, with a reception from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown branch, featuring author readings from the imprint's five new titles.

After "READ MORE," click the book titles to read interviews with the books' creators:

Ann Pearlman's "Infidelity" shares true tales of generation-spanning marital betrayals

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ann Pearlman and her book Infidelity

Certain topics are so intensely personal that people tend to shy away from discussing them, but sometimes they must be talked about; sharing stories can lead to understanding, healing, a new life.

Adultery, something that is often hidden under the proverbial rug, is one of those topics. But a recently re-released book by a local author explores this topic in prodigious detail and with great empathy. 

Ann Pearlman's Infidelity shares the true tales of three generations of marital betrayals. Dzanc Books recently re-released the book and Pearlman "was thrilled and surprised they wanted to reprint it. The launch has been scads of fun.” Infidelity was originally released in 2000 and was the inspiration for a 2004 Lifetime Movie Network film with the same name, albeit the roles are reversed: the marriage therapist is unfaithful in the film.

In many ways, Pearlman was the perfect person to write this book. The Ann Arbor resident has worked as a psychotherapist and marriage counselor, serving in schools, women’s prisons, child guidance clinics. Along the way she married, becoming half of what she thought was the perfect couple.

Phillip Crymble’s poetry collection "Not Even Laughter" offers more questions than answers

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

 

Phillip Crymble and his book Not Even Laughter

The word “measured” would describe poet Phillip Crymble’s poetry collection Not Even Laughter well. This far-reaching collection embraces music, film, and places around the world, while also homing in on specific instants via careful wording. Crymble’s other interests make appearances in his poems, too: vinyl records, vintage audio equipment, travel, hockey, and others. It is the sort of collection in which you notice something new or pick up on something else each time you read.

Cyrmble is no stranger to Ann Arbor, where he lived from 2000 to 2010. He and his wife both studied at the University of Michigan, from which Cyrmble received his MFA and where he then taught. His son was born in Ann Arbor, too. Crymble now lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick with his family and is a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of New Brunswick. Crymble serves as senior poetry editor for The Fiddlehead, a Canadian literary journal. 

He has lived around the world and studied literature extensively. Born in Belfast and raised in Northern Ireland until 7, he also lived in Zambia for two years. Then, with his father and brother, he moved to Canada and attended middle school and high school in Milton, Ontario. His first undergraduate degree in English came from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. After spending a gap year in Europe and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, he studied creative writing at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

Recently, Crymble has started to write and speak about having a disability. He lost his arm in an industrial accident during high school. 

Crymble reads at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, October 23, at 7 p.m. with Ann Arbor poet Sarah Messer. Here, he shares about his life, poetry, and memories of Ann Arbor. 

Sense of Place: Two books by U-M professors explore Jewish culture, arts, and community

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How the Other Half Looks and A Rich Brew book covers

People need a place beyond home and workspace. Community, this sense of “third place” and placemaking, is featured prominently in How the Other Half Looks: The Lower East Side and the Afterlives of Images by Sara Blair and A Rich Brew: How Cafes Created Modern Jewish Culture by Shachar M. Pinsker.

The authors, both professors at the University of Michigan, say that their books began at the Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies. Both were part of a fellowship named Jews in the City, which brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines and led to publications about topics such as Tel Aviv’s Old Cemetery, the Jewish Ghetto of Turin, and the Soviet Shtetl.  

Her Story Is History: Brenda Travis, "Mississippi’s Exiled Daughter"

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Brenda Travis and her book Mississippi's Exiled Daughter

Brenda L. Travis, June 2, 1962. Photographer unknown, Library of Congress, Washington D.C. (LC-USZ62-135777).

Brenda Travis surprised me.

When she came to AADL on September 27 to discuss her book Mississippi’s Exiled Daughter with her co-author, John Obee, I hadn’t expected her to burst into song. But that’s exactly what she did, singing parts of "Ella’s Song," a tune written in honor of civil and human rights leader Ella Baker. The audience joined in, singing with her. Her talk was not to be a passive listening experience.

“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons,
is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons ...
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes”
--lyrics from "Ella’s Song"

Travis then explained that one of the reasons that she’s still on the civil rights journey is that she still believes in freedom. “There is still a place called hope," she said, "and we have to make hope our homes. We have to continue this struggle and fight until we can get it right. ... To the young people, I’m hoping tonight that I can instill or wake up something within you to want to carry on this battle, to carry on this fight, because if you don’t we’re going to be lost -- not just a nation but a lost world.” 

Patrick Flores-Scott's "American Road Trip" traces how PTSD affects the lives of three siblings

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patrick Flores-Scott and his book American Road Trip

Ever wanted to get in your car and take off across the country? Who among us has not sat behind the wheel of the car and contemplated going instead of east into the sunrise instead of west into the office, going on a grand adventure? But what if you had to go on a road trip -- to save your brothers, save your family?

That’s the dilemma facing the Avila family in Patrick Flores-Scott’s latest book, American Road Trip. While life looks good for Teodoro “T," things aren’t so promising for older brother Manny, a soldier just home from Iraq with overwhelming PTSD. To save them all, their sister Xochitl takes the brothers on an epic road trip where the siblings deal with everything from socioeconomic pressures to first love to mental health issues plaguing our veterans.

Flores-Scott, an Ann Arbor native, was inspired to create a character who was a veteran with PTSD after hearing a story on National Public Radio.