Rachel DeWoskin's "Banshee" follows a woman exploring impulses and freedom after a medical scare

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rachel DeWoskin, Banshee

Author photo by Annie Li.

Rachel DeWoskin's Banshee is a novel about Samantha Baxter, a woman who faces a serious medical diagnosis and casts about for meaning while acting out in ways inconsistent with the life she has lived so far. She crosses lines in her job as a professor and her roles as wife and mother. Through it all, she recognizes the incongruencies of her actions, but she does not just plow ahead disrupting her middle-aged life; instead, she both makes her choices and contemplates how they unfold.

While her actions appear extreme, ranging from sleeping with a student to alienating her husband, Samantha does not leave her life and home. Her defiance centers on how she acts within her existing family and professional relationships. Samantha says what she wants to, unapologetically follows her impulses, and lets the consequences unfold. Accordingly, the prose consists of her first-person narration of her experiences and perspective as she transforms and reacts to her major health problem and to how she feels in new situations. The plot becomes about what she does or doesn’t do, what she says or doesn’t say, and what she thinks and feels about all of it.

Writer, poet, and Ann Arbor native DeWoskin previously acted in a Chinese soap opera and now teaches at the University of Chicago. She will speak about and sign Banshee at Literati Bookstore on Monday, September 9, at 7 pm. Beforehand, I interviewed her about her writing and new novel.

Author and A2 Pioneer Instructor Jeff Kass Contemplates the Working Life in "Teacher/Pizza Guy"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeff Kass, Teacher/Pizza Guy

What do you do?

It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.

When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).

Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:

…were you trying to paint the sea? A place 

for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring

friend who brings you cookies and iced tea

and listens to you without judging…? 

This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.

Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”

Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.

Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius, will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.

Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito returns to Ann Arbor with a new album and the history of choro at his fingertips

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Danilo Brito

Brazilian mandolin wizard Danilo Brito is returning to the Metro Detroit area for what now annual performances in Ann Arbor (September 1 at Kerrytown Concert House), the Detroit Institute of Arts (August 30), and the GlasSalon in the Toledo Museum of Art (August 29). Brito (mandolin and tenor guitar) will be joined by Carlos Moura (7-string guitar) and Guilherme Girardi (6-string guitar).

Brito's new album, Da Natureza das Coisas (The Nature of Things), is bookended by two important works of Heitor Villa-Lobos, closing with "Melodia Sentimental" and opening with "Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)," which was composed for guitar in 1920 in tribute to composer Ernesto Nazareth. Villa Lobos grew up among choro musicians and said that the soul of Brazilian people is found in choro. Many classical guitarists play this work, but Brazilians such as Turíbio Santos play it with a distinctive verve absent in the others. Brito takes this a step further -- arranging the work for his mandolin in the lead voice with two guitars carrying the others. The bright, clarion sound of his mandolin riding the group's Brazilian drive leaves Brito thinking that it would make Villa Lobos smile. 

"Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)" sets the tone for the album which journeys through composers venerated and new. Works of Garoto and Jorge Santos are mingled with newcomers Brito, Penezzi, and Arante.

Brito's U.S. booking agency, Musica Extraordinaria, is based in Ann Arbor and its leader, Michael Grofsorean, conducted an interview with the Brazilian mandolinist. (For even more Brito, Pulp editor Christopher Porter interviewed him before his April 1, 2017, appearance in Ann Arbor.)

False Figures make no-frills, minimalist Americana on their self-titled debut

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

False Figures

There’s some irony in the name of the Ypsilanti band False Figures. Taken from a line in one of their songs, “Red Herring,” the name refers to fake idols.

But False Figures’ sound is anything but fake. The band is low-fi and low-profile (their social media presence is limited), creating a soulful, warm sort of Americana music that sounds like it might be played by friends around a campfire.

The core band has mostly consisted of Jim Cherewick, vocals, guitar, harmonica, and violin; Joel Parkkila, vocals, guitar and more; and Jason Lymangrover, bass and guitar. More recently, Stefan Krstovic has joined the band as the regular drummer. All the members have experience in other local bands including Human Skull, Best Exes, Congress, and Hydropark.

Their self-titled debut album is an accessible, engaging listen. The no-frills sound is well suited to the songs, which tend to be short and to the point -- one highlight on the album, “Matchbox,” gets the job done in just over a minute and a half. There’s a thoughtfulness to the lyrics, though, especially in songs like “Stay On” and “Out of Time.”

A second album is already in the works. And although the band has been primarily a studio project, they will play a live date at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, August 28 with Simon Joyner, Raw Honey, and Idle Ray. The show is being produced by Fred Thomas' Life Like Tapes.

The band recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.

Pure Romance: Author and Wolverine State Brewing Company co-founder Liz Crowe brewed up some Summer Lovin’

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Liz Crowe, Lightstruck

The news is often negative -- sad stories that offer little hope, let alone a happily-ever-after ending. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that one of the top-selling genres of fiction books is romance, thanks to devoted readers who can’t get enough of their favorite heroines and heroes falling in love. On Saturday, August 17, Ann Arborites have the chance to hear not one but four local romance authors read from their books at the Summer Lovin’ Romance Author Panel at Nicola's Books.

According to organizer Liz Crowe, the event came about when August 17 was declared Bookstore Romance Day, “a day that was set aside to honor independent bookstores who appreciate the romance genre.”

After she learned of the date, Crowe contacted Nicola’s, which “responded enthusiastically.” That led to meetings about creating an event to honor the day. Crowe reached out to M.K. Schiller, the president of the Greater Detroit chapter of Romance Writers of America. Through her, Crowe reached authors Dana Nussio, Elizabeth Heiter, and Beverly Jenkins. “It’s a diverse mix of authors,” Crowe says. “They write about everything from romantic suspense to addiction recovery to the post-Civil War South.”

Caitlin Horrocks' novel "The Vexations" immerses readers in the life of composer Erik Satie

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Caitlin Horrocks, The Vexations

Author photo by Tyler Steimle.

Through chapters alternating between characters’ perspectives, Michigan writer Caitlin Horrocks’ new novel, The Vexations, narrates the life of not just composer and pianist Erik Satie but also the lives of his sister and brother, Louise and Conrad, and the people in their lives. The siblings’ experiences diverge as they are raised with different family members and pursue their unique interests and desires. Hardship, pain, and loss mark their pursuits, yet, true to history and especially for Erik, they find success, too.
 
Originally from Ann Arbor, Horrocks lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and teaches at Grand Valley State University. She will read at Literati Bookstore on Monday, August 19, at 7 pm. She answered some questions for Pulp here.
 

U-M grad Valencia Robin returns to Ann Arbor with her debut poetry collection, "Ridiculous Light"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Valencia Robin, Ridiculous Light

Author photo by Jennifer Walkowiak.

Valencia Robin’s new poetry collection, Ridiculous Light, spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor -- and offers moments of distinct observations. The speaker invites readers into specific recollections and, within them, shares not just what happened but vivid descriptions and sublime reflections on the natural world, people, identity, and experiences. 

A poet and painter, Robin is one of the founding members of GalleryDAAS at the University of Michigan. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

She will return to Ann Arbor to read at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 16, at 7 pm, and Pulp interviewed her before her visit. 

Edward Renehan's "The Life of Charles Stewart Mott" traces the life of the philanthropist and General Motors icon

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Edward Renehan, C.S. Mott

Despite what Shakespeare wrote, sometimes the good that men do lives on after them -- especially when that good includes a multibillionaire family fund that continues to do charitable works decades after the founder has passed away, which is the case with Charles Stewart Mott, the subject of a new book by Edward Renehan.

A former publishing executive, Renehan has written over 20 books including historical nonfiction for children and biographies of Pete Seeger and John Burroughs. Published by University of Michigan Press, The Life of Charles Stewart Mott came about because of a query Renehan received from the Ruth Mott Foundation, the foundation started by C. S. Mott’s late wife. “[They] asked if I would be interested in doing a book on C.S., as he was known. I did some research and realized what an incredibly fascinating individual he was. This is a man who was born 10 years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and died two years before the founding of Microsoft.”

Mott earned a degree in mechanical engineering and “participated in the market economy and industrial expansion in a big way,” Renehan says. “He was one of the truly great innovators of the auto industry, along with his peers like Alfred Sloan, Charles Kettering, and Pierre DuPont.”

Story of a Lifetime: Irene Butter shares her tale so people will never forget

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Irene Butter and her book Shores Beyond Shores

This story was originally published on May 3, 2018.

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.)

Good Tickle Brain's Mya Gosling interprets Shakespeare one stick figure at a time

Mya Gosling's stick-figure Shakespeare

This story was originally published on June 11, 2018.

What if Cliff's Notes had Cliff's Notes?

Mya Gosling's Good Tickle Brain is a web-based comics series that reduce Shakespeare's works to three panels. Named after a Falstaff line from Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV Part 1 -- "Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain" -- Gosling's stick-figure interpretations of ol' Will's works have garnered acclaim across the web for their wit, particularly her "Which Shakespeare Play Should I See?" flowchart, which has allowed her to transition from being a library cataloger to a full-time comic artist.

Gosling has expanded her focus to include Keep Calm and Muslim On, written by her friend Andrea Annaba, and Sketchy Beta, the world's only rock-climbing comic strip, as well as three-panel interpretations of many other plays and movies. But the website's namesake Shakespeare strip is when I first discovered Gosling's work during last year's Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). My kids fell in love with her The Complete Works of Shakespeare in Three Panels book, which inspired them to go on and dive deep into the Bard's full catalog of plays as well as the film and graphic novel versions.

Gosling will be at this year's A2CAF festival June 16 & 17 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, and I emailed with her about all things three-panel Shakespeare.