I've increased my reading tenfold since the beginning of the pandemic.
Of course, most of that reading is doom scrolling on Twitter, but nevertheless, words were seen by my eyes.
But my desire to consume books hasn't waned even if my attention span has, and the 2020 Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival (AAJBF) has provided a host of authors and titles to add to my unconquerable to-read list.
From December 2 to 22, the AAJBF will present 25 authors discussing 22 books, which is a lot more than usual for this 33-year-old festival. If there's any benefit to the whole world being on lockdown and Zoom calls becoming a part of our collective DNAs, it means festivals like this and others are able to schedule more authors (or performers, etc.) because they don't have to travel to the events in person. While the arts and culture side of the AAJBF will be muted this year because of the pandemic, there's now an increased chance to engage with a wide range of authors writing about Jewish subjects or that have Jewish connections—and most of the talks are free of charge.
Here's the calendar for the 2020 Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival; click on the authors' names for event links on the AAJBF website:
Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and Dexter Community Players' Halloween Drive aims to scare you with good theater
While most of us mourn the loss of traditional Halloween celebrations this year—scary movie marathons at home notwithstanding—the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and Dexter Community Players decided to do something about it.
The two troupes, who haven't been able to perform in front of audiences since the pandemic started, will have a slow-rolling crowd for their shows on October 30 and 31 at The Petting Farm at Domino's Farm.
Halloween Drive features three spooky plays written by Brodie H. Brockie and produced by Patty Mazzola that people can watch as they cruise along a path in their cars at the farm, including:
The natural world and the built environment sometimes seem so enmeshed that the borders between them blur. We walk into the fluorescent lighting of a store and then back out into the day’s weather. We go to the beach and some sand trails, then back inside vehicles and homes.
Poet Alison Swan explores this complexity in the lives that we live both with nature and in our manmade world in her new collection, A Fine Canopy (Wayne State University Press). One poem called “Lake Effect” considers how the environment coexists and contends with human life:
[…] We don’t ask,
where’s the sea? We can walk to it,
and to acres of scrub, pasture, crop,
asphalt draining to it, and the reactor
Signs of human change to the environment appear to be inescapable.
Yet, the splendor of the natural world heartily persists in Swan’s poems, and many lines admire this place where we reside, as the poem “Aubade” declares near the end of the collection:
It is good to […]
look out into
the lemon light of morning and
call it beautiful […]
Swan will read and be in conversation with poet and teaching artist Holly Wren Spaulding in a virtual event Tuesday, October 6, at 7 pm through Literati Bookstore. I interviewed Swan, a teacher at Western Michigan University, about ecopoetry, the Bentley Historical Library, and what she's reading.
“If you had told me when I started in this business, that one day I would be working for a non-profit that published books based on their merit and not profit, I would not have believed it,” says Michelle Dotter, who serves as publisher and editor in chief of Dzanc Books (pronounced Duh-ZANK).
The nonprofit was co-founded in 2006 by Ann Arbor lawyer turned novelist and 826Michigan creator Steven Gillis and Emerging Writers Network creator Dan Wickett. They had an uncompromising vision for Dzanc.
“The biggest thing for Steve," Dotter says, "was that nothing be constrained by shareholder interest, so we would never sacrifice artistic quality or only support books that could make money … or end up like some presses, where commercial potential is such a factor they send book covers to retailers like Walmart or Costco, giving them the power to reject a cover if they think it won’t sell.”
Dotter took over as publisher and editor in chief of Dzanc in 2017 after working there since 2014.
“I loved what they were doing as far as experimental literature," she says, "taking chances on amazing authors and books that might have been rejected for commercial reasons at other publishers.”
Astronomy at the Beach (AATB) is the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs (GLAAC)'s signature annual event. Held each year at Island Lake State Park near Brighton, Michigan, and attended by thousands, this year’s two-day event on Friday and Saturday, September 25-26 has been moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adrian Bradley is president of GLAAC and an avid amateur astronomer and photographer who especially loves nightscape photography. He is also a member of the University Lowbrow Astronomers, the local astronomy club partnering with AADL to provide and maintain the library's circulating telescope collection.
We chatted with Bradley about this year's Astronomy at the Beach lineup.
It looked bleak in March and April for the fourth edition of Ann Arbor's Rasa Festival. Everything was being canceled, and the annual September celebration of arts and culture from India looked like it was not going to happen either.
"We canceled all our venue bookings at that time, although with a heavy heart," wrote Sreyashi Dey, the president and artistic director of Rasa, in an email to Pulp. "We had some fabulous concerts planned this year, with world-renowned touring artists from India, but had to cancel that as well. It was very depressing."
But as the months dragged on, Dey, who is also a dancer, couldn't contain her desire to create new works, and that spurred her on to reconsidering Rasa.
"As an artist/dancer myself, I was beginning to feel disheartened about my own creative impulses and motivation to create new work," Dey wrote. "So I started thinking about making some new dance works while still in lockdown, but with no real plan for what to do with it. Then I started thinking of doing a video recording to share. And that's how the idea of the festival going virtual was born, and once I started talking to the other artists, everyone was very eager and enthusiastic."
The performance part of the month-long virtual Rasa Festival runs October 3-25, with streams starting at 11 am each Saturday and Sunday throughout the month. The Mandali: India and the World art exhibition, presented in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library, runs October1-November 12.
Rasa will present its usual assortment of dance, music, written word, film, fashion, travel, social change, and visual art, but there will be no culinary component this year, for obvious reasons—but we got you covered. I talked with Dey over email about the challenges—and opportunities—of presenting the Rasa Festival online and what she food she'd recommend for us to make or buy at home to accompany the 2020 virtual edition of the Rasa Festival.
The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra was supposed to launch its fall 2020 season with "Goodyear Plays Beethoven" at the Michigan Theater, in front of an audience, on September 10. [Insert section about Covid-19 ruining everything] [That's not an editing mistake; I'm just saving myself time since we all know what's going down in the world.]
Stewart Goodyear will still play Beethoven, and there will still be an audience; the crowd will just be at home and the concert will be broadcast from the Kerrytown Concert Hall on September 26.
The other fall 2020 A2SO programs that were affected are:
Area stages have gone dim to protect audiences, actors, and theater workers during these uncertain times.
But that doesn’t mean the show can’t go on.
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.
Imagine being dropped off in the wilderness, uninhabited except for 19 people with you and rangers who patrol the land. Modern amenities are nonexistent, but the upside is that the air quality is much better than the polluted city. You live nomadically and hunt, fish, and gather to survive. This is not an extended camping trip. It is your new way of life.
This intense scenario forms the premise of Diane Cook’s new book, The New Wilderness, a speculative novel involving relationships and the environment—and how the latter influences the former. The novel has landed on the long list for the Booker Prize. Cook has taught for the University of Michigan, is a U-M alum, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
In a joint virtual event, both Cook and Karolina Waclawiak, whose new novel Life Events was just published, will read and discuss their new books through the At Home with Literati series Monday, August 31, at 7 pm.
The characters of The New Wilderness, including Agnes, her mother Bea, and her mother’s husband Glen, go to the wilderness as part of a research experiment to determine whether this lifestyle is sustainable. Bea joined to save Agnes’ life. Agnes was five years old when they arrived and gravely ill from the effects of pollution. Despite learning how to stay alive in the wild and improving Agnes’ health, the characters’ memories of their former life, their love for one another in all its forms, and the burden of subsisting clash and inform their individual choices.
Early on, Bea’s concerns emerge when considering their next journey to a ranger post farther than they’ve had to go before:
Glen hooked his arm around her neck and pulled her close. “Now, now,” he murmured. “This will be fun.”
She knew that a big part of Glen believed this. But no part of Bea did. She pictured the map in her head again and saw all that unknown land, that beige parchment, all that nothing. They would be changed on the other side of it, that much she knew. Not knowing how was only one of the things that scared her.
The New Wilderness calls into question what the natural world is and should be, while also showing how vast the wilderness within and between people can be.
I interviewed Cook about this book and her writing.