U-M Professor David Potter looks at history and politics to understand radical change in his new book, "Disruption"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

David Potter and his book Disruption

“How do things change?” asks David Potter, a University of Michigan professor, in his new book, Disruption

This question is the basis for his in-depth examination of five groundbreaking periods in history: Christianity’s growth, the rise of Islam, the Protestant Reformation, popular sovereignty, and the political theorists Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer. The five chapters collectively span thousands of years and Potter sews together history, biography, and political thought to illustrate how ideas disrupt existing beliefs and structures. 

This kind of radical change, according to Potter, arises from fringe ideas that go against the existing state of affairs with a thought leader at the forefront. Many centuries ago, political structures that are foundational to government as we know it now had yet to be defined. For example, amid the rise of Islam when Ali ibn Abi Talib, a relative of the prophet Muhammad, was assassinated in 661, Potter writes:

Kenyatta Rashon explores "The Art of Keeping It Real" on her accomplished debut album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kenyatta Rashon in a green hoodie

Photo by Kyla McGrath

Ypsilanti singer and songwriter Kenyatta Rashon showcases a polished R&B sound spiced up with some hip-hop accents on her terrific debut album, The Art of Keeping It Real.

Rashon has a distinctive singing voice, both expressive and powerful. And her songs are uniformly strong, with memorable melodies and vibrant lyrics. “YoFi” and “W.rong” express regrets for lost love, while “I am” and “H4L” are anthems of self-empowerment. The single “Free” establishes a great summer listening vibe over wistful and wise lyrics: “Some things could change and some things could not / But I made peace with the things I got / I’m free”

Rashon answered a few questions about the album for Pulp.

Bill Edwards made the most of the pandemic era with an ambitious new album, "Whole Cloth"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Bill Edwards

Where some musicians may have understandably felt limited by the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Bill Edwards took it as an opportunity. 

Unable to collaborate with other musicians, Edwards decided to record full-band music all by himself—playing instruments both familiar and new, and learning software packages as well. He wrote, recorded, and started the process again, ultimately finding himself with 30 fully finished songs. 

The resulting album, Whole Cloth, is a major achievement, filled with gems about chasing love, finding love, losing love, and more—and shifting among various musical subgenres that all fit under the broad umbrella of Americana, from old-time country to roots rock to western swing.

While nearly all the songs concern relationships in one way or another, “You’re Still Here” is a touching ode to a friend long gone, while “Ain’t Wet Yet” finds some humor in the politics of trickle-down economics and “Sing Me” praises the power of music itself.

Edwards, who was already skilled on multiple instruments, uses his versatile abilities to great effect throughout the album, such as a warm acoustic guitar solo on “Slow Down the Moon” and wistful fiddle on “Billy’s Lament.” The latter is one of three instrumentals on the album, crafted while Edwards had a paralyzed vocal cord— even that couldn’t slow down his creative process.

He's performing a free-admission album release concert on Aug. 27 with Lauren Crane opening the show.

"I’ll play a short selection of my favorite older songs, and then dig into the new record," Edwards said. "For the latter, since the arrangements rely heavily on drums and a variety of lead instruments, I’ll play acoustic guitar and sing to tracks from the album. I’ve got them recorded in my looper pedal, and it works quite well."

Edwards agreed to answer some questions about the new album.

"Whip" It: Nadim Azzam's new YouTube show cruises with Michigan musicians

MUSIC FILM & VIDEO INTERVIEW

Ki5 and Nadim Azzam in the car for the show Whip Jams

Ki5 and Nadim Azzam in a still from the first episode of Whip Jams. Photo courtesy of Whip Jams.

[This story was originally published on December 9, 2020. The entire first season is out now on YouTube and the show is having a concert at The Blind Pig on Saturday, September 11 featuring everyone who has appeared in the series so far: Dani Darling, Pariis Noel, D. Vaughn the Illest, Mirror Monster, KI5, and host Nadim Azzam.]

Artists performing songs being driven around in a car by a congenial host. Sound familiar?

But Whip Jams isn't Carpool Karaoke.

Host Nadim Azzam doesn't fuss around with wacky comedy. He gets right to the point with his guests, reciting a short bio, picking the musician up in his car, letting them perform, and concluding with a brief interview.

The first episode of this YouTube show clocks in at 4 minutes, 57 seconds. A quick ride indeed.

In the Whip Jams debut on December 9, Ann Arbor's Ki5 performs a song in Azzam's vehicle by sampling his voice with the Boss RC-505 Loopstation sitting in his lap. That kind of compact setup works fine for him, but some future episodes will feature artists holding acoustic instruments—might get a little cozy in Azzam's Honda Civic.

Ann Arbor singer-pianist Hannah Baiardi makes jazz her own on "Straight From the Soul"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Hannah Baiardi

Hannah Baiardi has been writing and performing music since age 3, so it’s no surprise that her first full-length album, Straight From the Soul, is a polished and thoughtful work.

Although a listener might categorize the music as contemporary jazz, Baiardi clearly draws on other influences as diverse as R&B and new age, and it all comes through on the album. The University of Michigan grad (BFA ’18, jazz studies) offers smooth, heartfelt vocals and evocative piano playing, which combine for a distinctive and memorable sound. She’s backed by an excellent supporting cast, including Karen Tomalis on drums on most tracks and Marion Hayden or Ryan King on bass.

Baiardi writes much of her own material. The album features five original compositions, ranging from the wistful yet hopeful “Who Can Relate” and “Distant Land” to the joyful “Let Go” and “Feel It.” The album concludes with “Transit,” an outstanding instrumental showcase.

The album also features two pop favorites from old movies—an introspective take on “Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair and “The Summer Knows” from Summer of ’42, which makes for ideal listening in the summer of ’21.

Baiardi recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.

U-M Lecturer Philip D’Anieri's Book Maps the Appalachian Trail Through the Stories of Its Developers

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Philip D’Anieri and his book The Appalachian Trail: A Biography.

Author photo by Alicia Farmer

The 2,000+-mile Appalachian Trail spans the eastern United States from Georgia to Maine, traversing 14 states in total. The trail looms large in the consciousness of many people, from sightseers to thru-hikers. But how did such a major trail get created?

U-M lecturer Philip D’Anieri shows how the Appalachian Trail could not exist without the significant effort and devotion of instrumental individuals over time in his new book, The Appalachian Trail: A Biography. He provides not only facts about the contributors’ lives but also insights into who they were and what motivated them to contribute to the AT. D’Anieri also examines how the AT forms and fits into our views of nature.

Each chapter outlines how a different person (or people) helped shape the trail’s establishment. The trail’s development occurred alongside the growth of the United States, causing conflict when the trail was at odds with roads, politics, or interests of private landowners. The story begins with Arnold Guyot’s mapping of the Appalachian Mountains, as published in an article in 1861. In subsequent years, various individuals explore and build miles of trail, from the librarian Horace Kephart to Benton McKaye’s coining of the name “Appalachian Trail” in the early 1900s.

The first thru-hikers, Earl Shaffer and Emma Gatewood in 1949 and 1955, respectively, influenced the use of the AT. Another chapter depicts Senator Gaylord Nelson, who introduced legislation to federally protect the trail in the 1960s and also founded Earth Day in 1970. The book goes on to describe the challenges and successes of the National Park Service, which sought to obtain land along the AT’s corridor. Bill Bryson’s bestseller, A Walk in the Woods published in 1998, drew many to the trail, as D’Anieri writes in the penultimate chapter.

At the start and end of the book, D’Anieri reflects on the Appalachian Trail’s meaning in the public consciousness and his own engagement with the trail. In the introduction, he writes:

The places we choose, and the way we then develop and manage them, tell us a lot about what we are asking from nature, what exactly we think we are traveling toward and escaping from, where we want to strike the balance between maddening civilization on the one hand, and heartless nature on the other.

This question sets the stage for studying various individuals’ involvement in the AT’s construction.

D’Anieri finishes the book by discussing his adventures in driving the length of the trail and hiking short sections. His points that the Appalachian Trail is for everyone, and that there is much value to walking rather than driving, offer a current take on the trail. There is a great opportunity to interact with nature via the AT, to step away from our existing lives for a different outlook.

I interviewed D’Anieri to learn more about his book and the process of writing it.

Zilka Joseph’s new chapbook, "Sparrows and Dust," finds parallels between humans and birds 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet Zilka Joseph with her book Sparrows and Dust

What would it be like to be a bird? 

Ann Arbor poet Zilka Joseph’s new chapbook, Sparrows and Dust, imagines the parallels between human lives and the patterns of birds.

Birds become a constant in the poet’s life, from India to Michigan. Like the migrations of birds from place to place, the last poem begins with a description of the vastness of our collective lives and the places where we spend them: 

Between Worlds, 

             and in worlds within worlds, 
             we live. 

Throughout Joseph’s poems, all creatures are trying to make their way in the different places that form the settings for their lives. There are the geese and the poet observing them, and they are all distressed after five eggs disappear one spring. Yet being able to watch that drama play out is the result of a happy milestone of moving into a new condo for the poet. 

Another poem, “Negative Capability,” wonders at flight:

open sky                         sun so night comes                    stars wheel

we spiral higher              become air                                 is this
                                                                                          the bird way

Arrivals and departures, and worlds appearing or disappearing, happen through flying. A hummingbird visits in another poem, “So Much,” to get “one more hit of her liquid / sugar high ill- / usion on which / her flight / depends.” Slowly we piece together what flight might be like, what sustains it, and what possibilities it offers. 

Joseph’s poems sometimes alight on the birds themselves and other times show birds as metaphors, such as in the poem “Mama, Who’d Have Thought,” which speaks to the poet’s mother on how birds of prey are not a threat to safety but how police shootings and detaining children at the border are. In fact, many of the poems offer reflections on the poet’s parents. 

These poems hold many moments for the admiration of nature. “Fall Now” describes that “we count kestrels overhead / one monarch sits in my palm.” Joseph asks us to notice and appreciate. 

Joseph is a creative writing teacher, editor, and manuscript coach in Ann Arbor. I interviewed her about Sparrows and Dust, her teaching, and what she’s working on next. 

Go Behind the Scenes of "Temping," a One-Person Performance Starring You

THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

Get a behind-the-scenes tour of Temping, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival's ongoing, immersive, one-person theater experience. AADL interviews designer Asa Wember and director Michel Rau, giving viewers a glimpse into this wildly imaginative experience.


"Temping" is written by Michael Yates Crowley, designed by Asa Wember and Sara C. Walsh, and directed by Michael Rau. It is hosted by the Ann Arbor Summer Festival from June 15th through July 3rd in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library. You can register for your session here 

Related:
➥ "Face to Interface: A2SF's Temping is an uncanny, moving performance for one" [Pulp, June 16, 2021]

Detroit native and U-M grad Shannon McLeod’s new novella, "Whimsy," tells a different kind of teaching story

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Shannon McLeod and her novella Whimsy

Shannon McLeod’s new novella, Whimsy, depicts the perils of those post-college, early career years through the main character for which the book is titled, Whimsy Quinn, who narrates in first person. McLeod is a Detroit native, University of Michigan graduate, and now high school teacher in Virginia. 

Whimsy, who got her name because her parents wanted to name her something “that exuded light-heartedness,” works as a middle school teacher in Metro Detroit, copes with the aftermaths of a car accident that she was in, and navigates dating. She tells her story of how she weathers her setbacks, and it becomes clear how they strengthen her. When asked to describe teaching, for instance, Whimsy notes, “I told him I didn’t have much to compare it to, but that it seemed I had less free time and less money than people with other careers.” It is not a glowing description, but she also does not hate it. 

Much of the novella situates Whimsy in the classroom. Her profession brings both humor and growth for her. Of running a classroom, she reflects, “I don’t know if you ever recover from the feeling of thirty pairs of eyes staring at you in concert.” That description may sound nightmarish to those of us who do not want to be the center of attention. Yet, Whimsy gets through the first few days of the school year and finds that the students’ levels of observation fade because by "Halloween you’re at the bottom of the students’ lists of interests.” A welcome change. 

Teaching is fraught with challenges, though, from getting scolded by an administrator who questions Whimsy’s dedication to catching students passing notes in class, serving as a cafeteria monitor during lunchtime, and socializing with other teachers. Whimsy takes all these situations in stride. When she needs to be away from the classroom, she reveals, “I’d learned quickly not to expect my students to get anything done with a substitute teacher in the room.” A matter-of-fact and responsive character, Whimsy is well-suited to teaching even if she finds herself chagrined at times. 

While Whimsy is a self-aware and descriptive narrator, the prose remains sharp and tight. Scenes unfold and shift. The reader sees along with Whimsy what’s really happening, such as at a wedding where Whimsy drinks too much. She attends it with a journalist, Rikesh, who she’s seeing. When she finds herself crying in the bathroom, Rikesh finds her, and Whimsy notes, “He said he would take me home.” Yet, the next sentence shows a different outcome because, she thinks, “I thought he meant he was coming home with me.” The chapter ends there. Disappointment is palpable but not explicitly stated. The endings of all the chapters are poignant, each like a short story coming to a conclusion.  

I interviewed McLeod about her novella, participation with the Emerging Writers Workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library, the Wild Onion Novella Contest that Whimsy won, and what’s next.

Kirstin Valdez Quade’s novel "The Five Wounds" expands on her New Yorker-published short story

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kirstin Valdez Quade and her book The Five Wounds

Author photo by Holly Andres.

All of the characters in Kirstin Valdez Quade’s new book, The Five Wounds, are going through something major. While the challenges—teen pregnancy, addiction, cancer—are not uncommon, the ways that each generation of the family handles their circumstances drive the novel.

One character, Angel, has a son at age 15 and quickly becomes aware of how the adults around her do not actually have their lives together. Not only does she have that insight but she also must persevere when she doesn’t get the support that she needs and when she has to instead support the people who are supposed to be helping her. 

Yet, Angel proves herself resilient, even from a young age. Her mother, Marissa, informs Angel:

“When you were three you said, ‘Mama, can you tell me all the things I don’t know?’ You were so impatient to learn and make your own way.

Angel smiles. “I don’t remember that.” 

Knowing things does not comprise all of Angel’s learning, though. Along the way, she gains wisdom on what people are like and how to interact with them. 

Her father, Amadeo, tries and tries to get his life together but keeps succumbing to alcoholism. He acts before he thinks. An accident caused by his carelessness and drinking miraculously results in only minor injuries, but it is the only thing that can convince him to get his life on track, not just for himself but for his family, especially as the whole family dynamic shifts when people enter and exit their lives.