Nawaaz Ahmed’s characters in "Radiant Fugitives" grapple with identity amidst slow political progress and fallout from their personal choices 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Nawaaz Ahmed and his book Radiant Fugitives

What motivates us? What power do we have over the trajectory of our lives? How can people be so close and so far away from each other at the same time? 

These questions and many others linger as the story of a divided family and the people in their orbit unfolds in Radiant Fugitives. This first novel by Nawaaz Ahmed, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, is told by Ishraaq, who is the newborn baby of Seema, a mother estranged from her family for the choices she’s made. Ishraaq serves as a keen, omniscient observer who understands each person’s perspective and how we are all driven by love or fear or both. This unique position of the narrator shows the reader how each person contributes to events and the emotions surrounding them. 

Seema takes on many roles in her life, starting as her father’s star performer in poetry recitations and changing as she falls from his graces. She goes on to come out as a lesbian, work as a political activist, and then marry a man she meets at a protest. Amidst her experiences, the broader climate of political progress with Obama’s presidential election, Kamala Harris’ rise, and expressions of islamophobia emphasize identity politics. The whole time, she struggles to find her place and find acceptance, as Ishraaq narrates: 

U-M prof Jeffrey Veidlinger on his book "In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeffrey Veidlinger and his book In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

Jeffrey Veidlinger, a celebrated historian and Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, scoured trial records, official documents, and witness statements to assemble his new book, In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust, which recounts organized violence against Jewish people in the Ukraine and Poland before World War II.

“For about 10 years, I was a co-director of The Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories, which involved conducting Yiddish language oral history interviews with elderly folks in Ukraine," he said. "During those interviews, I was struck by people's experiences and memories of the pogroms of 1918-1921 and by the similarities in the ways in which they describe the pogroms and the Holocaust. The interviews impelled me to go back to the revolutionary period and to look more closely at exactly what happened.”

Veidlinger will appear via Zoom to discuss his work at the 34th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival on November 30 at 7 pm

U-M's production of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is all about the love—and the laughs

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Helen Shen (Hermia) and Caleb Quezon (Lysander) star in U-M's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Helen Shen (Hermia) and Caleb Quezon (Lysander) star in U-M's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Vincent J. Cardinal.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the Bard’s most popular comedies and one of the most accessible for modern audiences. 

And why not?

It has a little bit of everything for everybody.

There’s 16th-century style rom-com, fairies with magic spells and love potions, and a hilarious troupe of amateur thespians who are preparing a show for a royal wedding.

The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Dec. 2-5 in the Arthur Miller Theater, directed by Vincent Cardinal.

“Why I think it’s popular is that at its core it’s about love and about our impulses to find love and to find people to love and how complicated that is and how it works in the larger structure of our society as well as our personal lives,” Cardinal said. “So it’s examining issues that are core to what it is to be a human being.”

U-M mines Ayad Akhtar's "Junk: The Golden Age of Debt" and the impact of the 1980s bonds scandal 

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

University of Michigan's production of Junk: The Golden Age of Debt

Pete Dickey, Henry Conner, Charles Lee-Rossing (in red hat), Sam Smiley, Victoria Vourkoutiotis, Lenin Izquierdo star in University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama's production of Junk: The Golden Age of Debt. Photo by Nick Carroll.

In Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street, investor Gordon Gekko sums up what capitalism is all about from his point of view: “Greed is good.”

Playwright Ayad Akhtar takes a more nuanced look at American finance in his play Junk: The Golden Age of Debt, a play about the increased investment in high-yield bonds—or junk bonds. Akhtar’s play is loosely based on the rise and fall of financier Michael Milken. In the 1980s, Milken changed Wall Street with his embrace of junk bonds, the idea that “debt is an asset,” and his acquisition of debt-troubled corporations.

In 1990 Milken pleaded guilty to six counts of securities and tax violations. He paid heavy fines and served a greatly reduced 22-month prison sentence. He went on to become a philanthropist, especially noted for his contributions to medical research. In February, outgoing President Donald Trump pardoned Milken.

The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama will present Ayad Akhtar’s Junk Dec. 2-5 at the Power Center, directed by Geoff Packard.

When searching around for a play to direct that would engage University of Michigan theater students and audiences, Packard chose Akhtar’s play for its provocative ideas but also for practical reasons.

The pandemic has had a big impact on the theater program with canceled performances and contact restrictions that have resulted in fewer performance opportunities for students,

“I was told to book a big play that would fill the Power Center,” Packard said. “So the first place I went was to a directory of all the plays that were done at [New York City’s] Vivian Beaumont since this is a similar footprint to the Power Center.”

He Just Wants to "Fly": Ki5 ponders escape and possibilities in his new song and video

MUSIC INTERVIEW

A still from Ki5's video for his song Fly

Escape was on the mind of Kyler Wilkins when he wrote the lyrics for his new a capella single and music video, “Fly.” Using only his voice for the melody, harmonies, and beats, the Ypsilanti-based artist known as Ki5 croons the song's chorus, “Can we fly?” with the sort of passion that can make listeners' souls take flight.

Wilkins said the track makes him dream about traveling and the lyrics capture that sense of anticipation, possibility, and geographic movement. The song's lyrics were inspired by the feelings of isolation at the height of the pandemic, and Wilkins' descending vocals during the chorus are meant to mimic the sensation of freefalling in a dream.

The track was co-written and co-produced by Tom Valdez and Janet Cole Valdez, who Wilkins met last year at an online songwriting class. He says “Fly'' was one of the first songs written by the trio, which has written seven total tunes together.

“The funny part is that after the first scratch recording I made the day we wrote some lyrics, I forgot about the song for a few weeks,” Wilkins said. “It was only after coming back later that I was struck by how inviting and enchanting the original idea was. I really began to believe in its magic then.”

The music video for “Fly” features Wilkins' niece, Maxine Wilkins, who choreographed the video and recruited two dancers, Celia Embry and Vee Brzoznowski, to move alongside her. The dancers correlate with the gradual unfolding of the track: in the beginning, there's just one dancer, but as the song blossoms, all three are doing moves together.

You can find the song on Bandcamp and Spotify; catch the music video below:

Journal Entries: Cashmere Washington's reflective new collection provides a therapeutic outlet for the Ypsi singer-songwriter

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Cashmere Washington

Cashmere Washington carves a personal pathway to healing on their latest EP. Photo by Mikael Dunn.

Cashmere Washington’s The Shape of Things to Come serves as a vulnerable, poignant journal for releasing painful feelings, memories, and experiences.

The Ypsilanti indie rocker eloquently tackles the challenges of relationship abuse, childhood trauma, gender, and identity across six insightful, therapeutic tracks on their new EP, which is part of an ongoing series of journaling-like songs that started as ‘therapy homework’ from my therapist to just write six letters to the people who hurt me and I wanted to let go of," said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who is also the hip-hop beatmaker guero. "After I wrote the first four in a week, I liked them so much I couldn’t stop writing."

Backed by raw electric guitars, thumping drums, and roaming bass, The Shape of Things to Come is a powerful outlet to show Washington's inner strength and powerful voice while acknowledging and shedding long-term guilt and shame.

All the Pretty Things: Mirror Monster combines electronics and acoustic instruments to soundtrack cathartic personal journeys

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Mirror Monster

Mirror Monster’s Michael Skib and David Minnix provide an insightful personal response to lingering social and political tensions on Pretty Things Made With All Our Love. Photo by Judy Nanney.

Mirror Monster’s latest EP, Pretty Things Made With All Our Love, extracts the hidden emotional beauty from the bleakest of times. The seven-song collection by the Ann Arbor electronic-experimental duo of David Minnix and Michael Skibis is a cathartic, reflective journey that thoughtfully processes internal growth amidst a turbulent external landscape.

Mirror Monster’s enchanting folk-electronica odyssey glides through contemplative tracks about personal losses, the swift passage of time, ethereal encounters, and vivid memories. 

“In my view, if you can grow as a human being through the act of creating music, even if nobody buys or listens to it, you’ve still gained something incredibly valuable," said Skib, who formed the project with Minnix in 2019 and named it after a Deerhoof track. "In that sense, I feel a tremendous amount of this success from this project.”

From the Roots: Chris DuPont's heartfelt "Floodplains" explores raw emotions without dwelling in darkness

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Chris Dupont

Chris Dupont photo by Christina Furtado

When Chris DuPont released his latest album, Floodplains, earlier this year, it would have been easy to assume the themes of isolation and loss grew out of the pandemic. Yet all the songs were actually written pre-COVID, the Ypsilanti-based musician explained in a recent email interview. 

The album continues DuPont’s remarkable run of thoughtful, heartfelt songwriting brought to life with impeccable singing and musicianship. The album has an intimate feel, highlighted by DuPont’s expressive guitar playing and flawless supporting accompaniment. “Retrieve” leads off the album, musing about how new relationships can heal broken ones, with guest vocalist Olivia Dear enriching the sound.

Several songs have an undercurrent of regret, and there are plenty of examples of DuPont’s knack for arresting lyrics. “Start Again,” featuring Rin Tarsy on vocals, is particularly affecting as DuPont sings, “I have never faced so steep a valley / As the center of the mattress in a wedding bed.” The album closes with touching “In the Lap of the Mountain (Benediction),” concluding that ultimately we all need someone else.  

DuPont recently answered some questions about Floodplains:

Author, Screenwriter, and U-M Alum Christopher Cosmos' Debut Novel Covers Characters Caught Up in Greece’s WWII Fight

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Christopher Cosmos and his book Once We Were Here

Author and U-M alum Christopher Cosmos brings alive the historical and personal drama of the Greek resistance during World War II in his new novel, Once We Were Here. When Greece refuses to surrender to Mussolini’s demand for occupation in 1940, the decision sets off a series of events that irrevocably alter the characters’ lives.

The narrative starts in 2014 in Michigan and is told by a grandfather to his grandson. By looking back in time and telling the story, Papou reveals the family’s resilience, romances, losses, and triumphs during the war. The novel is bookended by scenes at this later date. The grandfather starts the tale with a view of what life is like in Agria, Greece on the Aegean Sea before the war. Two friends Alexandros—Alexei —and Constantinos—Costa—have just turned 18, both born on the same night. Alexei is a fisherman and reflects on how a day on his boat feels: 

The characters in Erin Hahn’s coming-of-age novel "Never Saw You Coming" grapple with beliefs and trauma in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Erin Hahn and her novel Never Saw You Coming

Author photo by Hilary Nichols.

The line between right and wrong is not always clear. Erin Hahn’s new young adult novel, Never Saw You Coming, illustrates the dilemmas that people face when they are told one thing and experience another, leaving them to sort out what they believe. 

In the book, 18-year-old Meg Hennessey learns several family secrets at once and goes on a journey to make sense of it all. She grew up in Ann Arbor and travels to Marquette, Michigan, to meet with relatives she previously did not know she had. There, she meets Micah Allen, who likewise has a complicated past. The two of them find an immediate connection complete with witty banter, physical attraction, and outdoor adventures. Chapters alternate between each of their perspectives. 

As young adults going through new situations and developing strong feelings for each other, Meg and Micah face uncertainties about whether to listen to religious advice or to follow their intuitions. Purity and abstinence are highly valued in the church, and the pair meets scrutiny even when trying to support church members and follow their values. 

Meg reflects, “Before Marquette, I was only a sinner in my heart. Now I’m … out there. Like toothpaste all squeezed out of the tube. I can’t be put back in. And I don’t think I want to be.” She reconsiders the good that can come from bad situations. Her parents’ circumstances are among those situations, and she wonders about the concept of sin: 

If God brought my parents together that one time, just to make me, and if it was a blessing planned by God, how could it be a sin? Are sins just blessings being played in God’s long game? 

Both Meg and Micah grow and form their own perspectives as they face numerous challenges. 

Hahn lives in Ann Arbor, and Never Saw You Coming is her third book. I interviewed her about writing this novel, the choices she made in it, and what’s coming up next for her.