Egg Rolls and Racism: Curtis Chin's memoir recalls growing up in his family's Chinese restaurant in the Cass Corridor
Some lessons arrive early in life and stick with you for years.
For author Curtis Chin, the lesson is “Work hard. Be quiet. Obey your elders.” These instructions become a mantra for Chin as he grows up in his family’s restaurant, Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, in Detroit. The advice gets him through unfamiliar situations.
Chin recalls his experiences in his new memoir, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant. With humor and the kind of introspection that comes with looking back on one’s life, Chin narrates stories from his time in the restaurant and Detroit, as well as his journey to becoming a writer at the University of Michigan. In fact, he worked at Drake's Sandwich Shop as a student. Food, family ties, and Chin’s identity as a gay American-born Chinese serve as throughlines in the book.
The politics and racism of the '80s parallel Chin’s formative years. Chung’s was in the Cass Corridor, a rough area at that time, and its clientele spanned all races and even drew Mayor Coleman Young as a diner. Chin’s father recognized the lessons to be had from talking with customers and brought his sons from the back kitchen into the dining room: “[H]e had really brought us there to discover the outside world, which was sitting right at our tables. All we had to do was listen.”
Fables of the Deconstruction: Allison Epstein’s second novel uses Eastern European mythology to create queer historical fiction
Allison Epstein says Let the Dead Bury the Dead is “my COVID novel, for sure."
She started writing it in 2019 and "most of the drafting and rewriting happened while I was in lockdown, looking for something to do.”
The book is set in 1812 in a partially reimagined St. Petersburg, Russia, where a band of revolutionaries, the Koalitsiya (loosely based on the Decembrists), plot against the tsar, while the tsar’s second son decides whether or not to join them.
The Chicago-based Epstein, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of Michigan, also wrote historical fiction in her first novel, A Tip for the Hangman, based on the 16th-century life of playwright and alleged spy Christopher Marlowe.
Epstein says the inspiration for Let the Dead Bury the Dead came from another book set in the same period and country.
Kylee Phillips deliberately steps outside herself and looks inward on Long Time Coming.
The indie-pop singer-songwriter and keyboardist examines past vulnerabilities and realizations through a wiser lens on her new EP.
“It’s very autobiographical. Honestly, writing them was less about sharing them with other people and more about admitting things to myself,” said Phillips, who lives in Ypsilanti.
“In the writing process, I struggle sometimes to be vulnerable or to process my own feelings in real life. I joke that sometimes you could ask me how I feel about a situation and I would say, ‘I don’t know,’ and then I would write a song and go, ‘I guess that’s how I feel about it.’”
On Long Time Coming, Phillips shares a spectrum of emotions—ranging from disappointment to anticipation to relief—across five introspective tracks. The EP’s cathartic lyrics and atmospheric pop instrumentation allow listeners to instantly grasp and connect with Phillips’ perspective.
“A lot of these songs were things that I was describing, especially ‘Long Time Coming,’ and are like the closets in your house where you put stuff and you’re like, ‘I’m not going to think about it; I’m going to pretend that all that crap has been in there,’” Phillips said. “Then at a certain point, you say, ‘I’m gonna have to look in that closet.’”
As an accomplished songwriter, Bill Edwards often tells stories from multiple perspectives across an astonishing catalog of songs.
This time, the prolific Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist opted to share his own stories on his new Americana album, So Far.
“The songs are all, without exception, autobiographical, making this the most personal record I’ve ever released. I’ve reached an age where it seemed like it was time to look both backward and forward,” Edwards said.
“The future is never guaranteed, and I wanted some of these feelings captured. There’s a lot of emotional territory covered on the album, and it all feels true to me.”
On So Far, Edwards features 14 tracks that collectively reflect on a life filled with optimism, love, gratitude, loss, wisdom, and nostalgia. The album’s honest sentiment, introspective lyrics, and earnest instrumentation invite listeners to contemplate their own lives alongside Edwards.
“I wrote probably 50 songs that may have been candidates for this record over the past year or so,” he said. “I’m always writing, and these tunes got swapped in and out as new material came to be.”
I recently spoke with Edwards about opening for Rodney Crowell, writing tracks for So Far, recording his new album, hosting an October 18 album release show at The Ark, and working on new material.
Jungah Han doesn’t try to copy a successful look from a previous production of a play, musical, or opera she is designing. She doesn’t look at photos or read about what other designers have done, and she tells her University of Michigan students to begin without preconceptions, too.
At times—more often when she’s designing in the United States than abroad—she’s been asked to reproduce what’s been done in other productions.
She’s not interested in those jobs.
Han, who joined the faculty at the U-M School of Music, Theatre, and Dance last fall, is a theater artist. She brings her own response to a play, in collaboration with the director’s vision and those of others on the design team.
Yet, Han didn’t even know what theater was when she enrolled in Kangwon National University in her native South Korea. There, she studied business. “Part of business is marketing and advertising. I was interested in the design part,” recalls Han, who moved to Honolulu to study desktop publishing at Hawaii Pacific University.
Then, a tidal change.
The Mating Game: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's "The Matchmaker" Tells a Deeper Story Beyond "Hello, Dolly!"
In 1955, playwright Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker became a Broadway hit that ran for 486 performances, toured successfully, became a movie, and was embraced by regional and community theaters across the country. Today, Wilder’s play is rarely performed because of Hello Dolly!
“It’s an American classic and it doesn’t get done because Hello, Dolly! gets done,” said Wendy Wright, the director of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of The Matchmaker, which will run October 19-22 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.
Hello, Dolly! is, of course, the hit musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. The song "Hello, Dolly!" was a mega-hit for Louis Armstrong before the musical was up and running, and the musical gave Carol Channing her greatest role. It, too, became a movie with Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.
The Matchmaker has an interesting history. It began as a one-act play in England in 1835 and was expanded into a full-length play by an Austrian playwright in 1842. In 1938, Wilder, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist, created an American version of the story that he called The Merchant of Yonkers. It flopped. But Wilder regrouped, put the focus on Dolly, and created The Matchmaker. He won the Pulitzer for the plays, Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, and the novella, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
Purple-Colored Glasses: Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca Provide Asexual and Aromantic Perspectives in “Sounds Fake But Okay”
University of Michigan alums Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca host the podcast “Sounds Fake But Okay” and recently came out with their new nonfiction book, Sounds Fake But Okay: An Asexual and Aromantic Perspective on Love, Relationships, Sex, and Pretty Much Anything Else. The book delves into what it means to be asexual and aromatic. Along the way, they define many terms, both in the glossary at the start of the book and in subsequent chapters. They offer their own personal examples and quotations about identities from other people who responded to a survey.
Like many things, asexuality and aromanticism are on a spectrum, referred to in the book as aspectrum or aspec. Costello and Kaszyca describe their understanding of this range of perspectives and identities as having “purple-colored glasses”:
Once a person first puts on those purple-colored glasses and sees the potential a new mindset unleashes, it’s understandable that they may not want to take them off. It’s understandable that one may choose to embrace the unknown and the uncategorizable in contexts beyond relationships with one another and apply what the aspec lens teaches us to their relationship with themselves.
The authors emphasize the many variations along the aspectrum, given that “the aspectrum is a seemingly infinite trove of words and concepts and love whose combined meaning cannot possibly be fully mastered by a single mortal being.” Aspectrum is not one-size-fits-all but rather a plethora of individualities to which a person may relate.
Peak of Success: Nick Baumgardner and Mark Snyder Revisit U-M Wolverines’ 1997 National Championship Season in New “Mountaintop” Book
Books about the University of Michigan’s football team could easily fill several shelves, but strangely, one thing that’s been missing is a deep-dive chronicle of the 1997 National Championship season.
Don’t worry, though. Longtime local sports journalists Nick Baumgardner and Mark Snyder just filled that gap by way of a brand new book, Mountaintop: The Inside Story of Michigan’s 1997 National Title Climb.
Yet the arrival of Mountaintop inevitably begs the question: Why did it take so long for a book about that hallowed season to appear in the world?
“A lot of it has to do with Lloyd Carr, who doesn’t like to talk about himself a lot,” said Baumgardner, who now writes about the Detroit Lions for The Athletic. “That’s a big part of it. … The other thing, too, is a lot of these [former players] … they’re protective of it, and they aren’t very trusting about people getting their stories right, so it’s a hard group to crack.”
But crack it he (and Snyder) did, interviewing, over the course of two years, not just every surviving member of the team that they could track down, but also coaches, staffers, and others while doing loads of research, too.
“Mark Snyder came to me; he’d covered Michigan at the Free Press for a long time, and The Oakland Press and The Michigan Daily, and he’d known Lloyd for a long time ... he was certainly closer to him than I was,” Baumgardner said. “Lloyd and a few other people from that era came to Mark with the idea of maybe doing a book, since no one had done one on the ‘97 team.”
David Lawrence Morse's Short Story Collection, "The Book of Disbelieving," Challenges Distinctions Between Fantasy and Reality
The worlds of Morse’s short stories are not our worlds, though they are not too different. In The Book of Disbelieving, he changes an element or two of life, which becomes the premise of the story. As one character reflects, “The mind can imagine anything, but that doesn’t make it so.” The stories also read like fables with a moral, even though there are no animals who speak.
The first story, “The Great Fish,” contains a civilization that lives on the back of a large fish and only allows pairs of people to stay together if they successfully procreate. When Osa and the narrator, who are partners, disagree about their future, Osa focuses on her own plans. Her significant other reflects on their circumstances: “ ‘What’s wrong with floating,’ I asked. ‘That’s the way the world works.’ ” Osa does not want to float through existence anymore, though. They do not agree because her mate wants to keep “the precarious life it was my responsibility to preserve.” As they forge their own paths, the surprising thing is what they miss.
These stories gravitate to the topic of death. One story covers a person with the role of “oarsman” to row away the deceased. Another story called “The Serial Endpointing of Daniel Wheal” follows a desperate character trapped in a society that has a special unit to remove those who have “endpointed.” Passing on carries a great deal of mystery and abruptness, as Daniel reflects on his life:
That was memory. That was past. And Charlotte was past and the past is past. As much as he wanted to relish the experience, he couldn’t hold on to the moment, the moments slipped free too quickly, before he could appreciate them the moments ghosted into memory. Time is an endpoint that renders pleasure into grasping after nostalgia.
No one, including Daniel, is immune. Morse’s stories embrace “how it could all change in an instant. How you told yourself one thing but believed something else. But the thing you actually believed wasn’t the thing you wanted to believe.”
Morse earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at the University of Michigan and now directs the writing program at the Jackson School of Global Affairs at Yale University. I interviewed him about his new book.
Despite having grown up with an older sister, Eric Moore longs for a strong sense of brotherhood.
“It happened in San Francisco, in Jackson Hole, [Wyoming], and here in Michigan,” said Moore, who grew up near Pittsburgh, and lived out west before moving to Ypsilanti in 2002.
“I made super-tight friendships with some guys who had tight friendships with their brothers. When their brothers were on the scene and whenever we were all together, I felt like the third wheel … there was a line I couldn’t cross, and they weren’t trying to ostracize me by any means, but I just could not get over and get any closer than what those guys had.”
Backed by contemplative acoustic guitar and piano on “Brother,” Moore sings, “The first time I ever heard it I was almost 40 years old / Far past the pain of adolescence, yeah, all those tears were cold / Still it got me thinking about some good friends along the way / They were always there for each other, there wasn’t nothing left to say.”
“I noticed this tendency in me to do that, so I started with this line, ‘I’ve been waiting on you, brother.’ I tried writing around that, and I was trying to force something,” he said.
“Somewhere at some point, I said … ‘Nobody ever called me brother,’ and I went, ‘Boom! That is the song and the line that everything is going to hinge on.’ And then the song just wrote itself, it just poured out after I had that line … [and] that’s the truth, too, growing up in Washington, Pennsylvania without a musical soul to even talk with.”