Past, Tense: U-M grad Akil Kumarasamy's "Half Gods" is a masterful debut

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Akil Kumarasamy, Half Gods

Akil Kumarasamy photo by Nina Subin.

“The past is never dead," wrote William Faulkner. "It's not even past.”

The past is always present and rarely quiet in Akil Kumarasamy’s masterful debut novel, Half Gods

The Sri Lankan civil war lasted more than 25 years, officially ending in 2009. The 10 interlinked stories in Half Gods tell the story of Nalini and her family, for whom the war is neither dead nor past. After the slaughter of her mother and brothers, Nalini and her father escape to New Jersey with their grief following right along with them. The stories travel through narrators with some of the focus on Nalini as a child and then as a grown woman with children of her own. Other stories include a man in Sri Lanka looking for a missing child, a butcher from Botswana transplanted to New Jersey who falls in love with Nalini all told through short stories. 

A2 author Lillian Li explores relationships, context, and proximity in her debut novel

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Lillian Li, Number One Chinese Restaurant

Author photograph by Margarita Corporan

How do obligations and desires compete in our lives?

Three generations of characters, family, and friends grapple with those two often opposing components in Number One Chinese Restaurant, the debut novel by Lillian Li.

Li presents a broad cast, ranging from restaurant staff to the family members who own the Beijing Duck House. In fact, the family tree -- or rather the map of characters -- is on the inside cover of the book, which proves quite useful when reading. (You can have your book signed by Li at Nicola’s Books on September 20 at 7 pm.)

The Ann Arbor-based Li teaches at the University of Michigan and works at Literati Bookstore. She earned her MFA from the University of Michigan and is originally from the D.C. metro area. 

Vision for Flint: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha's “What the Eyes Don’t See” tracks the city's public health crisis

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See

Photo by Mike Naddeo

While it’s easy to see the Flint water crisis as a story of government failing the people it’s supposed to serve, it’s a lot more than that. It’s also the story of a resilient community, the determined people who live there, and the activists who helped bring the situation to light.

Those stories meet in the work of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center. She played a pivotal role in the crisis, conducting research and publicizing results that showed how lead levels rose alarmingly in Flint children after the city switched its water source.

Now “Dr. Mona” has published a book about her experience, What the Eyes Don’t See. She will discuss the book at Rackham Auditorium with Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council, an event sponsored by Literati Bookstore and the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, where Hanna-Attisha earned her bachelor’s degree (under its earlier name, the School for Natural Resources and the Environment).

“I never set out to write a book in my career,” Hanna-Attisha said in a recent phone interview. “It’s not about Flint, it’s about who we are and who we want to be.”

Fake Facts: Theatre Nova’s dark comedy "The Totalitarians" wades through a political swamp

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Theatre Nova's The Totalitarians

Connor Forrester as Ben (left) and Joe Zarrow as Jeffrey in The Totalitarians by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb at Theatre Nova. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

Theatre Nova’s September offering, The Totalitarians, centers on a campaign manager trying to help her candidate win an election in Nebraska. The candidate, Penelope Easter, is an earthy, compulsive woman whose tenuous relationship to facts seems, well, familiar. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dark, witty comedy touches on politics, revolutions, and the twists, turns, and perils that come with both.

Pulp spoke with Diane Hill, who plays Penelope Easter, director Carla Milarch.

Michigan’s extensive role in modern design among Kerrytown Bookfest highlights

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Wayne State University's McGregor Memorial Conference Center

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1958. Architect: Minoru Yamasaki & Associates. From the book, Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America, edited by Amy Arnold and Brian Conway of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Jim Haefner, MI State Historic Preservation Office.

If you don’t necessarily consider Michigan a hotbed of the modern design movement, you’re not alone. But two recent books aim to change that perception, and their authors will appear in Ann Arbor this weekend as part of the Kerrytown Bookfest.

“People do not think of Michigan as a design center," says Brian Conway, Michigan’s state historic preservation officer. "They think of New York or Los Angeles but skip over the Midwest. But there was this very strong design industry here in Michigan, and it actually still exists.”

Deep in Thoughtful Music: Kenji Lee and the Canterbury House Concert Series

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Brian Juarez, Kenji Lee, David Alvarez III

Brian Juarez, Kenji Lee, David Alvarez III formed their trio at U-M.

Saxophonist Kenji Lee is a final year University of Michigan student who is entering his third year as Concert Series coordinator at Canterbury House, the home of U-M’s Episcopal Chaplaincy, and a welcoming space in which U-M music students, their friends, and local and touring musicians can share their work and have fellowship amongst themselves and the broader community. 

Journey to U-M Ann Arbor

The Ann Arbor Russian Festival brings Northern Eurasian culture to Washtenaw

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Russian Festival

For the group that puts the Ann Arbor Russian Festival together every year, it’s about much more than simply having a fun time, it’s about sharing their culture.

“Nobody knows what is Orthodox church,” laughed Leta Nikulshina, the festival’s entertainment director. “People think, ‘Are you Catholic?’ ‘No, we’re not.’ Or, ‘Are you Jewish?’ ‘No, we’re not.’

“Its kind of the way to open up who we are and bring us closer to everyone else,” she said.

The festival’s beginnings also had a slight ulterior motive. 

Civic Theatre’s "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" plays the con game for laughs

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Civic Theatre's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

After directing seven serious dramas in a row, including Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of hell, No Exit, Glenn Bugala was ready for some laughs.

Bugala is directing the musical comedy version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.  Bugala, who has a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Purdue University, has performed and directed numerous productions at Civic since he became involved with the theater in 1997. His credits include directing Rent, Chess, Tommy, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Front Page.

Scoundrels, with book by Jeffrey Lane and music by David Yazbek, is based on the 1988 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as an odd couple of conmen engaged in fleecing rich women on the French Riviera. Caine played a smooth-talking gentleman who cons wealthy women to Martin’s rowdy, lowbrow who is happy snagging $20 from anyone he can.

“I think these days, with the news cycle, we could all use a comedy,” Bugala said. “I’ve known the movie since it came out, and I’ve kept a VHS tape of it since then.”

Art forms will come together at Rasa Festival's "Poetry Through the Ages"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rasa Festival's Poetry Through the Ages

Art forms will interconnect during "Poetry Through the Ages," one of the many events of the second Rasa Festival, which goes from September 1 to October 7. Visual art, dance, and music are to embody the words of Indian poetry in this new addition to the festival on Saturday, September 15, from 8-9:30 pm at the Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor.

Sreyashi Dey is a conceptual artist, choreographer, and dancer for this event, as well as director of the Rasa Festival and president and artistic director of Akshara, the organization producing the festival. She described the concept of "Poetry Through the Ages" by saying "words of the poetry will find expression in the diverse art forms that will work together to create a new aesthetic tapestry."

The Evil That Men Do: Alice Bolin’s "Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Alice Bolin and her book Dead Girls

Without a doubt, Laura Palmer’s corpse remains one of the most enduring images to come out of ‘90s television.

Anyone who has watched the Twin Peaks premiere (either at the time of its airing or as part of the younger, revivalist crowd) is certain to recall the eerie impression that Laura is simply sleeping, bound to wake up any minute -- this despite, of course, the fact that she is quite clearly “dead, wrapped in plastic.”

The shot is memorable, perhaps, not so much because of any particular aspect of the composition, but because of the horrible incongruity of its visual and dramatic elements. The viewer is presented with a face apparently at peace, the only hints of death’s presence being the pallor of Laura’s flesh and the slight blue tint of her lips. Faraway from the brutality of Laura’s murder, the image is at such a great remove from the horrific violence behind it that it sits with us in a way that is particularly uncomfortable. But more than that, the image is important for its symbolic significance, for what its very presence on our TV screens says about the way we think and the stories we tell ourselves as a society.

Alice Bolin takes the idea of this symbolic significance as her jumping-off point in a remarkable new collection of essays -- aptly titled Dead Girls -- which she read from on August 17 at Literati Bookstore. A sprawling mosaic of analysis, cultural criticism, and memoir, Bolin’s collection touches on much more than the phenomenon of the “Dead Girl” in the American popular imagination, despite its title.