“Women of Manhattan, magnificent as they were, they forgot sometimes they weren’t immortal...” -Marisha Pessl
These fortysomething best friends have been meeting every Tuesday night for twenty years. Once the toast of the town, they are secretly falling apart at the seams. As Lucy, once a supermodel, now a freelance writer, watches her marriage to a renowned artist slowly falling apart, she becomes reckless when she starts receiving mysterious text messages from another man. Billy, an unemployed food and wine expert, quietly struggles to make rent each month, is exploring supper-club subscriptions. Lotta, a successful art dealer, dependent on cocktails and recreational drugs, is courting a total breakdown; while Sarah, a well-heeled socialite chasing after reality-show fame is paying the price with her reputation.
As these women of a very dangerous age navigate their ways around a city that worships only the young, it is anyone's guess how they will emerge at the end of a very bumpy summer.
"The dialogue is funny, and a plotline involving a mysterious blogger who’s terrorizing all of New York is intriguing and twisty."-Kirkus Reviews. A breezy beach read for fans of Sex and the City.
Bestselling author Emma Straub praised Rich and Pretty as "smart, sharp, and beautifully made," Rumaan Alam's portrait of two childhood best friends transitioning into their adult lives is vividly rendered, set against a tantalizing background of moneyed New York City that is impossible to resist.”
Sarah is rich—the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite. Lauren is pretty, and smart enough to snag a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan where they met. They have been inseparable through high school and college, first jobs and first loves, and the uncertainties of their twenties. Now in their thirties, Sarah works at a charity thrift store and is planning her wedding to her doctor fiance. Lauren, steadyly making a good name for herself in publishing is care-free and single. As a way to reconnect, Sarah asks Lauren to be her maid of honor and help plan the wedding. But the closeness Sarah was hoping to reignite looks like a thing of the past when Lauren misbehaves on a bachelorette trip.
"With astute descriptions of how values, tastes, desires, and ambitions change over two decades, Alam’s tale of a divergent friendship smartly reflects the trial and error nature of finding a mate and deciding how to grow up." -Publishers Weekly. Try this if you enjoyed Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.
Inspired by Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, debut novelist Weina Dai Randel sets out to write stories of Chinese women who succeeded in mapping their own destinies and tries to redress the often misrepresented and misunderstood Empress Wu with The Moon in the Palace .
When a monk foretells that 5 year-old Mei will one day be both the mother of emperors and an emperor in her own right, her father takes this to heart and sees that she is schooled in poetry, history, mathematics, calligraphy, and even Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
At 13, the orphaned Mei enters the palace to serve in the royal household where she will need to draw on all she had learned from her father to survive the intrigue and duplicity of the Imperial Court and to earn favor with the emperor. Her only ally is a boy named Pheasant but their involvement might put both of them in danger.
Mei's story continues in The Empress of Bright Moon as she ascends to rule as China's only female emperor in more than four millennia.
These days, comics are everywhere. Superheroes dominate the silver screen. Graphic novels burn up the best-seller lists. And of course, comic-cons are a nationwide craze.
But graphic storytelling is about more than comic commercialism. And this weekend, the Ann Arbor District Library is presenting a lineup of some of the most popular cartoonists with young readers and a slew of local talent to deliver an event more about passion for comics than profit: the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival.
Taking place Saturday and Sunday at the library’s main branch, A2CAF (as the show is known for short) is the continuation of the popular event formerly known as Kids Read Comics. The 2016 edition of this free festival not only brings over 50 comic creators to its "artist's alley" area to share their work with school-aged readers and their families – it will also host dozens of hands-on creative workshops all over downtown. And in a special Friday event, the show will welcome librarians and teachers to meet with the talent so they can boost their own comics bona fides. All in all, the guests and programming will work to build a love of the medium in all its attendees.
"Our ethos is 'A life can be changed by comics.' Mine was," explains A2CAF co-founder and organizer Dan Mishkin. And he should know. The Michigan-based writer spent years crafting stories for DC Comics including runs with Superman and Wonder Woman in addition to being co-creator of heroes like Blue Devil and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld (which was recently adapted as a series on Cartoon Network). The A2CAF team hopes to inspire a new generation of comic lovers. As Mishkin says, "You don't have to be a professional for your mind to be opened up by comics."
Getting the community excited about the medium starts with the all-star lineup of cartoonist and writers. This year, the keynote presenters will be the creator of the Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel El Deafo Cece Bell and her husband Tom Angleberger who is the mastermind behind the Star Wars-themed Origami Yoda series, amongst other books. Joining them on the show floor will be acclaimed artists like Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic's popular Amulet series), Ben Hatke (Zita The Spacegirl), and the team behind Oni Press's hilarious new comic BroBots, J. Torres and Sean Dove.
"These are all people who are committed to young readers and committed to comics, who you can see in their every move that they love this artform," Mishkin says. "We don't have the people who just sit behind their table and hope someone will talk to them. We also don't have the people who think that they're only there to sell their books. That's not our reason for being. Our reason is to instill a love of comics."
The organizer is also keenly aware of how much local flavor has been added to the show over the years. "Maintaining a variety is something that's really important to us, and it involves finding local people and being responsive to that," he explains. "We're always refining the mix of guests. It's not just about the professionals. It's about both the New York Times bestseller and the local person who's just starting out. You'll see a lot of Southeast Michigan and mid-Michigan creators who have a day job, but they're doing their webcomic on the side. It works out really well for them and for us to give them a showcase."
But as all artists presenting their wares at the show get to table for free, the organizers have an expectation for what the talent bring to the festival. "You need to represent what we're all about. I only half-jokingly say 'We don't care if you sell anything at your table.' Because for us, it's much more important that the artists engage with kids and teenagers and parents and teachers and librarians so that the passion for comics comes across."
That love extends into A2CAF's second major feature: its wide range of programming. Across the weekend, the library itself will hold comics-making workshops, a ceremony for the kids-focused Dwayne McDuffie Award, and signings for some of the biggest talent on hand. And on Friday, the A2Inkubate unconference will present educators and librarians with a chance to collaborate on methods for bringing comics to their students. But beyond that, programming will also pop up across downtown at spots including the Vault of Midnight comics shop, the 826 Ann Arbor Robot Supply & Repair storefront, and the Ann Arbor Art Center.
"It just makes sense to share the event with organizations with whom we share a mission. We're all in a Venn diagram of these things," Mishkin says. "It's really about turning young people onto having a passion for comics and doing it in a non-commercial setting with a lot of hands-on experience. During the show we're really, really hands-on. It's all about getting kids and teens to learn how to make comics. [Local cartoonist] Matt Feazell has his wonderful 'How To Make A Mini Comic' 90-minute workshop, which is so great, and there are other things that are geared towards different levels of ability. Some are geared towards storytelling, but one of the great revelations about doing these workshops is that kids are not inhibited about drawing. They just go ahead and do it.
"We're very much focused on hands-on workshops, and we also have programming that fits into the category of 'spectacle.' So if you're shy or somewhat inhibited, you can sit in an audience and watch artists compete with each other as they draw improvisationally. You can even shout out suggestions for what they can draw. And it always turns out that the kids that moms and dads think are inhibited get really into shouting out ideas for the cartoonists. We keep it fun, and there's a low barrier to participation."
That idea of an easy path into comics is what started the show now known as A2CAF. In 2009, the nonprofit called Kids Read Comics that runs the show launched their first event at the Chelsea District Library. And in 2016, the shift in name from Kids Read Comics to Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival represents a fulfillment of the team's mission. "I think the change in name means very, very little about [any kind of change in] the character of the show. It's an attempt to better state what we've been about all along," Mishkin explains.
For those curious about the festival's shift, the organizer explains that one key element of the previous iteration wasn't working. "Teenagers don't like being called 'kids.' With a distance from being a kid or a teenager myself, I failed to see that there was going to be an off-putting message in the word 'kids' for some of the people we really wanted to bring into the show. It was never our intention to say that teenagers shouldn't be involved. It was very much our intention that they should be there. They should be there to find really cool stuff, but if the name pushes them away, that's a big problem.
"The word 'Festival' instead of 'Convention' means you're not thinking about more 'adult' comics. You're thinking about joy."
Kiel Phegley is an Ann Arbor based writer, and teacher. His work has been published by CBR, Wizard Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Marvel Magazines, MTV Blogs, and many other print and web outlets.
A2CAF takes place at the AADL's main branch at 343 Fifth Avenue on Saturday, June 18 from 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM and on Sunday, June 19 from 12:30 to 5:30 PM. For more info on the show and Friday's A2Inkubate conference, check out A2CAF.com.
In Antonia Hayes' debut novel Relativity, nerdy, bookish and a ready target for bullies, 12 year-old Ethan Forsythe is obsessed with physics and astronomy. Raised by Claire, a single-mother who gave up her career as a ballerina, Ethan is increasing curious about his father whose identity Claire refuses to disclose.
When a seizure sends Ethan to the hospital, they discover his remarkable abilities might be related to a previous brain injury suffered as an infant that sent his father, Mark to prison. Meanwhile, Mark, who tries to rebuild his life in the far-reaches of Western Australia, is back in Sydney, to attend to his dying father who is asking to see Ethan, his only grandson. When Ethan secretly intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he unleashes long-suppressed forces that—like gravity—pull the three together again, testing the limits of love and forgiveness.
"With a heart-wrenching plot and a style reminiscent of Jodi Picoult, this is an excellent novel with deep characterization and powerful imagery.” -Library Journal
2014 winner of the Colin Roderick Award, and set in the remote coastal town of Thirroul at the end of WWII, The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is the story of Anikka "Ani" Lachlan, a transplant from Scotland who is trying desperately to make a home for herself and her 11 year-old daughter Isabelle.
After her husband, the railway-man Mac(kenzie) was killed in an accident while on the job, Ani was given the job as the librarian in the railway's lending library. Returning to settle at Thirroul are Roy McKinnon and Dr. Frank Draper, childhood friends who for years, have vacationed at this idyllic spot with their families. McKinnon, a published poet has lost his words from his battlefield experience; while Draper who could not reconcile with his inability to save the 550 prisoners in one of Hitler's concentration camps, has turned bitter and sardonic. They soon find refuge in the library, and gradually a friend in Ani.
Over the course of a year, with Ani as his muse, Roy manages to write again. His first poem is an anonymous offering to Ani, who mistakes it for a hidden birthday gift from Mac. Despite the promise of a new publisher, Roy's despondency grows as Ani never acknowledges the gift. Frank fares better, being taken in hand by Roy's patient and take-charge sister, Iris.
"Multilayered, graceful, couched in poetry, supremely honest, gentle yet jarring, Hay’s thought-provoking novel pulls you along slowly, like a deep river that is deceptively calm but full of hidden rapids. Much to ponder." -Kirkus Reviews
Readers interested in the Australian setting might enjoy (the film adaptation of) Peter Carey's Oscar & Lucinda; the winner of the 2001 Orange Prize - The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville; The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (a soon-to-be released feature film); and Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany.
The awesomely expansive 2016 Allied Media Conference will be held in Detroit this year and aims to “bring together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change: filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists.” The content of the conference is diverse too, including workshops, shows, and dance parties.
I interviewed Morgan Willis, Program Director of the AMC, about what we can expect from this year’s conference.
Q: You talk about AMC as a collaboratively-designed conference. Can you give a sense of the number and scope of collaborators who have worked on this year's event?
A: The Allied Media Conference is created each year through the passionate contributions of hundreds of coordinators, presenters, and volunteers. The AMC organizing process has been developed from an iterative cycle of feedback and learning between AMC participants and organizers. Through trial and error, survey and response, the organizing process is a continuous work in progress.
This year we have 60+ volunteer coordinators of the 28 different tracks, practice spaces, and network gatherings at the conference. We also have approximately 10 full time and part time staff members that work on the conference, as well as an advisory board of nine intergenerational, long-time AMC participants. We share the conference organizing process through our zines “How We Organize the AMC” and the “AMC Presenter Guidelines.”
Q: Who do you hope to see at AMC?
A: The AMC is a conference that is excited to center participants who live at the margins of conventional conference spaces: immigrants, youth, elders, black and brown folks, queer folks, parents, and others, while remaining open to our vast network of participants across all identities and spectrums. We hope to see first time AMCers, returning participants, Detroiters and media-makers from all over the continent.
Q: How does being situated in Detroit influence the conference?
A: This year will be the AMC’s 10th anniversary of being held in Detroit! Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions. Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each of the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them to the conference. Detroiters are also a significant percentage of our coordinators, participants, presenters and attendees.
Our offsite tours and field trips allow participants to see a variety of grassroots media-based organizing initiatives and experience different parts of the city that they may not know about or have access to. One of the most popular tours that is back this year is “From Growing Our Economy to Growing Our Souls” which explores Detroit history and emerging visionary organizing, led by Rich Feldman of the Boggs Center. Other tours will explore urban farming, “green” infrastructure, the Motown United Sound Recording Studio, and more unique places and initiatives in Detroit.
Q: Any tips for navigating the conference for newbies? How about return visitors?
A: As the AMC continues to grow, we hope to ensure that it is a welcoming space for first timers while also cultivating the intimacy and network building that many returning AMCers value so much. This year we will be offering “homeroom” sessions for first timers, hosted by returning AMCers who will help orient first timers to the AMC and offer best practices for navigating through the conference. We will also be sharing a list of “10 Things to Know as an AMC First Timer” on our website (alliedmedia.org/amc) so stay tuned!
One thing we always emphasize to both newbies and returning visitors is to plan your schedule in advance. We just released the online schedule and we highly recommend that attendees read through the 250+ sessions to get a feeling for what you’re most interested in before you arrive. This will also help you identify people and organizations you’d like to connect with so you can grow your network and build long lasting relationships.
Q: What are you personally looking forward to in this year's conference?
A: The Opening Ceremony is always a highlight! This year, through a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts museum, we will host the Opening Ceremony inside the beautiful Detroit Film Theater, which has double the capacity of our previous venue. The event is produced by Tunde Olaniran and will bring together performers, activists, and live music as a celebration of the powerful wave of creative movement-building happening across the country.
I’m also especially excited to see the evolution of workshops from last year into tracks (series of multiple workshops) this year, like the “Black Death Mixtape” session, which has expanded into the “Black Survival Mixtape” track. And I love the return of tracks and network gatherings focused on important topics such as climate resilience and disability justice.
We will also be hosting several community dinners this year, which are a way for attendees to meet and connect over affordable, delicious, and locally sourced food. I’m especially looking forward to the Saturday night community dinner, “Bil Afiya: A Community Feast” at Cass Corridor Commons!
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It is a must-read for fans of A Man Called Ove; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry; The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand—another curiously charming debut about a lonesome widower's life-changing adventure.
Clinging to the simple daily routine established long before his beloved wife of 40 years, Miriam's death a year ago, Arthur Pepper finally feels strong enough to sort through her things. He comes across an exquisite gold charm bracelet hidden inside her winter boots. Puzzled and curious, he senses that Miriam has kept secret an extraordinary life lived before meeting him.
What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey as Arthur traces the origin of each of the charms: the elephant charm with a valuable emerald takes him to Goa, India; the tiger sends him to a dilapidated estate near Bath; an engraved book brings him face to face with a renown poet. Paris is where he tracks down the lovely giver of the golden thimble...
Along the way he was robbed, mauled by a tiger, confronted by a nude portrait of his wife, but he also met kindness and friendship where it was least expected. More importantly, Arthur found strength within, a sense of adventure, and a new zest for life.
“[My granddaughters] usually love to be read to, except on this particular day,” Stahl told a crowd gathered at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater to see her on Monday evening. “Eventually—this was so unbelievably frustrating—we put an iPhone inside the book I was holding and put on Frozen.”
Stahl’s talk, co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and Michigan Radio, focused on what she learned while researching her book; the sexism she faced early in her television journalism career; and answering questions from the audience.
But she kicked things off with a joke. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who watches 60 Minutes?’ I said ‘Who?’ ‘Old people and their parents.’”
Stahl quickly pointed out, though, that just as Baby Boomers have influenced every facet of American culture, as they’ve marched through each stage of life, they’ve also altered our sense of how we must look and act as we age.
“Grannies don’t have permed gray hair anymore,” said Stahl. “We’re all blonde. And we’re going to the gym three or four times a week.”
And unlike previous generations, aging people may now reasonably expect to live another 30 years beyond retirement.
“One person said, the first 30 years of life are focused on education,” said Stahl. “The next 30 years are about having a family and making money. And the last 30, we don’t really have a plan for. … The best way to spend this bonus time is not sitting at home watching television and being bored. It’s spending time with our grandchildren.”
Stahl argued, in fact, that science has demonstrated that involved grandparents reap significant health benefits, and that not spending time with grandchildren actually disrupted the natural order. The earliest human families had a mother and a father that hunted and gathered food during the day, while grandparents cared for babies; and a similar structure carried over into pre-urban agricultural societies.
“Now we have the nuclear family, but it’s not natural to not be a part of our grandchildren’s lives,” said Stahl, noting that just as a woman's brain is re-wired after giving birth, a grandmother's brain is also re-wired. “When we don’t see them—even when it’s just been 3 hours—we crave them.”
Stahl said her book was inspired by the euphoric feeling—“like falling in love”—that washed over her when she first held her baby granddaughter. “It’s different from the love you have for your own children,” said Stahl. “You’re distracted by worry, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. … When you’re a grandparent, we don’t have that. We love that child completely, without any distraction.”
This is why, Stahl said, “no matter how strict we were as parents—sit up straight, do your homework, eat your vegetables—we flip from being a disciplinarian to a mushball.”
Grandparents also now spend more on their grandchildren than any previous generation has. “Grandparents today are spending seven times more than grandparents did just 10 years ago,” Stahl said, citing big ticket costs like health care and daycare (and in her case, a piano).
Regarding her early work as a journalist, Stahl told the story of the Senate hearings on Watergate, which were broadcast daily on all three networks; Stahl was asked to be part of a panel of analysts that would discuss, each night, what had happened at the hearings that day, but her fellow male panelists talked over her and never let her speak. Her boss, after receiving viewer complaints—accusations that the men were being rude to Stahl—finally told the male reporters that they had to let her speak, or the whole thing would be shut down.
The moderator of the broadcast that followed threw out a question regarding the gossip surrounding a D.C. figure, and Stahl sat back, deciding she’d let the men deal with the gossip question.
“They sit there, and there’s dead silence,” said Stahl. “It was excruciating. Then Daniel Schorr jumps in and says, ‘You asked for gossip—well, we have a woman here.’ I was so angry. I started talking, but nothing sensible came out of this mouth.”
This related to Stahl’s analysis about working mothers of her generation struggling to work out a work/life balance. “We were just struggling to get into the workplace,” said Stahl. “We wanted to prove we could do the job as well as men, and that led to us trying to be like men. Men didn’t breastfeed, so we didn’t breastfeed, either.”
Stahl is still working, of course, and while her granddaughters aren’t particularly impressed that Grandma’s on TV—“They think you’re all on TV. To them, it’s just what grandmas do,” said Stahl—the oldest was at least wowed when Grandma got to meet Taylor Swift.
And Stahl explained that although 60 Minutes may appear to be still heavily skewed toward men, by way of the show’s correspondents, “Many of the producers are women. When I go to work, it doesn’t feel like a male enclave…Women do pretty well in journalism…I never felt like I was not one of the group. It’s a wonderful place to work. I love what I do, and they haven’t asked me to leave yet.”
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
Comic fans and cosplayers swarmed Motor City Comic Con this past weekend in Novi. The event draws tens of thousands of people and features elaborate costumes, comic book and art sales, and the opportunity to meet celebrities from various TV shows and movies of the past seventy years. Although the only comic books that I grew up with were about Betty and Veronica fighting over Archie, and I only know superheroes from the Avengers movies, I gamely dressed as Captain America and went to this year’s Comic Con to see what it was all about.
Even attendees who are more familiar with the comics world than I are often most excited to see the fantastic cosplays (comic con abbreviation for “costume play”) that people create to wear to the convention. For me, people watching and admiring the elaborate costumes of my fellow CC participants was definitely the best part, too. Although I wasn’t able to recognize some of the more obscure characters, the time and effort that went into many of the costumes was awesome to see.
Of course, there were lots of Harley Quinns, Game of Thrones characters (particularly Daenarys), and Captain Americas — my DIY costume paled in comparison to the people in full vintage Army gear carrying the original Captain shield — but there were also a number of female Lokis, a team of people dressed as Fallout fighters, and someone who we initially thought was Prince Robot from the Saga series, but turned out to be from the webcomic RGB Property of Hate. Not all the costumes were comics or gaming related, either. Two men were dressed as Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, seemingly for no other reason than that they looked shockingly like the two actors. The open, welcoming atmosphere is one of the best parts of Comic Con; people were more than happy to pose for photos and strike up conversations with one another about their costumes. People staged lightsaber and bow and arrow battles, Dr. Whos posed with blue TARDISes, and Storm Troopers and Red Shirts together bemoaned their laughingly quick and easy deaths.
MCCC is also a mecca for people seeking — of course — comic books. The cavernous space in which the convention is held was over half-filled with aisles of comic book vendors, selling issues ranging from $1.00 for four to over $500 for a single rare back issue of a Batman comic. To truly peruse all the comic book stalls would require spending the entire weekend at MCCC… and even then one might feel rushed. I was a particular fan of the art booths at the festival as well. Dozens of artists—including local artists Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner—showcased their art in various mediums. The art often featured unique interpretations of various well-known characters and emblems from comics and films, and included hand-sewn Chewbacca puppets, blown-glass Game of Thrones dragon eggs, steampunk pocket watches and paintings and posters of all types. Oddly, I even acquired a 1970s print of the state of Michigan with elaborate watercolor-esque images of various Michigan-related things surrounding it, so even for those of us who weren’t necessarily there for anything comic-related, there was worthwhile shopping!
One of the bleak areas of the convention was actually the portion where one could wait in line to meet celebrities. Aside from the exorbitant price to have a minute-long conversation with any one celebrity, many of the more obscure people sat forlornly as no one approached their table. Sure, there were long lines for Lena Headey (of Queen Cersei fame), but it was depressing to see people like Tara Reid and Adam West sitting alone for hours as people wandered past without giving them a second glance. It was almost surreal to walk along the empty aisles, while the “stars” sat about 30 feet back from the main thoroughfare against a backdrop of white curtains staring disinterestedly into space, guarded unnecessarily by bored-looking security personnel in neon vests. I escaped that portion of the convention as quickly as I could.
Overall, I was surprised and pleased by how much fun I — a first-time attendee at a comics convention who really doesn’t know much about comics — had at Motor City Comic Con. If nothing else, the people watching is truly worth the price of the ticket. I’m already planning my cosplay for next year. Hopefully it involves wings.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. Captain America is her favorite Avenger.
Motor City Comic Con happens each May at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Although the con is over for this year, the organizers host other smaller conventions and shows throughout the year.
At one point during Sunday afternoon’s 90 minute talk at Ann Arbor’s downtown library, Mary Norris, an author and a copyeditor for The New Yorker, said, “I’m with my people.”
As if to paint this as a vast understatement, an audience member (and fellow copywriter), during the Q&A portion of the program, held up a box of Palamino Blackwing pencils – which Norris had just noted as her copyediting instrument of choice – and proclaimed, “Blackwing 602s rock!”
More than 100 people showed up to hear from Norris about her new book, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, and ask questions about semi-colons, non-gendered singular pronouns, “insure” vs. “ensure,” and more.
Norris began her talk by talking about her seventh grade English teacher, in Brooklyn, Ohio, who taught students how to diagram sentences, but didn’t like the way spelling was taught in school.
“He had a brainstorm about having us write a story every week that would incorporate words from our spelling list,” said Norris, who noted her book’s first chapter focuses on spelling, “My approach was, I wrote what I wanted and just inserted the spelling words where I could.”
Norris told the AADL crowd that her teacher, Mr. Smith, had them read their stories to the class each Thursday, and this consequently became her favorite day of the week. Another boy in her class, known for telling funny stories, had gained notoriety, and according to Norris, Smith said one day, “It looks like we have two writers in our midst.”
“That was more than an encouragement,” Norris said. “It was a blessing.”
Norris started her career at The New Yorker as an editorial librarian, and when she caught a misspelling in a Christmas food shopping list in the magazine – a “flower” that should have been “flour” – she earned the editors’ thanks and attention.
Of the semicolon, Norris said, “I make fun of it. … I say it’s unnecessary, but that’s probably because I got all the way through college without knowing how to use it. … People who love it find it thrilling. When they use one correctly, they feel like there’s nothing like it. When it’s misused, it betrays that you don’t know anything about language.”
Though Norris is clearly deeply invested in language and grammar, she admitted that before she became a blogger for The New Yorker, she was more interested in writing about other topics, like her transgender sister. But when a short essay she wrote, titled “In Defense of ‘Nutty’ Commas,” went viral, her fate was sealed, and she ventured into posting grammar-oriented videos.
“The fact that the book was coming out made me more agreeable to doing videos, but it’s like the Peter Principle, where you get farther and farther from the things you do best,” said Norris. “It’s like, ‘Oh, she can write! Let’s have her do videos.’ I’m glad people like them, but I can’t watch them.”
Norris finally spoke of being part of the last generation to use typewriters in college. “You give yourself away when you leave two spaces after the period,” Norris said, noting that there’s an organization dedicated to preserving this particular practice, “I was denounced by the Wide Spacing Society on Twitter.”
But given the turnout and enthusiastic reception Norris received in Ann Arbor on Sunday, my guess is that despite this splinter group's shunning, she will long continue her reign as Comma Queen of the word nerd kingdom.
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
Back for its 8th year, the Midwest Literary Walk showcases nationally-lauded authors and poets at various venues throughout downtown Chelsea. The event will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm and is free to the public.
This year’s exceptional lineup opens with Christopher Sorrentino, author of The Fugitives, former National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, at 1 pm at the Chelsea Depot at 125 Jackson St. Set in Michigan, The Fugitives blends the literary fiction and crime thriller genres. The Los Angeles Times describes it as a “stunning new novel… with exceptional interior monologues animated by deception, double-dealing and a doomed affair…”
At 2 pm, National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, will also read at the Chelsea Depot. The hauntingly beautiful Gold Fame Citrus takes place in a future American West ravaged by drought and follows a young couple and mysterious child as they try to make their way to a better life.
The Midwest Literary Walk then moves to the Clocktower Commons at 320 N. Main St. for Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus), winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry, and Jamaal May, an American Library Association Notable Book honoree. At 3 pm, the two poets will discuss their art form, interspersed with readings of their work.
At 4 pm, novelist Paula McLain, whose bestsellers include Circling the Sun and The Paris Wife, will take the stage at the Clocktower Commons. McLain’s latest, Circling the Sun, brings to life the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
At each reading location, the authors’ books will be available for purchase from Literati Bookstore, and time for book signing is incorporated into all sessions. Additionally, many downtown Chelsea businesses are offering discounts to attendees of the Midwest Literary Walk on the day of the event. Following the final reading, participants are invited to the Chelsea Alehouse at 420 N. Main St. for a casual afterglow.
Tune in to WDET's Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson on 101.9 FM to hear an interview with a different author each Friday between now and the Midwest Literary Walk. The show airs from 9-10 am and re-airs from 7-8 pm.
Community contributor Emily Meloche is an Adult Services Librarian at the Chelsea District Library.
The 8th Annual Midwest Literary Walk will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm at venues throughout downtown Chelsea, and is free to the public. For more information on the 2016 Midwest Literary Walk, the authors, and their works, please visit midwestliterarywalk.org.