Category Archives: Authors

Vande Zande’s ‘American Poet’ Gives Notable Nod to Poet Roethke

perf5.500x8.500.inddDenver Hoptner walks at night. The recent University of Michigan grad, jobless and without prospects, has returned home to live with his father while he regroups and considers his future.

Instead of opening doors, Denver’s fresh MFA in Poetry has left him open only to his father’s scrutiny, and worse, at a devastating loss for the words he longs to put down. Seeking solace, Denver routinely takes to the bleak Saginaw streets searching for a sign.

In Jeff Vande Zande’s  tight, coming-of-age novel American Poet (Bottom Dog Press $18.00), Denver’s sign comes in the form of late poet Theodore Roethke’s boyhood home. The prize-winning poet’s house, found smoke-damaged and in disrepair, gives Denver angry encouragement and fuels his commitment to both his craft and the preservation of a bygone poet’s brilliance.

“It was one of the few things that I didn’t hate about the town,” Denver says. “When I was in high school and thinking that maybe I wanted to write, I used to walk out to the Roethke House at least once a month, just to look at it. He was a pretty big poet in his day. Pultizer Prize for one thing, and it meant something that a guy like that could come from a place like Saginaw. He was a guide. A lodestar.”

Poet Theodore Roethke drew his words from the well of his Saginaw surroundings. Through Denver’s eyes, author Vande Zande also offers bright discovery in the gray and grit of this roughed-up city. Ultimately, it’s in Denver’s struggle to reconcile his future ideal with his present reality that his true poetry begins to emerge.

Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College and writes poetry, fiction, and screenplays. He was selected as the recipient of the 2012 Stuart and Venice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author for American Poet; his novel that was also selected as a 2013 Michigan Notable Book.

– This review can be found in the January, 2013 issue of Hour Detroit. For Hour subscription information, link here.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under American Poet, Authors, Book Reviews, Jeff Vande Zande

‘Annie’s Ghosts’ is Back as the 2013 Great Michigan Read

Annie's Ghosts

The Michigan Humanities Council has announced their much-anticipated biennial title for the 2013-14 Great Michigan Read program. Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret by journalist and Detroit native Steve Luxenberg, is the selection for this impressive statewide program.

“It was quite a surprise, and certainly a pleasant one,” shared Luxenberg in a recent email. “It’s an honor for the book to be in the same category as the previous choices, and to be considered worthy and compelling enough for the selection committee to choose it.”

Annie’s Ghosts  is the thorough, moving story of Luxenberg’s mother, and a mysterious relative long hidden away at Eloise, the massive psychiatric hospital that once housed some nine thousand people from the state of Michigan. Luxenberg’s story digs into the dark corners of his family’s past, and exhumes the complicated history of his ancestors in hopes of revealing a family secret.

Michigan Humanities Program Officer Carla Ingrando said the response to Annie’s Ghosts has been tremendous. “Within three days of the announcement, more than 100 organizations have preregistered as Great Michigan Read partners.”

The Great Michigan Read is a statewide reading initiative sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council. Reaching out to schools, libraries, religious organizations and other nonprofits, the program aims to connect readers throughout the state with titles that explore our past, present and future.

How did the program select Luxenberg’s title? “The Great Michigan Read titles are selected through a grassroots process,” explained Ingrando. “During the fall of 2012, six regional selection committees made up of librarians, teachers, and literary enthusiasts nominated titles to a statewide selection committee, which met in January 2013.”

This year, Ingrando said the tragedy of Sandy Hook played a significant role in the 2013-14 title selection. “We met in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and the committee felt like reading and discussing Annie’s Ghosts would provide an opportunity to think deeply about mental disability, mental illness, and mental health care.”

Annie’s Ghosts is a fascinating journey of immigration, identity and Detroit history. Luxenberg’s work has other honors in the Mitten as well; Annie’s Ghosts was selected as a 2010 Michigan Notable Book. For all program and participation information, link here.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Link

– Annie’s Ghosts on NPR: A Journalist Uncovers His Family’s ‘Ghosts’  Full of Detroit’s colorful history, this true mystery was selected as

Live announcement of The Great Michigan Read –http://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=2201249

The Great Michigan Read is presented by the Michigan Humanities Council with support from Meijer and the National Endowment for the Humanities

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Filed under Annie's Ghosts, Authors, Book Reviews, Steve Luxenberg

Michigan’s Literary Stars to Shine on Saturday Night

Michigan’s finest authors will be stepping out Saturday night for a few hors d’oeuvres, some fine Michigan wines, and a swell of well-deserved recognition for their award-winning contributions to the 2012 Michigan Notable Books.

The Library of Michigan’s annual Night for Notables is an event designed to pay tribute to those authors who have written works that offer high-quality titles with wide public appeal and are reflective of Michigan’s diverse ethnic, historical, literary, and cultural experience.

This year’s featured speakers are 2010 and 2011 National Book Award Winners for Fiction, Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones) and Jaimy Gordon (Lord of Misrule). The evening’s moderator is both a National Book Award Finalist and one of my favorite authors, Bonnie Jo Campbell (American Salvage and Once Upon a River).

Authors to be honored at the Night for Notables this year include such names as Michael Moore, Jack Dempsey, Steve Hamilton, and Jim Harrison among others. Many of this year’s contributors will be on hand to sign and discuss copies of their award-winning books.

What are the Michigan Notable Books? Each year, the Library of Michigan selects up to 20 published titles over the last year that celebrate Michigan people, places, or events. Stretching back to 1991, the Michigan Notable Books began as the “Read Michigan” program but switched its name in 2004.

Anywhere between 250 to 400 Michigan-related titles are reviewed each year. Book selections are highly competitive and are reviewed by a board of 10-16 members who come from various literary backgrounds. The program is supported by sponsors and grants handled by the Library of Michigan Foundation.

For NLR coverage of a few of this year’s titles, you can link here. For a detailed piece on the upcoming event, link to this wonderful City Pulse piece by fellow friend and Mittenlit blogger Bill Castanier.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Authors, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jaimy Gordon

Nicola’s Books Stacks Stellar Appearances This Week

Dust to DustNicola’s Books in Ann Arbor has plenty on tap for local readers this week.

On Tuesday evening, actor and author Benjamin Busch will be appearing at Nicola’s Books for a discussion and signing of his memoir, Dust to Dust. Busch, who currently lives in Reed City, Michigan, was born in Manhattan and grew up in upstate New York. He is an actor, photographer, film director, and a United States Marine Corps Infantry Officer who served two tours of combat duty in Iraq. In addition, he has appeared in the HBO series The Wire, Homicide, The West Wing, and Generation Kill.

Acting aside, Busch’s memoir is a heavy, thoughtful read that utilizes the elemental (water, metal stone, blood, etc) as device for examining the brevity of our existence.

Dust to Dust will hit stores this Tuesday, which happily coincides with Busch’s appearance at Nicola’s. The discussion and signing will take place on March 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm. For more on Benjamin and Dust to Dust, try this recent piece in the Detroit Free Press.

The Boiling Season: A Novel

Also appearing this week at Nicola’s Books is author and debut novelist Christopher Hebert. Hebert is a graduate of Antioch College and earned his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, and was awarded its prestigious Hopwood Award for Fiction. Currently, he teachers at the University of Tennessee and lives in Knoxville with his wife and son.

The Boiling Season, Hebert’s debut novel, is a stunner thus far (I’m halfway through), and I’m quite shocked Hebert isn’t getting more airtime for this richly detailed and beautifully written work.

Hebert’s discussion and signing of The Boiling Season will take place Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm. For more with Christopher Hebert you can link to this Metro Pulse interview.

Nicola’s Books is located in the Westgate Shopping Center at 2513 Jackson Avenue in Ann Arbor. As always, events are subject to change so please call first before heading out the door (734.662.0600).

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Kudos for Kotlowitz – Award for ‘The Interrupters’ Acknowledges Another Important Work

The incredible efforts and social dedication of Alex Kotlowitz have once again been recognized. The Interrupters, a film by Steve James and Kotlowitz, won Best Documentary at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Saturday night.

The Interrupterstells the moving and surprising story of three ‘violence interrupters’ in Chicago who with bravado, humility and even humor try to protect their communities from the violence they once employed.”

In honor of Kotlowitz’s win, I’m posting a piece I did a few years ago pertaining to the heavy impact his book There Are No Children Here had upon me  while living in Chicago. To get a feel for the powerful, magnanimous art of Kotlowitz, take a look at the trailer for The Interrupters.

NLR – Kotlowitz Perseveres in Granta Piece

Years ago when I was living in Chicago, I read There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Up to that point, Chicago had been my happy college home. The Chicago I had grown to love carried its own energetic pulse with its winking, open-windowed restaurants, beckoning beer gardens, star-lit nights at Wrigley, and the constant comforting rumble of the El. Navigating the Loop and northern neighborhoods both day and night, I believed Chicago to be the friendliest city in the world and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

But after my literary introduction to young Lafayette and Pharoah in There Are No Children Here, my view of the city took a different turn – not worse, just different. Realizing these young boys lived mere miles from my Lincoln Park playground left me unable to total the sum of my advantages. How had I been riding the El over the projects for years without truly thinking about the people occupying them?

It is to the credit of Kotlowitz that I began to think outside of my insular box. I began to tutor in Cabrini Green, and upon graduating from Loyola took a teaching job in a poor, tagged pocket on Chicago’s West side. As I slowly peeled back the layers of my privilege, I was quickly made aware of the violence inherent in these communities.

On my first day of teaching, my doe-eyed second grade students informed me that the closest neighboring school wouldn’t be starting until the following day. Why? Because a body had been found in the parking lot and the school needed to be taped off as a crime scene. I was stunned, but based on the kids’ reactions this event seemed a matter of course rather than surprise.

Regardless, I continued to love and live in Chicago for ten more years. Though I still had my fun it came with a deeper understanding of my dual surroundings, and the essence of Kotlowitz’s work filtered into my expanding view of privilege and poverty.

I now write this from my home in Michigan, which sits within the borders of my youth a mere twenty minutes from Detroit. However, while I’ve settled into a quieter appreciation of suburban life, Alex Kotlowitz is still hard at work. With the arrival of my most recent issue of Granta, I realize Mr. Kotlowitz continues his attempt to create some understanding of the incomprehensible.

His Granta contribution Khalid is a brief, heartbreaking work which looks at the people behind the violence that continues to puncture the heart of Chicago. It is a work that translates to any major American city, including Detroit, that suffers the pointless murder of its youth.

So, as my content life buzzes along with errands, carpools, work and quick trips to Target, it is with sheer admiration that I once again read the work of Mr. Kotlowitz – a man who has valiantly dedicated himself to recognizing the gross racial and social discrepancies of our time.

Other works by Alex Kotlowitz:

There Are No Children Here

The Other Side of the River

Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Natalie Taylor Brings ‘Signs of Life’ to Birmingham Biggby Coffee

Signs of Life: A MemoirWhat do you do if you’re 24 years old, five months pregnant, and your husband suddenly – tragically – dies? If you’re Natalie Taylor, you write one honestly good book. Yes, we all know that shelves sag with overdone memoirs of tainted childhoods, deeds done wrong, and ruined lives, but Taylor defies the dark and opts to soar instead with this tight uplifter, Signs of Life.

Natalie’s husband Josh Taylor died on Father’s Day of 2007. He was 27 years old, married to the woman he loved, and happily awaiting the birth of their first child. Who would have thought that a quick blow to the back of his head while Carveboarding would put an end to his own life just as the one he created was beginning to bloom?

Signs of Life is the narrative compilation of Natalie Taylor’s journal entries that span the year following her husband’s death, yet Taylor’s pragmatic approach toward handling her grief is precisely what lands Signs of Life in its own little camp of the genre. Though Taylor’s voice cuts with pure pain and candor, she unwittingly softens the blow with her straight-forward sincerity and unwavering humor.

“When I decide to do something, I want it done quickly. I do not dilly-dally. When Dr. G. told me that grief takes time, I wanted to say, ‘But what about for the smart kids?’ I took Advanced Placement Calculus in high school. Let’s talk Advanced Placement Grief. But one of the first things I realize about this stupid emotion is that AP Grief does not exist. Time goes by, weeks pass, a month passes, my belly grows, my hair grows, but when I wake up in the morning it feels exactly the same. Grief goes at its own speed.”

As Taylor begins to piece together the brokenness of her life, the fog of her grief lifts just enough to reveal a bit more of both herself and the world around her. Through Josh’s death, Taylor is inadvertently exposed to life outside of the insulated bubble in which she grew up. Instead of self-absorption with her own sorrows, Taylor finds in herself an unexpected wellspring of compassion and understanding for all walks of life.

Taylor is a high school English teacher, and she structures Signs of Life around the books she teaches and those that pass through her hands the year after Josh’s death. Seeking solace through literature, Taylor looks to some heavy hitters for help. Alice Walker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are but a few of the many authors who step up to hold Taylor’s grieving hand.

Also balanced by the support of some killer friends and family, Taylor puts you on a nickname basis with Ads, Matthews, Moo and more, but it’s never overdone. Taylor’s memoir is incredibly fresh and breathes life and hilarity into the not-so-funny-at-all realm of death, darkness and grief. While Signs of Life is based on Josh Taylor’s terribly sad and untimely death, one can’t miss the budding evolution of a determined woman, a beautiful baby boy, and the incredible ongoing power of life.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Essays and Credits and Recs, Oh My! Korelitz Spins Tale Around Secrets of ‘Admission’

AdmissionThe complex process of college admissions is a high-pressured business that few of us will ever see from the inside. With big money on the line and parents pushing their kids to the brink of insanity, applying to college has become a game of high emotional and monetary stakes. Suffice it to say, the days of easy-flow transition from high school to college are definitely a thing of the past.

There are some 37,000 secondary schools in the United States, yet those who attend  posh prep schools up the ante and level of admissions play by deploying an annual mass of glowing curricula vitae to America’s finest universities. Not only do these high caliber students put the squeeze on the competition, but they also turn up the heat for admission officers as they attempt to bring only the best and brightest to their respective campuses.

Author Jean Hanff Korelitz provides a glimpse into the chaotic, mystifying world of university admissions in her engaging novel Admission. Korelitz has firsthand experience with the process of Princeton University admissions where she was a part-time reader for their Office of Admission during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Intimate with student essays, credentials, and recommendations, Korelitz fuels her story with the angst and crush of desperate 18 year olds determined to make a difference.

Main character Portia Nathan, also an admissions officer for Princeton University, takes us inside the big machine of Ivy student acceptance and decline. Hand picking from thousands of applicants across the globe leaves Portia emotionally drained as the future lives of the finest students teeter on the brink of her decision. The “ordinarily qualified, the usually brilliant, and the expectedly talented” are all relative when moving through the towering stacks of mega potential.

The drama surrounding Portia’s personal life is a bit predictable and overdone, but the characters are vidid and certainly entertain. Admission exposes the shocking world of inflated ego, poor parent behavior, privilege, entitlement, and the lengths that people will go to access the ivory tower.

Not everyone was as entertained by Admission as I was, particularly this high school senior who reviewed Korelitz’s “silly novel” for The New York Times. Regardless, should you live in an area of privilege and affluence and think your child is a shoo-in for the ivy league, Admission is a must read and will definitely leave you thinking again.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Admission, Authors, Book Reviews, Jean Hanff Korelitz