Upper Peninsula and other Michigan writers take their tales on tour

waynorthMichigan writers and sribes with ties to the Upper Peninsula are taking their tales on tour this summer.

There are 31 events with 32 authors including: Ellen Airgood, Julie Brooks Barbour, Kate Bassett, Elinor Benedict, Jennifer Billock, Julie Buckles, Jennifer Burd, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Clara Corbett, Lisa Fay Coutley, Alison DeCamp, Roxane Gay, Sue Harrison, Barbara Henning, Caitlin Horrocks, Charmi Keranen, L.E. Kimball, April Lindala, Beverly Matherne, Amy McInnis, Nancy J. Parra, Jane Piirto, Saara Myrene Raappana, Janice Repka, Vincent Reusch, Diane Sautter, Andrea Scarpino, Laz Slomovits, Heather A. Slomski, Alison Swan, Keith Taylor, Gloria Whelan

The authors will hit 23 cities inncluding: Ann Arbor, Baraga, Beaver Island, Chicago (IL), Calumet, Copper Harbor, Escanaba, Gaylord, Howell, Ishpeming, Kalamazoo, Lake Ann, Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, Marquette, Munising, Newberry, Northport, Okemos, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Ignace, Traverse City, Wakefield.

Many of the authors were featured in The Way Northwork collected from the Upper Peninsula by Ron Riekki for the Wayne State University Press.

Jun 17, 7pm, Dog Ears Books, Northport, with Ellen Airgood

Jun 18, 7pm—Beaver Island library, Beaver Island, with Ellen Airgood

Jun 20, 11:30am-2:30pm—Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, book signing only, with Julie Brooks Barbour and Sue Harrison

Jun 27, 4-6 pm—Horizon Books, Traverse City, with Kate Bassett, Alison DeCamp, and Caitlin Horrocks

Jun 29, 7pm—Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Caitlin Horrocks, Alison Swan, and Gloria Whelan

Jul 2, time TBA—Beaver Island library, Beaver Island, with Nancy J. Parra

Jul 8, events throughout the day—Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island, MRA Summer Literature Conference, with Ellen Airgood

Jul 15, 1pm-2:30pm—Munising Public Library, Munising, reading with Elinor Benedict, L.E. Kimball, Beverly Matherne, and host Jane Piirto

Jul 16, 7:30pm–Women & Children First, Chicago, with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Roxane Gay, and April Lindala

Jul 17, 7pm—Bookbug, Kalamazoo, with Kate Bassett, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Alison DeCamp, and Charmi Keranen

Jul 19, 12-2pm—Falling Rock Café and Bookstore, Munising, book signing and reading with Lisa Fay Coutley, Sue Harrison, Barbara Henning, and Alison Swan

Jul 24, 3pm—Mackinaw Area Public Library, Mackinaw City, with Julie Brooks Barbour, Julie Buckles, and Sue Harrison

Jul 25, 1 pm—St. Ignace Library, St. Ignace, with Sue Harrison, Janice Repka, and Keith Taylor

Aug 6, 6:30pm (Central Time for this event)—Wakefield Public Library/Municipal Building, Wakefield, reading with Julie Buckles, Beverly Matherne, and host Jane Piirto

Aug 8, 3pm—Butler Theatre, Ishpeming, with Jennifer Burd, Jane Piirto, and Laz Slomovits

Aug 15, 7pm—Beaver Island library, Beaver Island, with Bonnie Jo Campbell

Aug 16, time TBA—Grandpa’s Barn, Copper Harbor, with Charmi Keranen

Aug 19, time TBA—Calumet Public Library, Calumet, reading and signing, with Jennifer Billock and Charmi Keranen

Sep 17, 6:30pm– Escanaba Public Library, Escanaba, with April Lindala and U.P. Poet Laureate Andrea Scarpino

Sep 23, 3:30-4:30pm, Falling Rock Café and Bookstore, Munising, with Ellen Airgood and Clara Corbett

Sep 23, 7pm—Snowbound Books/Peter White Public Library, Marquette, with Ellen Airgood, Diane Sautter, U.P. Poet Laureate Andrea Scarpino, and Alison Swan

Sep 24, 7pm—Beaver Island Pub Lib, Beaver Island, with Charmi Keranen

Oct 3, noon—Bookbug, Kalamazoo, with Bonnie Jo Campbell signing copies of her new book Mothers, Tell Your Daughters and also Here

Oct 9time TBA—Schuler Books, Okemos, with Kate Bassett, Jennifer Burd, Alison DeCamp, and Keith Taylor

Dec 12, 1-2:30pm—Kazoo Books, Kalamazoo, Author Hop, with Charmi Keranen and L.E. Kimball

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Michigan Bestseller list for May 2015

Mystery_macFor May 2015, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Leotta’s A Good Killing.  Green’s Paper Towns has its third consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List top ten.  Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand has its seventh consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List top fifteen.

1) Maureen Abood—Rose Water and Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen (Running Press/Perseus Books Group) [last month #14]

2) John Green—Paper Towns (Speak) [last month #6]

3) Mardi Link—Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press) [last month #12]

4) Allison Leotta—A Good Killing: A Novel (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) [tie]

5) Allison Leotta—Law of Attraction: A Novel (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) [tie]

6) Richard Sheridan—Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love (Portfolio/Penguin Books USA) [tie]

7) Veronica Bosgraaf—Pure Food: Eat Clean with Seasonal, Plant-Based Recipes (Clarkson Potter)

8) Anne-Marie Oomen—Love, Sex, and 4-H: a memoir (Wayne State University Press)

9) Detroit Free Press—Mr. March (The Free Press/Lansing State Journal)

10) Stan Tekiela—Birds of Michigan Field Guide (Adventure Publications)

11) Jane E. Dutton—How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact (Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

12) Alison DeCamp—My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) (Crown Books for Young Readers) [last month #13]

13) Mardi Link—Isadore’s Secret: Sin, Murder, and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town (University of Michigan Press)

14) John Green—Looking for Alaska (Speak)

15) A.J. Baime—The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The Michigan Bestseller List includes 13 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo; www.bayleafbooks.com), Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs, www.facebook.com/btcbookstore)Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell; www.bluefrogbooksandmore.com),Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo; http://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising;www.fallingrockcafe.com), Island Bookstore (7372 Main St., Mackinac Island, www.islandbookstore.com), Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor;www.nicolasbooks.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord,www.saturnbooksellers.com), Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing;www.schulerbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).


For May 2015, the largest rise on the Upper Peninsula Bestseller List was Hale’s Mystery on Mackinac Island.  Campbell’s Once Upon a River has its second consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List top ten.  Airgood’s South of Superior has its second consecutive month on the Upper Peninsula Bestseller List top fifteen.

1) Anna W. Hale–Mystery on Mackinac Island (Thunder Bay Press)

2) Todd Clements–Haunts of Mackinac: Ghost Stories, Legends, & Tragic Tales (House of Hawthorne Publishing)

3) Duffy Brown–Geared for the Grave: a cycle path mystery (Berkley)

4) Melanie Dobson–Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan (Summerside)

5) Kelly O’Connor McNees–The Island of Doves (Berkley)

6) Ron Riekki–Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Michigan State University Press)

7) Nancy Coco–Oh Say Can You Fudge: A Candy-Coated Mystery with Recipes (Kensington)

8) Nancy Coco–To Fudge or Not to Fudge: A Candy-Coated Mystery with Recipes (Kensington)

9) Steve Hamilton–A Cold Day in Paradise (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press)

10) Gloria Whelan–Once on this Island (HarperCollins) [tie]

11) Bonnie Jo Campbell–Once Upon a River: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company) [last month #8] [tie]

12) Steve Hamilton–North of Nowhere: An Alex McKnight Novel (Macmillan/Minotaur Books) [tie]

13) Ellen Airgood—South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [last month #5]

14) Holling C. Holling—Paddle-to-the-Sea (HMH Books for Young Readers)

15) Loren Graham—A Face in the Rock: The Tale of a Grand Island Chippewa (University of California Press)

The Michigan Bestseller List includes 4 participating bookstores: Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), Island Bookstore (7372 Main St., Mackinac Island, www.islandbookstore.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).

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Wingfoot Lake, Ohio: Tires, turtles and neo-shamanism in small town Ohio

snapper_turtleBY MATT STANSBERRY

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

I grew up in a bucolic little Ohio Township, less than a mile from a 540-acre lake, created by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1916 to create a water supply for its manufacturing operations.

Almost every day in the spring and summer, my younger brother and I rode our bikes to the lake, through our neighborhood, past whispering corn fields planted to the edge of the road.

We sped past the white house with the biting dogs where the farmer had murdered his wife and burned her remains in a barrel; pedaled past the compound of rotting double-wide trailers where the occupants raised a couple dozen goats on a tiny fenced-in plot.

We left our bikes where the train tracks crossed the road, and trespassed on the rails, listening to the frogs and red-winged blackbirds calling in the lily pads. The lake sprawled under the trackbed, under the ballast, spilled even further across the road, a wetland seeping toward our house.

We brought our fishing poles to catch bluegills and crappie and the occasional largemouth bass. We caught bullhead catfish, little olive green slime cats with flopping whiskers. We caught perch, runty and stunted and covered in black spots that suggested mold.

Railroad men had yelled at us from slowly passing trains, warning us for trespassing, but we never considered their threats to be serious or worth heeding. The lake was ours.

The summer after I graduated from Kent State University, the year I thought I was leaving Ohio for good, my brother and I set a trotline on the bank of Wingfoot Lake — five bluegill heads, threaded on barbed hooks, strung along a nylon rope, anchored to shoreline with a metal spike.

The next day we found the line pulled taught, and dragged twenty-five pounds of mud-black snapping turtle to the bank, thrashing in muck, tail and legs flailing as we pulled the cord hand-over-hand.

We prodded the huge and angry reptile into a large plastic tub and took it to our parents’ house.

I was going through a neoshamanism phase, and intended to eat the damn thing and wear its claws around my neck. But my brother and I were a generation removed from eating foraged reptiles and had only the vaguest concepts of what to do next.

We spilled the giant turtle out onto my parent’s backyard, the black rubbery monster wallowing in my dad’s lush grass. My brother goaded the turtle with a broom handle until it violently latched onto the stick, and he stretched its neck out to full extension.  I stood off to the side with my father’s axe raised, and brought it down, chopping its head off in a clean motion.

Then I strung a rope around its tail, and hung it upside down from a tree branch in the woods overnight.

We took to it the next morning with Buck knives and found its headless body still alive.

The snapper clawed my arms as I cut it down from the tree, and then pried its shell apart – jamming the Buck knife between the plastron and carapace, leveraging against its frantic scrabbling. It seemed to grab my wrists as I struggled to pull it apart.

My brother watched as the animal that should have been dead writhed underneath me. I had lost my intention, groping as blindly as the turtle. I grabbed foul sacks of its guts and pulled them free. Its heart beat in my hand, some strange prehistoric physiological quirk that allowed this turtle’s organs to function for hours without connection to its reptile brain.

I cut through mottled, leathery skin and found something that looked like meat attached to the limbs, to the tail. With grim determination, I carved those pieces off the carcass, and placed them in the bowl my brother held out away from his body.

We soaked the pieces in cheap beer, and hours later the golf-ball sized chunks still twitched with some kind of haunted nervous energy. I sautéed the flickering turtle flesh in butter, and threw the pieces into a box of Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix. We gagged it down, every bite, as penance.

I’d wanted to make turtle soup.

My grandfather had always talked about some recipe he served at his bar on Nimisilla Reservoir in Akron, where guys passed out on their stools after a day at the Firestone Factory, slouched against each other, eating turtle soup at the bar instead of going home.

When the cigarette machine went empty he couldn’t afford to refill it. When the tills came up short, my grandpa had to close the bar.

But he made it sound like you could just cast out, catch a turtle and make a soup.

Matt Stansberry is a Cleveland-based nature writer with three kids and a day job. He used to fly fish. Follow him on Twitter@LakeErieFlyFish. Belt Magazine recently published a collection of Stansberry’s  nature essays, featuring artwork by David Wilson, Redhorse: The Rustbelt Bestiary Volume 1

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Great Lakes Poetry Contest update

Stolen_imageDear Readers,

Thanks so much for your interest in our first Poetry Contest! With 105 entries we were delighted with the participation, the quality of the writing, and with entry fees raised just more than broke even to cover our prize money.

Form letters have gone out to let entrants know if their work is not going to the next round of judging. If this applies to you, we wish you the best of luck finding homes for your poems elsewhere.

23 poets works have been selected to go to our contest judge, poet and translator Robert Archambeau.

I’d like to thank our team of poetry readers, Great Lakes Review editors Ellen Jaffe, Elisa Karbin and Michael Salinger, and a great big thank you to editor David Bowen for spearheading this project.

We’re talking now about whether this will be an annual effort, or maybe every year we’ll do a contest alternating poetry and fiction.

Meredith Counts

Managing Editor



GLR editor launches new lit blog devoted to housekeeping tips from the great beyond

GLR Managing Editor Meredith Counts (left) and deceased housekeeper, grandmother Marilyn Grahl (right).

GLR Managing Editor Meredith Counts (left) and deceased housekeeper, grandmother Marilyn Grahl (right).

How did the dead do it?

Managing editor for the Great Lakes Review, Meredith Counts, along with co-founding editor Lisa Schamess have launched a literary blog devoted to the housekeeping practices of our dearly departed.

“When people die we can still clearly picture the way they did things,” the new blog says.  ”We don’t remember our departed in a vacuum, but in motion, in particular. We can still see and sense ‘how they did it’ years after the doer’s deaths.”

You can find the Dead Housekeepers here, or on the Twitters at @mortalstewart.

The site is seeking essays 250 words or less focusing on one task or series of related tasks as particularly executed by people we’ve lost to death but still clearly see living.


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Michigan Bestseller list for April 2015

Harder_groundFor April 2015, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Sloan’s Counting by 7s.  Green’s Paper Towns has its second consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List top ten.  Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand has its sixth consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List top 15.

1) Holly Sloan—Counting by 7s (Puffin Books)

2) Derek Jeter—The Contract (Jeter Publishing/Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

3) Laurie Keller—The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut: Invasion of the UFonuts (Henry Holt and Co.)

4) Lisa McMann—The Unwanteds: Island of Silence (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

5) Laurie Keller—The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut: Bowling Alley Bandit (Henry Holt and Co.)

6) John Green—Paper Towns (Speak) [last month #3]

7) Scott Ellsworth—The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph (Little, Brown and Company)

8) Lisa McMann—The Unwanteds: Island of Fire (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

9) Tom Daldin, Jim Edelman, and Eric Tremonti—Under the Radar Michigan: The First 50 (Scribe Publishing Company)

10) Ellen Klages—The Green Glass Sea (Puffin Books)

11) Lisa McMann—The Unwanteds: Island of Shipwrecks (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

12) Mardi Link–Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press)

13) Alison DeCamp—My Near Death Adventures (99% True!) (Crown Books for Young Readers) [last month #1]

14) Maureen Abood—Rose Water and Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen (Running Press/Perseus Books Group)

15) Allison Leotta–Law of Attraction: A Novel (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)

The Michigan Bestseller List includes 16 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo; www.bayleafbooks.com), Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs, www.facebook.com/btcbookstore), Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell; www.bluefrogbooksandmore.com), Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo; http://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/), Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette; www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo;www.kazoobooks.com), Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor; www.nicolasbooks.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock;https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord; www.saturnbooksellers.com), Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing; www.schulerbooks.com), Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette;www.snowboundbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).


For April 2015, the largest rise on the U.P. Bestseller List was Classen’s Teddy Roosevelt & the Marquette Libel Trial.  LeDuff’s Detroit has its ninth consecutive month on the Upper Peninsula Bestseller List.  [Note: there was no U.P. Bestseller List for the month of March 2015; consistency of rankings ignores the March absence.  “Last month” refers to last recorded month of rankings, which would be February 2015.]

1) Mikel B. Classen–Teddy Roosevelt & the Marquette Libel Trial (The History Press) [last month #8]

2) Joseph Heywood–Harder Ground: More Woods Cop Stories (Lyons Press) [last month #3]

3) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [last month #2]

4) Sonny Longtine—Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (The History Press) [last month #4]

5) Ellen Airgood—South of Superior (Riverhead Trade)

6) Steve Hamilton—Winter of the Wolf Moon: An Alex McKnight Novel (Minotaur Books)

7) Steve Hamilton—Misery Bay: An Alex McKnight Novel (Minotaur Books)

8) Bonnie Jo Campbell–Once Upon A River: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company)

9) Robert F. Jones—The Run to Gitche Gumee: A Novel (Skyhorse Publishing) [last month #9]

10) Robert Traver—Laughing Whitefish: A Tale of Justice and Anishinaabe Custom (Michigan State University Press)

The Upper Peninsula Bestseller List includes 5 participating bookstores: Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette; www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette; www.snowboundbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie;http://upnorthbooks.com/).

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Andrea Scarpino, new U.P. poet laureate: ‘My desire is to get poetry out into the community’

Michigan doesn’t have an official, state-supported poet laureate.

ScarpinoBut a grassroots campaign has created a position in the Upper Peninsula.

Andrea Scarpino was recently named the poet laureate of the U.P. for 2015-2017. She succeeds Russell Thorburn, the first laureate who served 2013-2015.

The public had a chance to vote Scarpino in as poet laureate at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters website.

Scarpino is the author of Once,Then, a collection of poems published in March 2014 by Red Hen Press and The Grove Behind, published by Finishing Line Press in 2009. She teaches in Union Institute and University’s Cohort Ph.D. Program in Interdisciplinary Studies where she is the Creative Dissertation Coordinator, Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing, and Director of the Master of Arts Program.

The Great Lakes Review had a chance to ask Scarpino a few questions recently:

1. What is your background? Where did you grow up, schooling, etc.?

I’ve lived all over the US, mostly in the Midwest, and one year in France. But I’ve lived in the UP for almost five years.

2. How/when did you first start reading/writing poetry?

I don’t really know when I first started reading and writing poetry, but I have poems that I dictated to my mother before I could write—she typed them on her typewriter—and I remember being in love with Shel Silverstein from a very early age. In high school, I discovered Emily Dickinson and my love affair was official.

3. How does the Upper Peninsula influence your work?

When I moved to Los Angeles, my poetry started containing all of these references to fire and heat and desert—and of course, to the Pacific Ocean. Since I’ve moved to Marquette, I’ve started writing a lot about ice and snow and winter and deer and red pine trees—and of course, about Lake Superior! I’ve always loved the water and have spent most of my life living near big bodies of water, so Lake Superior is probably the most important influence.

4. How did it feel to be named the U.P. Laureate?

I’m delighted to be named UP Poet Laureate! I’ve only lived here for 5 years, so I’m delighted to have been so embraced by the writing community here.

5. What are your plans as laureate?

I have so many ideas! Too many, probably. I’m actually starting a crowdfunding campaign next week to help raise some money to fund some of my ideas. One of the things I’m most excited about is building a Free Little Poetry Library that could move to different locations in the UP. It’s going to launch outside the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette the week of June 20, which is our Art Week, but I’m hoping I can move it to other communities around the UP as the summer continues. Basically, it will be a mini-library filled with poetry that people can borrow from as they please—and hopefully contribute to! My desire is to get poetry out into the community as part of daily life, not as something that only special people can do or understand in special places, but as something that we all can celebrate and read and write. Poetry is a part of my daily life, and I want to help it become more of a daily presence in the UP.  Also as part of Art Week, I’m collaborating on an event with the Children’s Museum, and with the Marquette Food Co-op (were going to be doing food odes!) so that week will be really fun. I have a few other readings scheduled throughout the summer as well, including one at Bayliss Public Library (in the Sault) at 7 p.m. on June 11 with several other UP writers. I’m very excited for my tenure to begin!



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Michigan Bestseller list for March 2015

For March 2015, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Coverly’s Dogs are People Too.  Harrison’s The Big Seven, Green’s Looking for Alaska, and Dennis’s The Living Great Lakes have their third consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List in the top 10.  Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand has its fifth consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List in the top 15.

MadeInDetroit1) Alison DeCamp—My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (Crown Books for Young Readers) [last month #1]

2) Dave Coverly—Dogs are People, Too: A Collection of Cartoons to Make Your Tail Wag (Henry Holt and Co.)

3) John Green—Paper Towns (Speak)

4) Mario Impemba—If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers (Triumph Books) [last month #2]

5) Jim Harrison—The Big Seven (Grove Press) [last month #3]

6) Emily St. John Mandel—Station Eleven: A Novel (Knopf) [last month #7]

7) John Green—Looking for Alaska (Speak) [last month #10]

8) Jerry Dennis—The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Griffin) [last month #9]

9) Zachary Hyman—The Bambino and Me (Tundra Books/Penguin Random House)

10) Robert D. Putnam—Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster)

11) Marge Piercy—Made in Detroit (Knopf)

12) Philip C. Stead—A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan)

13) Kate Bassett—Words and Their Meanings (Flux) [last month #13]

14) Michael Emmerich—100 Things Michigan State Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books)

15) Mardi Link—Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press)

The Michigan Bestseller List includes 14 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo; www.bayleafbooks.com), Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs, www.facebook.com/btcbookstore), Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell; www.bluefrogbooksandmore.com), Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo; http://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo; www.kazoobooks.com), Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor;www.nicolasbooks.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing; www.schulerbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).

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Chicago, Illinois: Back to the Water’s Edge


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

My girlfriends always drove because they had cars, cool cars: a Monte Carlo, a Cadillac, and best of all, the Trans Am. Boy bait. And that’s what we were there for, after all, the boys. That, and a place that seemed about as far away as we could get from our land-locked suburban neighborhoods with low-slung ranch houses and two-car garages and flat, trimmed lawns.

Foster Beach.

The City. (You could hear how we capitalized it in the way we said it, like a title, a proper noun. The City. The City. THE CITY.)

The lake was there (is there), wide and wild sometimes, water rolling and crashing. Wild like we wanted to be, pulled by the moon on warm summer nights. And The City twinkled in the high rises behind us while we stood at the water’s edge.

Mostly, though, we parked. All of us. We drove to the beach as though called there, a line of cars cruising slowly, looking for a spot in the lot where we could pull in and hop out and jump onto the hoods of our rides, onto the trunks. We sat in the humid dark while our warm engines ticked and cooled beneath us.

The seventies. And we were white girls from the suburbs grown bored with the white suburban boys we knew who were either jocks or freaks, and who had curfews and homework: read The Canterbury Tales, “The Knight’s Tale;” solve for X, for Y; write a five-page paper on The Industrial Revolution.

My girlfriends, most of them, would drop out of high school, and I would go on to college, first one, then another, until I found the right one and made it work (Columbia College Chicago, just a few miles away from Foster Beach and overlooking that same great lake and the water’s edge there.)

But we didn’t know any of that yet.

What we knew was this: boys with names like Mario, like Ramon—City Boys—pulled huge speakers out of the trunks of their cars, played salsa at full volume, slapped their thighs and the vinyl landau tops in Latin rhythms. Clouds skittered across the moon lifting up over the water, and sometimes we would climb into the back seats of the cars with Mario, with Ramon, because they told us we were pretty. Different. And better times we would walk with them, holding hands and carrying our shoes, our toes in the sand close to the water’s edge. And Mario, Ramon, would say “Let’s sit, sientate,” and we would, and the world (or maybe just the sand) would shift under our bodies. And we’d listen to the sometimes loud, sometimes quiet lap of water on land, to the music swinging through the night from the parking lot, to the cars behind us rushing along Lake Shore Drive, toward The City, or toward Hollywood at the Drive’s end.

And sometimes, too, we’d lie back with Mario, with Ramon, and kiss under the summer stars that we couldn’t really see because dark is never full dark in The City; there’s always light. But we knew the stars were there like we knew other things: we were young. We were pretty (Mario said so, Ramon did.) We were miles away from home, from the suburbs, from sidewalks and shopping centers and our parents, asleep, probably, certain we were close by, safe, doing homework and sleeping over in twin beds in air-conditioned rooms.

And we knew best of all that we would come back to this place, this City place, this Foster Beach. We would leave by the backdoors of our houses and tiptoe over the patios of our yards and meet at the stop sign, the Trans Am purring, the girls inside lipsticked and ready and eager to get there. Not just the next night, and the next, but always. We would return. Pulled (even now, forty years later) by the moon, by the boys and the music, by the cars and the parking, by the possibilities, by the memories. Pulled again and again. Pulled back to the beach, back to the water’s edge.

Patricia Ann McNair‘s collection of stories, The Temple of Air, won the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, the Devil’s Kitchen Readers Award, and was a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors Award. She has had fiction and nonfiction appear in a variety of publications, including Creative Nonfiction, Riverteeth, Fourth Genre, Brevity, Prime Number, Superstition Review, and others. Her work has won a number of Illinois Arts Council awards, and has been nominated for the Pushcart five times. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Writing of Columbia College Chicago

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TOUGH, MAGIC, REGIONAL: An interview with Julie Babcock


When I talked with poet Julie Babcock this winter she was finishing the semester teaching at the University of Michigan, excited about starting a new journal, and enjoying the events surrounding the November 2014 release of Autoplay (MG Press) her debut book of poems. The poems in Autoplay describe Midwestern territory defined by American history, local landmarks, and the narrator’s imaginative leaps that take us from Ohio to Wonderland and Valhalla while exploring the too real hazards of growing up female. Jeff Pfaller, an editor at MG Press, is drawn to “her notion that if you call the Midwest home, your past becomes something you want to run from but ultimately cannot shake. It becomes something you wish you could transform, but is indelibly tied to place.” When she came to chat, Babcock was charming and fiercely thoughtful, and very polite about the aggressive flavor of the well water at my house. If you’re at AWP in Minneapolis this year, check out Babcock’s Saturday panel, “Who We Are in the Creative Writing Classroom: Interventions in the Craft vs. Context Fight.” She’ll be reading at Lyon’s Pub that night for MG Press. - Meredith Counts, Managing Editor, Great Lakes Review

GLR: What’s happened since the book has come out?

BabcockJB: I was thinking about my younger self, and those visions that when you have your first book everything is going to change, knowing even as I was creating that fantasy that it wasn’t true. It’s been fun to realize how wrong my fantasy was. I’m teaching every day, and taking care of my son. Inside that are a few readings here and there… Life continues as it does and writing is a practice more than a product.

It doesn’t really change my daily world view except I feel a little bit more part of the poetry community and when I go to AWP I’ll be at a couple of book tables and events.

It’s taken so long for this book to come out that I’m working on several other writing projects. I’m hoping to read in my hometown this summer, that’s in the works.

 GLR: To take Ohio back to Ohio. Will it be like when you translate a translation, that it might not even be recognizable to the people that it’s about?

JB: I’m really curious! I grew up in this small town and never moved until college. I haven’t been back in ten years, even though it’s only three hours from where I am now. I had school friends from Mount Vernon who I see on Facebook bought the book – maybe people who don’t read a lot of poetry but are still living in that place. I wonder how they’ll experience the book, I hope it’s a good experience.

GLR: Anything that gets anyone buying poetry can’t be bad.

One of the things I really like in these poems is this contrast between the regionalism, these really concrete places, like the Big Boy or the graveyard where kids eat ice cream, but then you have Oz and Wonderland, and fantasy characters like Johnny Appleseed,  Jonah and the Whale. Is that trying to put some magic into the real place?

JB: I definitely am. Part of my experience growing up in Ohio was fairly – I don’t want to say banal, but there’s this – flatness. This everyday, day-to-day living that was not presumptious in any way. You got up, you had a job to do, you did it, you came home and went to bed. In Central Ohio there aren’t as many models of difference or otherness as in a big city.

 GLR: So you get those models, as a kid, from books instead?

JB: Yes! Books can be really abstract and out there. Like, I’m on track in a really clear way, or I’m in outer space, or I’m inside a whale. (Laughs)

 GLR You said that having the book come out makes you feel a little more connected to the poetry community, and people have great stuff to say, do you feel like you fit in with a school of writers? Are people doing same things that you relate to?

JB: This notion of poetry schools and affiliations, hanging out with poets has helped me to understand that I can be obsessed with what I am, that I don’t need to worry about how it connects to ideas about poetry, and that strangely enough that brings me closer to the conversations that they’re having rather than if I made some theorist move to situate myself.

 GLR: It sounds like that allows you to commit to your own voice whether it snaps into place with someone else’s dogma.

JB: Yes. Part of my teaching is getting students to listen to their own concerns, pay attention to those and figure out what they’re curious about to broaden that conversation and understand “I am a part of this conversation and I want to know how this works.” My journey as a poet has strangely been to become more conscious of what I’m particularly doing so I can see the way my work resonates with what other poets are doing, rather than the other way around.

 GLR: You’re publishing fiction, too. Did you study both?Autoplay

JB: I did! I’ve always written poetry and fiction. I’ve always loved writing. I taught myself to read from Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” I have that book memorized still, I performed those poems. I won a second grade talent show for performing “Paul Bunyan” in overalls and a flannel shirt… there was a grainy picture in the Mount Vernon News.

Anyway, I got an MFA in poetry and went on to do a PhD in Fiction at University of Illinois Chicago. A lot of places where they have Creative Writing PhDs, writing is separated from lit studies. At UIC there are workshops but there’s a huge literature component. So I have graduate degrees in both.

 GLR:  I saw on the University of Michigan website that one of your interests is Women’s Studies. Let’s talk about that in terms of AUTOPLAY, because you have some delightful and tough girl and women characters here.

JB: That idea of being set up in an established system, a daily thing that you’re supposed to take for granted and not question, is something that can be really devastating when you’re not in a position of power.

GLR: Like, to be told “you’re a girl, here’s your girl things, go do girl activities”

JB: Right. Or these are things you just have to put up with, these are realities of your life as a woman or girl. And then trying to imagine outside of that is double challenging. I think the poems in here where girls, mostly, are experiencing some kind of violence whether it’s sexual or an uneasy kind of familial structure. Giving voice to that tension really concerns me. Thinking about, how do you live in a small town or place with expectations on how power in relationships is supposed to go.

GLR: Tell me about the process of putting AUTOPLAY together. A lot of the poems have appeared in journals, and I know the title changed, and I heard you say at a reading at Literati Books in Ann Arbor that an editor suggested you add more poems.

JB: It’s hard for me to say how long I’ve been working on this book, because I’m not sure how long it has been this book and when it was an earlier, different project.

The earliest poems in there are the persona poems, I’ve always been attracted to that form. So there’s one in there about Alice in Wonderland, one about Pinocchio. Those are older pieces, then skipping some time to about four years ago my brother graduated from Ohio State and John Glenn was the speaker. At that point I was really thinking about astronauts, and I was sitting in the stadium, trying to amuse myself as graduation went on and on, and I was thinking about the phrase “Astronaut Ohio.” I came up with that phrase and concept at my brother’s graduation, listening to John Glenn, and it was at that moment that I really understood what kind of collection I was writing and that it was much more about place than I thought.

Those earlier poems with Pinocchio and Alice were sort of place-less, their stories from two different countries.

GLR: The finished book is very rooted in place.

JB: That was an important shift for me. And that was how I got the original title, Astronaut Ohio. Then I changed it because editors really liked the collection, but said a title about Ohio was too specific. It seems strange because we experience place in a literal way but also in a psychological way that’s much more united across different localities. While I see this book as being about Ohio, in the shorthand, I also see it as being about a more general place where you’re trying to see more options and having a difficult time bring those options and your reality together.

The magical jumps that all human beings are capable of fascinate me, and fill me with a lot of hope, the ways we create and recreate things.

 GLR: A lot of these characters seem like they’re looking to get away or they’re looking for more? I think that translates to anyone who’s grown up in a small town worldwide, grown up with expectations. You might not have a Big Boy in town, you might not have the same regional touchstones, but the need for more translates.

JB Christina Olson was my editor and she was really helpful with this work. She had suggestions about reordering some of the poems at the end of the book, and asking me for more. I added three poems – two are erasures, the only two of that form in the collection.

The end poem was originally “Astronaut Ohio,” which I think is an inspirational poem because it’s, like, “I’m gonna get out of this galaxy! I’m gonna do whatever!” I am so interested in those moments, but there’s always something that pulls us back down or tethers us. The last poem now is an acknowledgement of that as well.

GLR: You bring us back to earth with an object. It’s an object that’s full of possibility but it’s also a thing you can hold in your hand, it’s not trying to fit all of your future and longing for adventure – it is a totally different note to end on. Either, “I’m blasting off, or on land.”

JB: But still surrounded by water! It’s actually not my most realist poem, either (laughs).

I see things I’m obsessed with recur in different ways through different genres… I used to think that I was really sporadic with my tastes and knowledge base. I worried I wasn’t connecting anything, but now when I think about my writing I worry “maybe somebody is gong to notice that I am writing about the same thing over and over again.” Obviously neither one of those is true, but I may have a central thing I can’t stop writing about.

GLR: Yet you’ll always find new ways to look at the obsession, and new research. If the longing for adventure is the sun in your mental solar system, you’ll find all sorts of different things orbiting it.

JB: I like the idea of orbits. I was at the natural history museum on campus the other day. They have a big piece of meteorite, or a cast or whatever, that you can touch. I’d like to think it’s a real meteorite that I’m touching.

You can fine Julie’s book at the Midwestern Gothic website. 

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