Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ‘Once Upon A River’ Sets Sail

Things are looking way up for Kalamzaoo author Bonnie Jo Campbell. This week W.W. Norton & Company released Campbell’s much anticipated new novel, Once Upon A River, to the reading world at large.

Due to early buzz and glowing reviews, Once Upon A River  has managed to position itself onto a number of notable summer reading lists (prior to its release, mind you), and  serve to establish Campbell as one of the nation’s new literary darlings.

I haven’t yet cracked the spine of Campbell’s latest, but with recent favorable features in  publications such as Poets & Writers, the Detroit Free Press, and the Wall Street Journal, Once Upon A River promises good things to come.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Campbell at a National Writers Series event where she eloquently spoke of the integral role that Michigan plays in her writing process. The winsome author has done much for Michigan’s artistic reputation and has no doubt been a key player in prominently situating the state on the larger literary landscape.

No fancy release parties are planned for this author though. Campbell will celebrate the launching of her book with friends and family. Her tribe. “One thing I’ve learned about the writing business is that you can be up and you can be down, but you’re still the same person,” (via Free Press).

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Ellen Airgood’s ‘South of Superior’ Seduces With Rustic Charm

Cover ImageEllen Airgood is an unlikely author. Clocking outrageous hours as a waitress and baker at the small diner she owns with her husband in Grand Marais, Michigan, it’s a wonder she has a second to write up anything other than a customer’s tab.

Airgood, however, is clearly as resourceful as the colorful characters who appear in her lyrical new novel South of Superior (Riverhead).  Released just last week, South of Superior is shaping up to be that perfect summer read. While its charms hold particular appeal for those who reside in Michigan, Airgood’s debut will easily translate to any reader looking for a wise, warm tale of love, life and friendship.

“Celebrating community and a hardscrabble way of life, South of Superior brilliantly captures what it’s like to live in a place that’s remote and lonely, yet enlivening and vital…” states Riverhead. “Filled with people who take great joy in the simple things and who recognize the deep reward in caring for others, it’s the kind of place – and story – that grabs hold of the soul and doesn’t let go.”

Airgood resides in Grand Marais, which sits on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and provides the setting for South of Superior. Known as the “Yoop” from those south of the Mackinac Bridge, the UP is nothing short of majestic and remains somewhat of a mystery for those who reside outside of its breathtaking borders. In South of Superior, Airgood grants a glimpse into the rustic lives of those who have called the peninsula home for generations and captivates with its rugged beauty.

Airgood will be appearing at several northern Michigan bookstores for signings of South of Superior over the summer. You can link to Airgood’s appearances here but as always, call venues before heading out the door.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Jerry Dennis Shares his Passion for the Great Lakes at Michigan Writers’ Conference

Cover Image“Write what you know” is the sage advice for any writer, and clearly Michigan author Jerry Dennis believes in such wise counsel. What Dennis “knows” settled in his heart as a young boy in Grand Traverse County who believed that Lake Michigan was where the world began.

The places of our upbringing bear great influence on our lives, and Jerry Dennis has made the very ebb and flow of the Great Lakes define his life’s direction. Well known for his literary works on nature, science, outdoor sports, Michigan waters, and this entire Bountiful World, Dennis has become a respected philosopher in his own right.

In this wonderful podcast Dennis discusses his book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas. You can hear the easy rhythms of nature in the cadenced voice of Dennis when fielding questions about his work and his writing process. When asked to briefly comment on the Great Lakes, the author doesn’t rattle back to the old elementary acronym for reference but stuns instead with this heartfelt response.

“The Lakes are like five willful sisters. Each one very different but yet very alike as sisters always are. Lake Superior is the oldest and the orneriest, but also the most beautiful one, the heartbreakingly beautiful one. And Lake Michigan is the sort of tempestuous but also responsible one and Lake Huron is not as responsible and she’s a little colder; she’s got more rocks around her shore and maybe a little more analytical and independent and goes her own way. Lake Erie is a younger one who’s unpredictable and you never quite know where she’s headed, and Lake Ontario is the quiet, younger one who everyone is so curious about because she’s so mysterious.”

Few could provide an off-the-cuff answer quite as eloquently as Dennis, but many are willing to try. As this year’s Bear River Writers’ Conference gears up for its annual gathering at Camp Michigania, Dennis will be on hand to expound upon the topics he so clearly loves and assist others in writing “about this place that is unique in the world.”

Dennis, who lives in Traverse City, will head to Walloon Lake for the Conference that kicks off June 2nd and runs through Monday. “I’ve been on the faculty of Bear River since the inaugural year and most years it is the only teaching I do,” shared Dennis in a recent email. “I have taught at a few other conferences in the past but none have equalled this one for its great people, positive energy, and beautiful setting… I’m proud to be associated with it.”

Unfortunately it’s a touch too late to sign up for the this year’s Bear River Writers’ Conference, which apparently fills up months ahead of time, year after year. The upside is that Jerry Dennis has a new book due out this September. The University of Michigan Press will be publishing Dennis’ forthcoming work, The Windward Shore, which is a meditation on winter on the Great Lakes.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

‘It’s All Relative’ for Michigan Author Wade Rouse

Cover ImageIf you’re anywhere near Petoskey this Tuesday evening, you might want to duck into indie booksellers McLean and Eakin for a few laughs with Wade Rouse. The Michigan author will be on hand for a discussion and signing of his latest book, It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine (A Memoir).

This isn’t Mr. Rouse’s first time heading north to promote his work. It was just about two years ago that the author was at McLean and Eakin to share his hilarious memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life, which was released to high praise and laughter.

NBC’s Today Show calls Rouse “laugh-out-loud-funny,” and was noted by The Washington Post as “an original writer and impressive new voice.” Rouse is a contributing humor columnist for Metrosource, a high-profile gay magazine, and his essays and articles have appeared in numerous national magazines and online publications.*

Rouse currently makes his home “on the coast of Lake Michigan” with his partner Gary. Rouse will further anchor himself to Michigan shores with the recent announcement that he’s been asked to be a regular on Michigan Public Radio. The author will be contributing essays from his latest memoir, It’s All Relative, as well as offering special segments. You can click here for Wade’s Saturday feature.

Wade Rouse’s McLean and Eakin event will take place on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 from 6:30pm – 8:00 pm. It is suggested that you buzz the booksellers at 231-347-1180 or 1-800-968-1910 to reserve a spot. Call to confirm detail events before heading out the door as schedules are always subject to change.

If you can’t make it to McLean and Eakin, feel free to link to Rouse’s full appearance schedule for other northern Michigan signings.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

-Information taken from the Wade Rouse site.

-For a list of Press reviews of Rouse’s work, you can link here.*

Meteorologist Paul Gross Takes ‘Extreme Michigan Weather’ in Stride

Mother Nature received a standing ovation last night for her exceptional performance in yesterday’s storms. Pooling water and weighted trees are a common sight this morning if you’re not still bailing out from the 3 inches of rain that fell across the Detroit metro area. Not sure what I’m talking about? Click here.

Michigan is a definite beauty, but the weather is full of stunning surprises every season, year after year. Much like the dog beaten by his master, we remain steadfast and true to the unpredictable climes of the state that keep us sunning in the summer and weeping in the winter.

Paul Gross, however, has taken Michigan weather up a few degrees. The Local 4 weatherman is well known in the area as the official meteorologist for the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions, and the University of Michigan football and baseball teams. Gross now adds the title of author to his forecast with the perfect “go to” book for those of us looking for more information on the mystifying weather that both irritates and brings Michiganians such pleasure.

Extreme Michigan Weather: The Wild World of the Great Lakes State is a slick paperback that digs into the state’s heat waves, bitter snows, ripping winds, ice storms, and yes, floods. Gross gets into the reasons behind our harsh climate and explores the causes behind fog, rainbows, lake breezes, ice jams, black ice and even global warming.

Extreme Michigan Weather carries the interest and kind of information that easily transfers to those of us who aren’t so science savvy. For more information about Extreme Michigan Weather, check out this interview with Paul Gross. If you’re interested in buying Gross’ book, it’s available through the University of Michigan Press site.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Heffernan Offers Humor, Allusions, and Exotic Locales ‘At the Bureau of Divine Music’

Cover ImagePoets Michael Heffernan and Thomas Lynch are teaming up for a few appearances in northern Michigan this week. The dynamic literary duo will kick off their Notable Books Tour on Monday, May 16th, 2011, at Petosky’s McLean & Eakin as part of their Yellow Chair Series, followed by several other stops dotting the northern part of the state.

While I happen to love poetry, honesty forces me to admit that I’m not the most able when it comes to its interpretation. Therefore, I have happily turned to fellow blogger Maggie Lane (Poem Elf)* to share her views on Michael Heffernan’s latest work, At the Bureau of Divine Music. Heffernan’s book was published in March and is part of the Wayne State University Press’ stunning Made in Michigan Writers Series.

At the Bureau of Divine Music by Michael Heffernan

– review by Maggie Lane

If one morning travel guru Rick Steves woke up bitten, in spite of the mosquito netting on his hammock, by the poetry bug, and upon finding himself unable to write a single sentence of his usual clear and cheerful prose, decided to give over to his new muse, what he’d write might sound like this:

Never fail to go as far from home

as you can find the means to get

or even

. . . I had to move,

at least to put new things in front of me

if not to make another kind of home

if home was what I wanted in the first place

The lines are from Michael Heffernan’s new collection At the Bureau of Divine Music. Heffernan, like Steves, is a world traveler, a restless spirit for whom “home” is not a refuge but a place which must be left behind.  The urge to inhabit new spots on the ever-alluring space-time continuum is too great for Heffernan to stick in one locale or even one gender for long in this entrancing new collection of poems.

And move around he does, from a café in postwar Paris to boyhood days in Detroit to Russia to Macedonia to Shreveport to a place, perhaps imaginary, with the lovely name of Kittythorpe.  Always his imagination is flitting back to the past and jumping ahead to the future. Restlessness is a trait he shares with many of his characters, some of who appear in masterful dramatic monologues:  travelers, dreamers, unfaithful lovers, embezzlers, and a man who aspires to be the neighborhood Gaughin.

His travels, real or imaginary, pack his poems with references and asides that had me chasing to keep up.  The allusions in the poems can be challenging, but well worth every Google search. If you’re the type of person who thrills at a conversation with someone smarter and wittier than you, you’ll get charged up reading Heffernan.  And if you are also the type of person who’s fantasized about being married to a smarter, wittier person, here’s a little scenario for you from “Consecration of the House”:  Heffernan sits upstairs in his bubble bath, quite the Diogenes, thinking about big questions and quoting Yeats, and calls down answers to his wife’s crossword puzzle.  He calls down more information than she asks for, just because he knows it:

’It’s also the word for being as in L’Etre et le Neant by Jean-Paul Sartre.’

Pretentious, oh yes, but he’s playing a part and doesn’t take himself too seriously.  Clearly he knows that no man sitting in a bathtub can be judged as anything but silly.  The poem, through Heffernan’s deft maneuvering, becomes a meditation on the soul (on being, the crossword clue), and ends with an unforgettable image of Kennedy moments before his assassination.

Just how seamlessly Heffernan travels through time and moves from drollery to tragedy and from matters mundane to the metaphysical, is evident in a favorite poem of mine from the collection, “Morning Mail.”

The poet in his bathrobe, aimless and alone in the house on a Monday morning, gets a letter from a friend in Boston.  The friend asks for reasons to keep on living from those of his friends who took the time to soothe him where it hurt/in the exhausted tissues of the soul.  The poet, as he considers his friend’s pleading for reasons to be vertical, reclines on the couch, which is funny but also dark, as if his friend’s despair entices him to try on death himself.

Lying there he remembers an old lover, a woman in a café in France who would just as soon be back in Worcester.  They both seem to wonder why we were doing this, a phrase that connects the vignettes in the poem, but the couple continues the doomed relationship in long travels through the Balkans on ships and uncomfortable trains.  In Greece they watch three women in black dresses step into the sea.  Two of them are daughters bathing their blind mother, who is crying. The image is indelible to him and to the reader.

From the pain of this reverie he comes back to the present as the letter drops behind the couch.  The time had come to rise up and occur, he says.  (I’m going to store this line as a useful antidote to indolence.)   In typical fashion for writers, this resolve to action leads him to stare out the window.  There he watches three blackbirds on a neighbor’s roof.  The blackbirds become the three Greek women and then transform into black angels come to make him face uncomfortable truths.  Why are we doing this? they seem to ask as they tumble from the roof and swoop up again.  His friend’s existential question has reverberated through his past and through the past of the two women who forced their mother unseeing into the sea and now into his present.  Why are we doing this?  And once we realize the futility, how do we stay vertical, how do we stay aloft?

Heffernan’s humor, allusions, and exotic locales form a viewing platform from which he hopes to catch sight of the unseen.  His restless spirit seems always in search of permanence, which some would call, especially those with Heffernan’s Jesuit education, the divine.

Heffernan, a Detroit native, teaches poetry at the University of Arkansas and is the two-time recipient of the Pushcart Prize, among other awards.  At the Bureau of Divine Music is Heffernan’s ninth book and, as noted, part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series by Wayne State University Press.

– If you can’t make it to those readings, click here to listen to Garrison Keillor read “The Art of Self-Defense,” a poem from this volume set in Detroit.

*Maggie Lane lives and writes in Beverly Hills, Michigan where she hosts the blog site Poem Elf. You can find her at http://poemelf.wordpress.com.

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

‘Night for Notables’ to Honor Michigan’s Finest


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 2011 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.”*

The event’s featured speaker this year is none other than Traverse City’s National Writers Series founder Doug Stanton, a New York Times best-selling author. Saturday’s Night for Notables will honor this year’s title contributors and also provide a forum for the authors 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.

Night Light Revue has covered several of this year’s Notable authors and their works. If you are interested in a few of NLR’s book reviews or author event coverage, please feel free to click on the links below. If you are interested in reading any of this year’s titles, our undervalued yet oh-so-amazing local libraries carry copies of the Michigan Notable Books both past and present and offer author events throughout the year. For free. For everyone.

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

Heather Sellers – “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know”

Writers Live! Features author Heather Sellers

Heather Sellers Delights at Writers Live! Event

Bryan Gruley – “The Hanging Tree: A Starvation Lake Mystery”

‘Starvation Lake’ is a Trip Worth Taking

Laura Kasischke – “Eden Springs”

Kasischke Shines in Eden Springs

Thomas Lynch – “Apparition & Late Fictions”

Life With Death – One Good Thing Leads to Another

-Post by Megan Shaffer

*As stated on the Michigan Notable Books site.

National Writers Series of Traverse City Definitely a Trip Worth Taking

COH Banner

As it turned out, driving north into high winds and rains for four hours was time well spent after all. The National Writers Series of Traverse City banged out another successful evening of laughs and literary insights at the City Opera House Thursday night as they played host to four authors from the Wayne State University Press “Made in Michigan” series.

If you think the art of the written word in Michigan is rusting away due to our bleak economy, you’d better think again. An opera house full of lit lovers both young and old turned out to hear authors Michael Delp, Jack Driscoll, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Michael Zadoorian open up about the writing process and their work.

NWS founder and Traverse City native Doug Stanton honored local student scholarship recipients before turning the mic over to author Michael Delp, who then presided over the evening’s laid-back program. Lending an air of humor and levity that would woo anyone to the midwest, Delp offered up a few self-disparaging narratives to lighten the mood before posing the heavier, more introspective questions to the panel.

The casually clad Campbell, Zadoorian, and Driscoll easily took the stage and answered Delp’s questions with earnest, lyrical answers befitting both their roots and their craft. It was agreed by all that Michigan as “place” plays an integral role in their individual writing process, and regardless of “where” the authors physically do their writing, it’s the people and places of their upbringing that ink the soul, pen, and page. As Driscoll beautifully noted, “We are the aggregate of everything that surrounds us.”

The aggregate on this particular night was a layered assemblage of Michigan voice and perspective from urban, rural, and northern exposures. From Detroit’s edgy Zadoorian to Comstock’s cadenced Campbell, to northern Michigan’s ever-measured Driscoll, each writer brought forth a unique passion for the writing process as well as a nod to the state that breathes such life and rugged beauty into their work.

“Art has no function if it doesn’t transfer,” stated Driscoll, and I firmly agree. Though he was speaking about individual interpretation, many deft hands play a part in the actual artistic transfer that lands such fine literary events into our laps.

Delp applauded Wayne State University Press for giving “a voice to authors in Michigan” and honored their integrity in risk-taking and honest publishing. And of the National Writers Series? Impressive is a word that simply falls far too short in describing the passion and sincere intention of Doug Stanton and the NWS to keep the written word alive and well in Michigan.

For literary lovers and aspiring writers, the series is not to be missed. For a full schedule of events, click here.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

On the Side

“Shnovel” is apparently a new term in the writing game. The merging of “short story” and “novel” may or may not be the creation of poet/novelist Jack Driscoll.

Related Links

-NLR’s Freedom of the University Press

-NLR’s Power of the University Press


‘Made in Michigan’ Authors Head to Traverse City for National Writers Series

COH BannerThe merging of two great series and many creative minds will take place in Traverse City on Thursday.  Wayne State University Press will be partnering with the National Writers Series of Traverse City to showcase a few of Michigan’s finest authors from the WSU Press Made in Michigan Writers Series.

“The Made in Michigan Writers Series is devoted to highlighting the works of distinguished statewide writers to showcase Michigan’s diverse voices,” shares the Wayne State University Press site. “The series publishes poetry, creative nonfiction, short fiction, and essays by Michigan writers with the aim of encouraging the recognition of the state’s artistic and cultural heritage throughout Michigan, the Midwest, and the nation.”

On Thursday, April 28th, authors from the award-winning Made in Michigan series Bonnie Jo CampbellMichael ZadoorianMichael Delp, and Jack Driscoll will be taking the stage at the City Opera House “for an exciting conversation on writing, creative collaboration, and the life of the artist.”*

In addition to the evening at the Opera House, a variety of other great events such as bookstore readings, school workshops, and writing classes for adults are scheduled as part of the National Writers Series which runs from April 26-28th.

What exactly is the National Writers Series of Traverse City? “It is a year-round book festival in Traverse City that brings some of the brightest celebrities of the literary world to Northern Michigan,” informs the WSU site. The series “is dedicated to bringing to life great conversations with today’s best-selling authors, journalists, and premier storytellers in a lively setting.”

If you’re looking for a field trip, all of this talent under one roof on one night is sure to make for an amazing evening. NLR will be covering the Made in Michigan Opera House event so be sure to check back in.

– As always, support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– You can click here for a full list of NWS events taking place next week.

*from WSU newsletter

On the Side: Gabrielle Hamilton’s ‘Blood, Bones & Butter’

Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter currently sits at #18 on the NYT Bestseller list. Not bad for a writer who happens to also be a full-time chef (and mom) running her own restaurant in New York City. While you can read a full review of Hamilton’s work here, I thought it might be nice to have a little extra book info “on the side” to spice things up. And by the way, I highly recommend.

As a child Gabrielle Hamilton’s mother called her by the pet name Prune, and it’s Prune that appears on Hamilton’s thriving restaurant at 54 East 1st. Street in New York City’s East Village. In her kitchen at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton is now well known for serving up American fare that she shares is “very personal, it’s food that I grew up eating or that I have a very close experience cooking, or that I personally know from the ground up and have made and loved.”

The East Village rests in the borough of Manhattan and lies east of Greenwich Village. Much like the maverick chef herself, the East Village has a rich history of both rebellion and creative vision, making it the perfect location for Hamilton. Once the upper part of the Lower East Side, the East Village began its transformation in the 1940’s as a hub of countercultural thought and artistic activity that drew bohemians from around the globe and continues to house the avant-garde to this day.

For more on Gabrielle Hamilton, try this podcast on Splendid Table or this video of Gabrielle at Prune from Savory New York. For more on the area’s fantastic history and bohemian culture, try this episode from the PBS series American Masters.

*Quote from Video: Savory New York

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer