Welcome To The State Of The Book!

The State of the Book: A Celebration of Michigan Writers and Writing

Once again, Fiction Writers Review, the University of Michigan’s Department of English Language & Literature, and the Zell Visiting Writers Series will celebrate Michigan’s great writers and the state’s enduring literary traditions with the second annual State of the Book symposium on Saturday, September 28.

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The State of the Book symposium will offer a range of free programming throughout the day that is focused on Michigan writers and the craft of writing—please click the “Schedule” tab above for more details. The day’s events will conclude with an on-stage keynote conversation featuring renowned poet, activist, and translator Carolyn Forché.

This day-long series of public events will showcase some of Michigan’s literary stars, in partnership with several of the state’s leading non-profit literary organizations: 826michiganDzanc BooksInsideOut Literary Arts ProjectThe National Writers Series, and The Neutral Zone. The events will also feature the work of the next generation of writers that these organizations serve and support.

Along with the Zell Visiting Writers Series, the English Department, and Fiction Writers Review, The State of the Book is sponsored by the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Institute for the Humanities, Rackham Graduate College, Office of the Vice President for Research, the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, MLibrary, and the Hopwood Program.

Editor’s Note: For the past two weeks we’ve been posting micro-portraits and/or interesting news about this year’s 2013 presenters at The State of the Book Literary Symposium, which will take place in Ann Arbor TODAY, September 28, in Rackham Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public. Thank you!

gerryLGGerry LaFemina is the author of eleven books of poems, prose poems, and fiction, including 2011′s Vanishing Horizon (poems) and this year’s Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist (prose poems). Clamor, a novel, is forthcoming. His book Graffiti Heart received the Anthony Piccione Prize in Poetry; The Parakeets of Brooklyn received the Bordighera Prize in Poetry and was translated into Italian.  A noted editor, teacher and literary arts advocate, he directs the Frostburg Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University where he’s an Associate Professor of English. For more on his work, please visit his website.

In an interview for Silenced Press , LaFemina is asked how he got into teaching. He replies:

Thomas Lux, one of my former teachers, once wrote that “no poem ever bought a cheeseburger/or not too many,” so I don’t know what sort of viable option I had to make a living. I could have done something else–no doubt–; I could have worked office jobs or used my skills working for a think tank. I was once asked to run for state office when I lived in Michigan…. But really, I love talking about poetry, and love getting people to think about literature differently.

It became apparent to me pretty early on that I should teach, so in my junior year at college I did some classroom work at the NY High School for the Humanities, and then when I was considering grad school I had to choose between teaching and writing or just writing (University of Montana had offered me the Hugo scholarship which was money just to write), but ultimately, I wanted to have a skill that would pay the bills–so getting the experience teaching at Western Michigan University seemed the smarter bet. As it turns out, I love teaching–the students give me such energy.

Hear more from LaFemina about his work and his process at The State of the Book, where he’ll be joining fellow authors Ariel Djanikian and Bill Harris on a panel entitled “The Haunted Past, the Strange Future,” moderated by Midwestern Gothic editor Robert James Russell.

Read the rest of the Silenced Press interview here.

Editor’s Note: For the past two weeks we’ve been posting micro-portraits and/or interesting news about this year’s 2013 presenters at The State of the Book Literary Symposium, which will take place in Ann Arbor TOMORROW, September 28, in Rackham Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public. Thank you!


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Anne-Marie Oomen is the author of two memoirs, Pulling Down the Barn and House of Fields, both Michigan Notable Books; An American Map: Essays  (Wayne State University Press); and a full-length collection of poetry, Uncoded Woman (Milkweed Editions). She is also represented in New Poems of the Third Coast: Contemporary Michigan Poetry, and edited Looking Over My Shoulder: Reflections on the Twentieth Century, an anthology of seniors’ essays funded by the Michigan Humanities Council. She has written seven plays, including the award-winning Northern Belles (inspired by oral histories of women farmers), and most recently, Secrets of Luuce Talk Tavern, 2012 winner of the CTAM contest. She adapted the meditations of Gwen Frostic for Chaotic Harmony,  a choreopoem. She is founding editor of Dunes Review, former president of Michigan Writers, Inc., serves as instructor of creative writing at Interlochen Arts Academy, ICCA Writer’s Retreat, and Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College, MA.  

In an Down the Barn, given that an extensive family history is part of the story. In response to whether researching her family history had “any personal impact on [her] or [her] writing,” Oomen replies:

I work primarily from my own memory, which is usually similar to but not always exactly like my sibling’s memories. I do talk to members of my family and look at family photos and documents when they are available, but I know that my real sources (my personal primary sources) are my memories. I remember them because they were in some way singularly formative to my being, my identity. My brothers have other important memories, some that I don’t have. Memory is not history, memory is the story of an identity or realization or revelation. In that way, my memories may serve the narrative (that is, the literary endeavor) better than history. Though history can’t be entirely discounted, it plays a different role. I am aware of and careful about the place where history meets memory, and where imagination meets both. It is a rich meeting place.

Hear more from Oomen on her non-fiction process at The State of the Book, where she’ll be joining fellow essayists Jonathan Cohn and Christine Montross in a panel entitled “The Art of Fact,” moderated by author Eileen Pollack.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Editor’s Note: All this week we’ll continue posting micro-portraits and/or interesting news about this year’s 2013 presenters at The State of the Book Literary Symposium, which will take place in Ann Arbor on Saturday, September 28, in Rackham Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public. Thank you!

Steve HamiltonSteve Hamilton is a brightly decorated mystery novelist from Detroit. He is the creator of protagonist Alex McKnight, a Detroit-born detective who solves crimes in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula. In a recent interview with Aunt Agatha‘s, an independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, Hamilton dismantles common misconceptions about the process of writing mystery and the genre of crime fiction.

Mystery is widely perceived as a plot-centered genre. One would think that crime fiction authors would be skilled at, and consumed with, the process of plotting, planning, outlining and calculating. However, Hamilton’s writing process is more spontaneous and intuitive. He confesses:

Honestly, all I do is try to figure out a good way to start, something that sounds right. . . . From there, I just keep asking myself, “What happens next?”  That’s all I can do.  I have absolutely no idea where the story is going beyond the next few pages.  I just go and hope I never get too lost.

Much mystery fiction is seen as having high entertainment and commercial value. But Hamilton speaks of the novel as though it is an act of honesty. Emotional, personal ingredients contribute to the tonal and thematic qualities of his work. When questioned about the “steadily darkening” quality of his fiction, he responds:

Part of that is just growing a little older, seeing a little bit more in the real world.  It all comes out in the writing, even if it’s not that obvious or recognizable.  The first book I did after 9/11 was Blood Is the Sky, and I can still look back and see that in the book itself.  Not so much the events, of course, but the feeling I had when I was writing it.

Lastly, far be it from a mystery novelist to avoid esoteric cultural references. Reflecting on Nightwork he comments:

I might have let myself become a little bit too indulgent with the references to jazz musicians who 99% of readers have never even heard of.

Both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Steve Hamilton shows that the infusion of the popular mystery genre with literary depth and artistry is a wonderful and fulfilling path for a writer.

Editor’s Note: All this week we’ll continue posting micro-portraits and/or interesting news about this year’s 2013 presenters at The State of the Book Literary Symposium, which will take place in Ann Arbor on Saturday, September 28, in Rackham Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public. Thank you!

Ariel DjanikianAriel Djanikian’s debut novel, The Office of Mercy, was published this February by Viking. Djanikian holds an MFA degree from the University of Michigan and is the recipient of a Fulbright grant. She’s also lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and Irvine, California. Her newly adopted city is Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her writing has appeared in The L Magazine and The Paris Review Daily. Visit her Website for more information.

In the introduction to her Fiction Writers Review interview with the author, Editor-at-Large Celeste Ng writes:

In addition to creative writing, Ariel Djanikian has studied chemistry and philosophy—oh yeah, she was a Fulbright scholar, too—and all of that shows in her debut novel, The Office of Mercy (Viking). But don’t get me wrong: The Office of Mercy is no dry, dense, Novel Of Ideas. Its heroine, a young woman named Natasha Wiley, lives in a futuristic settlement called America-Five. Inside America-Five, everything seems perfect: there’s plenty of food, everyone has a job, and no one ever dies. Outside America-Five lies a post-apocalyptic wilderness, peopled only by a few roaming bands who survived the “Storm” that destroyed all other civilization. Natasha works in the aforementioned Office of Mercy, where her job is to—

—and here Ng makes sure not to spoil the surprise for you…

Though you can hear more about the book and Djanikian’s work this Saturday at The State of the Book, where she’ll be on a panel entitled “The Haunted Past, The Strange Future.” Joining Djanikian in the conversation will be playwright, poet, and novelist Bill Harris, and poet Gerry LaFemina. Robert James Russell, editor of Midwestern Gothic, will moderate.

Links and Resources

Editor’s Note: All this week we’ll continue posting micro-portraits and/or interesting news about this year’s 2013 presenters at The State of the Book Literary Symposium, which will take place in Ann Arbor on Saturday, September 28, in Rackham Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public. Thank you!

Bill HarrisIn 2011, the Kresge Foundation presented writer Bill Harris with their Eminent Artist Award. Kresge called Harris a “magic-maker and a man of letters in the truest sense.” The award itself recognizes “a metropolitan Detroit artist whose work and career exemplify sustained, outstanding achievement and a commitment to sharing that work with the local community.”

With Kresge, Harris spoke passionately about the influence jazz has had on his work as well as his goal to give voice to African-American males, one of the voices “least heard in the world.”

A literary artist, Harris says that, for him, craft is more important than medium: “What I always wanted to be was a writer. Not a playwright, not a poet, not a novelist, but a writer. To write a six line poem is as joyful to me as it is to write an eighty page script or a three or four hundred page novel. So it’s about the process.”

Check out a video of Harris talking with Kresge about his work here.