Column: Book Fare

Retooled Ann Arbor Book Festival is still in the game

It hasn’t been easy for people devoted to books in this community to keep the annual Ann Arbor Book Festival and Writer’s Conference going.

Inner courtyard at North Quad

The inner courtyard at the University of Michigan's North Quad. This year's Ann Arbor Book Festival and Writer's Conference, which takes place on June 25, will be held at North Quad, located at State and Huron.

The publishing industry as we knew it is all but gone, as is the bookselling industry. (A visit to the almost ghostly downtown Borders store on a recent Friday night grimly reminded us of this.) The Great Recession all but dried up sponsorship and grant money for the arts in general and the literary arts in particular.

So how did organizers manage to bring back the book festival for another year?

Like most of us, by deciding what expenses weren’t essential, by figuring out how to stretch a buck and by some simple community cooperation.

Check out the schedule and you’ll see that this year’s festival – set for Saturday, June 25 – is being presented essentially in conjunction with the Neutral Zone’s Volume Summer Institute and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

Jeff Kass, Neutral Zone’s creative arts director who is heading up the book festival this year, says organizers were faced with “trying to move forward with the book festival under difficult economic circumstances, and we really didn’t have the resources to go it alone anymore.”

Kass apparently saw an opportunity to tap the talent that was coming to town to lead workshops for the Volume institute at Neutral Zone. The annual program “brings in some pretty terrific instructors, writers and performers,” says Kass. Integrating them into the festival happened by moving it from its traditional long weekend in early May to late June.

Bill Zirinsky, owner of Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom, remains a key sponsor of the festival; Kass says Evans Young of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts, and Peter Schork of Ann Arbor State Bank have “stepped up” their own commitments to the event. And, Kass says, foregoing the expense of a festival executive director freed up some funds for conference scholarships (email Kass at for scholarship info).

The Summer Festival partnership, Kass says, opened up some new venues for the festival and the Volume institute, including the Stern Auditorium at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The festival tent will be pitched on Ingalls Mall for some afternoon discussions and the presentation of this year’s Leader in the Literary Arts (LILA) awards to local storyteller Laura Pershin Raynor and to Ann Arbor’s Family Learning Institute and its executive director, Amy Rolfes.

“These kinds of alliances are the way things are going to have to be,” Kass says, and the “vision for the book festival is going to continue to evolve: What does the community really want as a literary arts festival?”

The heart of the matter, of course, remains the Writer’s Conference and its sessions focusing on the crafting of fiction, poetry, memoir and literature for young adults; Kass says he’s hoping for a “healthy turnout.” Things get started at 8:30 a.m. with the annual Breakfast With the Authors (emceed by Raynor), when festival and conference participants will gather informally at the Image Café in the North Quad building, located at the southeast corner of State and Huron. The conference is organized into three sets of sessions led by 14 writers – among them Kass (a creative writing teacher at Pioneer High and Eastern Michigan University), Lori Tucker-Sullivan and Cynthia Furlong-Reynolds. Margaret Yang returns this year as well. (See the full list on the festival’s website).

Volume institute faculty who are also on board at the Writer’s Conference include poets Roger Bonair-Agard and Kevin Coval. (Coval’s conference session, “Working Class Poetics,” sounds intriguing: “It’s vital to remember the power of art to bring the everyday lives of workers into the forefront of the public’s literary imagination.”) And this year’s wrap-up Author’s Forum will feature Ann Arbor writer Karen Simpson and her first novel, Act of Grace. (On Wednesday, June 15, Simpson will give a reading from the novel at Nicola’s Books, starting at 7 p.m.)

Linda Fitzgerald, whose day job is running her own marketing communications business in Ann Arbor, was sending out feelers early on about the prospect for this year’s festival; she says she might have missed one conference since the festival’s inception 2003.  While noting that there’s “lots of local talent” leading the festival sessions this year, Fitzgerald says she hasn’t settled on the sessions she might check out this time around.

But she has watched the character of the conference evolve along with the “seismic changes in the world of publishing itself” – Fitzgerald herself is now investigating the self-published “e-book route” for her mystery novel, Mantra for Murder. A marketing orientation in the early years – “all knees and elbows” in the quest to snag an agent and find a publisher, she says – has shifted to something that is “more supportive and fun and inspirational.” The focus on nurturing a “community of writers.”

(A friendly aside to the festival folks: Update the website! The Ann Arbor News and Shaman Drum Bookshop are listed as sponsors – both organizations are no longer in business.)

Poetry in the Garden

One Pause Poetry, sponsored by Copper Colored Mountain Arts, will present Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor reading Poetry in the Garden on Friday, June 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at 7101 W. Liberty Road in Ann Arbor.

Kasischke’s latest collection of poetry is titled Space, In Chains (Copper Canyon Press), and several of her new poems appeared in the April issue of Poetry magazine. Taylor’s Marginalia for a Natural History will be out from Black Lawrence Press in October.

It’s Still 2011, So We Are Not Late With This

The Library of Michigan announced its list of 2011 Michigan Notable Books – in December 2010. So we’re thinking this means that these books will remain notable for another six months, right?

Well, it just so happens that some of them may remain notable for even longer than that. So there.

This could especially be the case for local favorites who made this (last?) year’s list, including Thomas Lynch’s Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories (Norton) and Eden Springs: A Novella by Laura Kasischke (Wayne State University). Another really fine title that made the list is Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams, edited by M.L. Liebler (Coffee House Press). Among this book’s many riches are selections by Lynch and that fine poet of blue-collar work and workers Philip Levine. It made a dandy Christmas present for my brother – and kudos to Nicola’s Books for the featured shelf space.

About the writer: Domenica Trevor lives in Ann Arbor and has been known to compile her own notable lists. Her columns are published periodically in The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our columnists and other contributors. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

One Comment

  1. June 12, 2011 at 5:33 am | permalink

    The Michigan Notable Selection Committee will start reviewing books for next year and already there are some incredible submissions. Several of the Notable authors will be at the Kerrytown BookFest on Sept. 11 including the National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon.