Writers & Writing

This is your source for NPR author interviews, recent broadcasts from the Traverse City National Writers Series, and IPR's radio series Michigan Writers on the Air. You can also find NPR authors & interviews here.

Essay: Black Coffee

Apr 20, 2018

In my family, dinner ended with the children being excused to go play while the parents and grandparents stayed at the table to drink coffee and talk. At first, I was eager to leave but as I got older, I yearned to stay and listen.

When I was finally invited to join the adults (somewhere in adolescence) I discovered the price of admission. If I drank half my milk, I could fill the glass with coffee. What a privilege! And what an awful taste!

Essay: Being Safe

Apr 13, 2018

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Chicago to live with some college friends.  Our apartment was on Dearborn Street, an interesting old neighborhood a few blocks north of the Rush Street jazz clubs.

I had never lived in a big city before and although it seemed full of glamor and possibility, it also seemed full of danger.  I was on constant high-alert, imagining a mugger down every alley.

National Writers Series: An evening with Anna Quindlen

Apr 11, 2018

Anna Quindlen is a New York Times columnist and a prolific author of novels and nonfiction books. Her book “One True Thing” was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. Quindlen’s latest novel is “Alternate Side,” about a New York City family whose idyllic life is shaken by a violent act on their quiet cul-de-sac. She talks this hour with Cynthia Canty, host of the Michigan Radio program Stateside. To begin, Cynthia asked what Anna wanted to be before she decided to become a writer.

On the first day that Michael Gustafson and his wife Hilary opened Literati Bookstore in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, something possessed him to place a typewriter on a table for anyone to use.

That was in the spring of 2013. Since then, Gustafson’s “public typewriter experiment” has yielded a treasure trove of notes: some droll, some heartbreaking, some witty, some poignant.

Essay: Asymmetry

Apr 9, 2018

A big silver maple lives a couple blocks from me, taller than any house on the street. Staring up, I notice how crooked the tree is, how unbalanced where its branches have been chopped off. Year after year, the city crews have trimmed it to make room for power lines.

Essay: Lenten Breakfast

Mar 30, 2018

I get up earlier than usual on a school morning and my father is already shaving in the bathroom.  “Well, well,” he says, “Looks like my date is ready.”

“Aw, Dad, I’m still in my pajamas!”  But my outfit is laid out on the bed—my red plaid dress and patent leather shoes.  Today is the Father-Daughter Lenten Breakfast at our church.

When Michigan’s economy tanked a decade ago, it stepped up a steady stream of young people leaving Michigan to seek work in Chicago.

Michael Ferro was one of those young Michiganders. His experience working for the federal government in the Windy City was the inspiration for his debut novel Title 13.

Essay: Anticipation

Mar 23, 2018

I grew up with a father who had some kind of proverb or platitude for every occasion.  One of his favorites was, “Anticipation is always greater than realization.”  Since I was just a kid, I assumed he was right.

He was warning me to not get my hopes up, to be prepared for disappointment.  Maybe he thought this would protect me from getting hurt.  But it’s a rather bleak invitation to the future.

Isn’t being young all about dreaming big and aiming high?  When I told a friend about my father’s advice, she said, ‘You might as well kill yourself.”

Essay: Solutions

Mar 16, 2018

I stood in the doorway of Art’s office, asking for help.  Art Maha was my boss—a corporate sales star who’d been promoted to advertising manager for the whole company.  It was a big manufacturing company—and he wanted to make us look as good as we were.          

I was in my mid-twenties with a master’s degree in English and no advertising experience.  But Art had hired me as a writer—to help his engineers describe our products in ordinary language.  Which meant I had to learn about those products—high-precision components of materials handling equipment.

Essay: Spider Rescue

Mar 12, 2018

It’s early winter and spiders are making nests in the corners of my ceilings.  They hide themselves so well, they’re hard to spot—but when I do, I’m not happy.

Now I know that all life is sacred, including spider life.  And while I respect their right to be, I prefer them to be outdoors.  So I fetch the step-stool and reach up to capture them in a kleenex,  and gently release them onto the back porch.  My husband scoffs at this ritual.

“They’ll die anyway,” he says.

“But I’m giving them a chance,” I say.

Essay: Recipes

Mar 2, 2018

I pull out a file folder called “Recipes” and paw through the wrinkled, stained papers to find Sharon’s “White Bean & Barley Soup.”  She has translated the quantities for a crock pot and I follow her pencil marks sideways up the page.

Later, when the soup is bubbling in the pot, I reflect that it is seasoned not only with oregano and thyme but our long friendship.  Sharon and I have been trading recipes since our daughters were toddlers, crawling around at our feet.  Today we are both grandmothers, still sharing menus and cups of tea.

Essay: Rain Changing to Snow

Feb 23, 2018

Rain changing to snow in the forecast. Two doors down, a young man hauls a roll of carpet out of the house. Virginia’s house, I think, but not anymore. She died last summer at age 88 and a young couple has bought it. Their first house.

A slim woman staggers out onto the porch under another roll of carpet and hands it up to the young man who has backed a pick-up truck into the yard. He covers the carpet with a blue tarp and pulls up the hood of his jacket.

National Writers Series: An evening with Peter Heller

Feb 22, 2018

Author Peter Heller has had a lot of real-life adventures, but he says the biggest adventure of all came when he started imagining Hig, the protagonist of his first novel. “The Dog Stars” is about a man who survives a flu pandemic that killed most of humanity. Before “The Dog Stars,” Heller wrote non-fiction books that document adventurous expeditions. He’s been a long-time contributor to Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. Heller’s latest novel is called “Celine.” Heller talks this hour with Ron Jolly, author and radio host for WTCM NewsTalk 580.

Essay: Peak Experience

Feb 16, 2018

We climbed steadily for four days and set up camp at 10,000 feet to rest before our descent. Deep valleys fell away into shadow while the white peaks of the Himalayas stood out along the horizon.

At a distance from our tents stood a tiny stone hut—a Buddhist place of worship—with a single prayer flag fluttering from a tall pole. I stepped through the low door and laid marigolds on the rough altar.

While most of our group of seven women wanted to relax, a few of us decided to hike to 13,000 feet the next day. Surely, we could see more if we stood higher!

Librarian Annie Spence knows what it’s like to love a book so much she has to write it a love letter. She also knows what it’s like for a break-up letter to be in order.

Her letters to books fill the pages of her own new book Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks.

Essay: Inheriting the Couch

Feb 12, 2018

I have an old Victorian couch which belonged to my grandparents. It has blue velvet upholstery and a curved wooden back. Although its delicate little legs look too small to support it, the couch has proved remarkably sturdy.

As a young girl, I sat on this couch with my grandfather, my feet just reaching the edge of the cushions. He read poetry to me and showed me his big books of art reproductions.  The couch wasn’t blue then but covered in a beige fabric that scratched my bare legs.

Essay: Free Spirit

Feb 2, 2018

It was the end of the nineteen-sixties—that decade of conflict and liberation—and I was  working in Chicago.  Young and single, I enjoyed being on my own, being a free spirit.

Then a boyfriend asked me to visit him in California.  Ray was renting a house west of Hollywood where he and his roommates were waiting for their “big break.” Everyone I met seemed to be waiting for a big break—as an actor, a director, a screen writer.

Essay: Dime Store

Jan 26, 2018

A few months ago I was out on my bike and stopped at the Ben Franklin store on Eighth Street for some stickers and yarn.  It reminded me of the dime store I knew as a kid, the one we always called “June’s” because my mother’s friend worked there.

While my mom chatted with June, I browsed around in the back where the kids’ stuff was:  trading cards, jacks, marbles, crayons, coloring books, furnishings for a doll house.  And since I  had very few dimes, I looked long and hard before I put my money down.

Essay: Caretaking

Jan 22, 2018

Last summer, my husband had a serious heart operation and was in the hospital for a week.  While visiting him there, I marveled at the efficiency of the staff—doctors, nurses, attendants, food servers, custodians.  Everyone so capable, courteous, upbeat.

Then Dick came home from the hospital and it was me.  Just me, the primary caregiver.

“You’ll have to do everything,” a friend told me—and everything turned out to be more than I had imagined.

Essay: Brown Sweater

Jan 12, 2018

Glancing down, I see a bug on my sweater—but no, it’s just one of a million little balls of wool that have pilled up on this ancient garment. And as I look more closely, I am suddenly and properly embarrassed.

How can I wear this ugly old thing? The cuffs are crusty with food, the sleeves fuzzy with cat hair, and the pockets stuffed with Kleenex. It is the most disgusting sweater on the planet, hands down, and I put it on every day.

Essay: A Place for Myself

Jan 5, 2018

During my first year at a university, I lived in a single room in the dorm. The girls on my hall were fun, but at the end of the day I needed my own space where I could do my homework and play my Frank Sinatra albums.

Still, when the opportunity came to pledge a sorority, I seized it. I thought it was a chance to change my shy, serious self into one of those popular girls—the ones who were gregarious and social and attractive to boys. My friends thought I was crazy.

Sebastian Junger is an author and Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker. His book “The Perfect Storm” was made into a Hollywood movie. Junger’s latest book is “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.” Sebastian Junger is joined by Philip Caputo, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and novelist whose book “A Rumor of War” is considered a landmark of Vietnam war literature. Caputo and Junger talk with retired U.S. diplomat, and political advisor to NATO, Jack Segal. Segal asked Caputo to start the discussion by reading from his book.

National Writers Series: An evening with Murray Howe

Dec 21, 2017

Murray Howe is the youngest son of Gordie Howe, who spent 25 seasons playing for the Detroit Red Wings. Unlike his father and two older brothers, Murray Howe never worked as a professional athlete. Instead he became a doctor, practicing sports medicine. Murray Howe’s memoir is called “Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father.” He talks this hour with Ron Jolly, author and radio host for WTCM NewsTalk 580. Jolly asked Howe what it was like growing up in an athletic family.

Essay: Blizzard Conditions

Dec 18, 2017

I stare out the window at what the weather man calls, “Blizzard conditions.” Heavy snow, strong winds, poor visibility. And I have to admit, it’s just beautiful!

Easy for me to say because I’m standing here in my nice warm kitchen. The storm is wild and wonderful as long as I don’t have to travel. As long as my loved ones don’t have to travel. I review the list and am grateful they’re all at home today or living far south where no blizzards threaten.

Essay: Wooden Elephant

Dec 11, 2017

Some years ago, I traveled to Nepal with seven women and spent some time trekking in the Himalayas.  We also visited a jungle park in the southern part of the country where we rode on elephants, another kind of adventure.

Toward the end of the trip, I began to buy gifts for family, friends and colleagues.  Seeing a small wooden elephant, I thought of my secretary who collected miniature elephants.  Then I bought it for myself, because of the jungle ride.

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