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.

One of the very best ways to enjoy summer in Michigan is to park yourself under a tree or on a beach and get lost in a good book.

Poet Keith Taylor joined Stateside to talk about some of his suggestions for your summer reading list.

Recently retired as a creative writing teacher at the University of Michigan, Taylor just published another book called Ecstatic Destinations about his Ann Arbor neighborhood.

Essay: Eating an Orange

Jul 13, 2018

I’m scraping the inside of an orange, not because there’s much pulp left but because my grandfather used to scrape his orange clean—each half like a little bowl with a white interior.  Suddenly he’s here with me at the table, sitting back in his chair to drink down the rest of his coffee, nodding at my glass of milk.

Essay: Dear Anyone

Jul 6, 2018

A recent widow is sorting through her late husband’s things and giving some away.  A book of poems comes to me called, appropriately enough, “Dear Anyone.”  It was written by William Keens, a poet I’ve never heard of.

The timing is good, however, because I feel kind of lost today and poetry is often a nourishing companion at such times.  So, I page through William Keens’ book—which is beautifully printed on handmade paper—and pick out this poem:

National Writers Series: An evening with Samantha Irby

Jun 29, 2018

Samantha Irby created the blog, “Bitches Gotta Eat.” Her debut collection of essays called “Meaty” was published in 2013. It’s being republished in connection with an upcoming TV series based on the book. Samantha’s latest book is “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.” She talks this hour with author and storyteller Elon Cameron. Elon asked Samantha how she would describe “Meaty.”

Essay: Comb-Over

Jun 29, 2018

In a doctor’s waiting room the other day, I watched a tall man walk in, a good-looking man with gray hair and a carefully-tended comb-over. My first thought was to feel sorry for him, not that he was bald, but that he needed to hide his baldness.

But my next thought was that we all have comb-overs, every single one of us. We are all hiding some kind of defect—visible or invisible, real or imagined—that we work very hard every day to disguise.

Essay: Carrots

Jun 25, 2018

I am late getting home from class and my husband has already started supper. As we drink a beer at the kitchen table, I hear a lid rattling on the stove. “Should you turn the carrots down?” I ask, and Dick runs to turn off the burner.

Carrots are stuck to the bottom of the pan and I am reminded of another cooking experience. “When my mother started working full-time, she would ask me to get dinner ready,” I tell Dick. “Once, I was cooking green beans and burned them black.”

“What did she say?” he asks.

Essay: Bonnie's Cottage

Jun 21, 2018

Finally, Bonnie invites me to spend a week at her family cottage, the cottage she’s been telling me about all during eighth grade. Every day we will go swimming, she says, and sit on the dock and wait for boys to pick us up in their speedboats.

Now we’re here and Bonnie says the lake is too cold for swimming. And although we sit on the dock every day, no boys come by. As it turns out, the only invitation to ride in a speedboat comes from Bonnie’s dad on the last night of my visit.

Essay : Aprons

Jun 8, 2018

My mother and her mother spent much of their lives in the kitchen—where they prepared food, served meals, and washed dishes.  And always, always, they were wearing aprons:  bright calico aprons with rick-rack trim that my grandmother made.

She used a simple pattern with two side pockets and long ties that met in a bow in the back.  I can still hear her old treadle sewing machine humming in the basement as she sewed aprons—hundreds of them for the church bazaar.

Essay: Ungodly Hour

Jun 1, 2018

“I have to get up at some ungodly hour,” I say, describing a flight I need to catch.

It’s only later that I wonder about that phrase. What could an “ungodly hour” be, after all? Who would believe in a God that kept hours, that wasn’t available 24/7? I especially want God to be available when I’m flying. Because even though planes launch me into God-territory, I don’t feel one bit more secure.

Essay: Merganser Math

May 25, 2018

On a morning in late spring, my husband and I canoe a section of the Manistee River. Close to shore a merganser duck is swimming with ten ducklings in a row behind her. Ten.

So I start to wonder, “Can mergansers count?” How would she know if one of her babies was missing if she can’t count? Yet, as we glide past her, Mother Merganser doesn’t even turn her handsome brown head to check on her brood. She trusts that they are right there—all ten of them. And they are, in one long undulating line.

National Writers Series: An evening with Eileen McNamara

May 24, 2018

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. With her husband Sargent Shriver, she had five children, including journalist Maria Shriver. Guest Eileen McNamara worked at the Boston Globe for 30 years as a reporter and columnist. Her latest book is called “Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World.” Eileen talks this hour with Interlochen Public Radio reporter Morgan Springer. Morgan asked Eileen why she gets angry when people lump all the Kennedy sisters together.

Essay: Loving Your Life

May 18, 2018

Most obituaries are rather similar—idealized portraits full of memories and tributes and good deeds.  But occasionally I read something original and striking that makes me think—not only about the person who died but about myself.

This happened recently when I read the sentence:  “He loved his life.”  He loved his life!  I wondered if I could say the same?  It haunted me, that phrase, and I began to talk with friends about it, asking what they thought it meant, to love your life.

Essay: Blame Me

May 11, 2018

“Maybe I wasn’t the greatest mom,” I say, “but I must have done a few things right.”

“None,” my daughter says, grinning. We are sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and catching up. Sara is married now and working two jobs, so we grab whatever time we can to be together.

“Maybe there was one thing,” she says, and I wonder what it could be. Hoping she might say how much she appreciates the way I read her books or helped with homework.

“You said I could blame you,” she says. “Remember?”

“Remind me.’

National Writers Series: An evening with Drew Philp

May 10, 2018

At age 23, Drew Philp moved to Detroit and bought a house for $500. He spent the next few years renovating it, living without heat or electricity. Drew wrote a book about his experience, called “A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City.” He talks this hour with WTCM NewsTalk 580 radio host Ron Jolly. Ron asked Drew where he grew up.

Essay: Generosity

May 4, 2018

I grew up with a very frugal father.  Having lived through the Great Depression, he had a “cash and carry” philosophy.  This meant you paid cash for purchases and didn’t purchase unless you had cash.

My mother was the opposite of frugal which was a source of problems in the marriage—problems my father often brought to me.  “She spends so much,” he complained but I couldn’t stop her.  What I could do was be careful with money and I still am.

Essay: Creating Chaos

Apr 27, 2018

Years ago I worked with a woman I’ll call Janet.  She often arrived late, full of apologies and excuses.  Her car wouldn’t start, the dog got away, her kids missed the bus.

We all sympathized at first, but when the behavior persisted and the excuses came round again, we just looked away.

Still, I enjoyed Janet’s company and occasionally we got together outside of work—where it was the same story.  I’d be waiting at the restaurant for a half hour before she rushed in, breathless and explaining.  She ran into a friend, she had to answer a call.

On the next edition of Michigan Writers on the Air Aaron Stander interviews Daniel Wolff, author of Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913.  And, Anne-Marie Oomen about her most recent publishing project, The Lake Michigan Mermaid.  At the end, Fleda Brown provides an audio essay on Michigan poet Patricia Clark.

Karen Anderson has been writing weekly essays for IPR for 10 years. Her new book, "Gradual Clearing" is a collection of 120 of those essays.
Windborne Studios

For the last 10 years, Karen Anderson has been writing weekly essays heard on Interlochen Public Radio.

The essays are vivid, personal, and relatable. Karen takes time to notice the little details and experiences of everyday life.


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.

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