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.

Radio Diaries: Drying Dishes

Feb 3, 2017

My father wasn’t much of a cook but he always washed the dinner dishes and took pride in his work.  It was my job to dry and put them away.

Sometimes we listened to the ball game on the radio and other times we talked about my homework—which always came after dishes and before television.  One night, I noticed that a plate had some food left on it and I handed it back to my father.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“You didn’t get it clean,” I said.

“A good drier never finds food on a plate,” he said.

He teaches young writers at the University of Michigan, and he practices what he teaches.

Throughout the years, Keith Taylor has published short stories, co-edited volumes of essays and fiction, and written powerful collections of poetry.

Taylor joined Stateside to talk about his newest book of poetry, The Bird-while

Radio Diaries: C-Plus Paper

Jan 27, 2017

I was an English major in college and one of my first assignments was a paper on the Nineteeth Century poet, Lord Byron.  I didn’t have a clue what to say about Byron so I used a bunch of scholarly books from the library—and received a grade of C+.

I was stunned.  I’d never received such a poor grade in English before.  This was my major, my specialty, my love!  So I went to see my professor to find out what I’d done wrong.

“You used somebody else’s ideas,” he said.  “I already know what the critics think.  I want to know what you think.”

Radio Diaries: Bigger Self

Jan 23, 2017

In a world of people wanting to slim down, my daughter and I are trying to plump up… not physically but spiritually.  We’ve figured out that the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule and all the other guidelines for goodness can be summed up this way:  Be Your Bigger Self.

You know your Bigger Self.  It’s the self you like best, the generous, loving, open-hearted person that you would like to be all the time.  Instead, your Smaller Self often intervenes.

“I don’t want to go to the anniversary party,” I confess to Sara.

The Grand Traverse Commons were once home to the Traverse City State Hospital. A new memoir written by Jack Kerkhoff tells of his 45-day stay inside the hospital in 1952.
Dan Wanschura

Jack Kerkhoff grew up Traverse City. And he remembers walking past the state hospital as a kid.

“How many times I had scampered up that driveway with my gang, fearful yet curious. How many times we had wandered outside the bleak tower-topped buildings that had iron bars at the windows, and shouted at the men and women behind the bars and giggled over the obscenities they tossed back at us.”


Radio Diaries: When Everything Changed

Jan 13, 2017

I grew up with a neighborhood gang of about a dozen boys and girls, all ages.  We played together every night after dinner and when a vacant lot became a construction site, we made a game out of it—dividing into teams, each side trying to keep the other from climbing out of the hole in the ground.

The hole was deep and it was hard climbing up the sides—and all the while, your opponent was dancing along the edge, waiting to shove you back down.

National Writers Series: An evening with Kyle Mills

Jan 12, 2017

Kyle Mills recently took over writing the Mitch Rapp series of thrillers, created by the late Vince Flynn. “Order to Kill,” his most recent book, is his second in that series. He also writes his own series of political thrillers starring FBI agent Mark Beamon. But writing wasn’t Kyle Mills’s first career. 

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Do women drink beer? It's a dumb question to be sure, but watching any random assortment of beer commercials, one might start to wonder. After all, the vast majority of beer marketing revolves around men: men watching football, men laughing at jokes, men saying "whassup."

To Ginger Johnson, the founder of Women Enjoying Beer, and the author of the book How to Market Beer to Women: Don't Sell Me A Pink Hammerthe tendency of beer marketing to ignore women is not only insulting. It's also a bad business strategy.

Radio Diaries: Take Your Time

Jan 6, 2017

When Bruce arrived to pick me up for a date, I wasn’t always ready.  “Take your time,” he would say and grab a magazine off the coffee table.  And when I came out to greet him, he was always smiling—with no snide remarks or cheap shots.

This was years ago now, and Bruce and I have gone our separate ways—but I remember him fondly, especially when I need five extra minutes.  Nobody else has ever been so generous about my being late.

On the next edition of Michigan Writers on the Air author Maureen Dunphy will discuss her new travel book Great Lakes Island Escapes. The book is published by Wayne State University Press. 

Grand Marais, Michigan, based writer Ellen Airgood will read from her new middle grade novel, The Education of Ivy Blake (Penguin).

Also, writer Bill O. Smith and illustrator Glenn Wolff will provide some background on their new book, Four A.M. December 25.

How do we talk about Detroit?

In the 80's and 90's, the focus was on crime and urban decay. Detroit was the "Murder City." Today, the narrative is one of possibility and resurgence.

But both of those depictions were largely imposed by outsiders, and were, at best, incomplete.

Radio Diaries: Uneventfulness

Jan 2, 2017

Several years ago, I heard a woman give a talk about a trip to Greenland where she lived with the Inuit people, traveled by dog sled, ate raw seal meat.  It wasn’t the kind of vacation most of us would choose—but for her, it was life-changing.

Not as a triumph of endurance but because she learned so much from the Inuit.  “They are peaceful,” she said.  “And they don’t talk much, only when necessary.  There is no personal ownership; they share everything.”  The list of what she learned was long but the one that struck me was this:  “The Inuit strive for a life of uneventfulness.”

National Writers Series: An evening with Ann Patchett

Dec 30, 2016

Ann Patchett is the author of novels such as "Bel Canto," "State of Wonder," and "The Patron Saint of Liars." Her new novel "Commonwealth" draws heavily on the experiences of her life. The narrative shifts back and forth from past to present, and from California to Virginia--the Commonwealth of the title. Patchett talks this hour with actor and writer Benjamin Busch. He asks Patchett why her books haven't been made into movies.

Radio Diaries: Tell Me About

Dec 27, 2016

My mother loved Christmas.  The decorating began early and covered every available surface—holly on the banister, stockings on the mantel, candles on the tables.  My father used to joke that the electric bill went down because we lit the house with candles.

She baked, too, and I helped.  First, there were little loaves of cranberry and pumpkin bread, plus little fruitcakes, which we gave as gifts.  Next were the endless batches of sugar cookies cut into stars, reindeer, snowmen, Santas—and elaborately decorated.  I made myself sick on frosting.

A children's book can be filled with wisdom and a message that resonates with readers of all ages.

That is certainly the case with Traverse City-based writer Bill O. Smith's new children's book Four a.m. December 25.

It is the story of a very special gift for a little girl.

Transcription of the book review: NOLA Gals by Barbara Rebbeck, published in 2015, honored the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and received five major awards in Young Adults categories. This year Rebbeck wrote a play for young people called Turbulence. It was based on her own novel.

Radio Diaries: Smell of Soap

Dec 16, 2016

Now it’s likely that Neutrogena soap is still good for my skin, but I use it because of the smell—slightly medicinal and piney.  More than anything else, that familiar smell evokes my college years.

Leaning over one of the sinks in my dormitory bathroom, I would suds up my face, moving my fingers around in little circles like my mother taught me, rinsing thoroughly and patting the skin dry.  Then, in the unforgiving fluorescent light, I would examine my complexion for blemishes.

National Writers Series: An evening with Jodi Picoult

Dec 15, 2016

Jodi Picoult has written ten New York Times number one bestsellers, including her latest novel, "Small Great Things." It was inspired by the real-life experience of an African American nurse working at a Flint hospital, and deals with issues of prejudice, race, and justice. Picoult talks with Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin, who asked her when she knew that writing would work out as a career.

Radio Diaries: Nature Was Unforgiving

Dec 9, 2016

On the last weekend in February, my husband and I went canoeing.  The sky was blue and the weatherman promised temperatures “in the forties.”  Spring was right around the corner, we said, but we couldn’t find the corner.

Instead, the two-track was drifted deep and Dick had to pull the canoe over snow for a mile down to the Betsie River.  The wind was strong out in the open marsh and we paddled hard against it.  “Doesn’t feel like the forties,” Dick said.

Radio Diaries: Sentient Beings

Dec 2, 2016

A Native American wise man told me that they believe there are spirits in all things, in animals and trees and plants.  “We can commune with everything,” he said.

Then I heard a Buddhist speaker say that they believe there is awareness in all things. “We discover that everything is awake,” she said.

And I try to grasp how it might feel to live with the awareness that everything else has awareness?  That the chair I’m sitting on and the book I’m reading are alive in their own ways?

National Writers Series: An evening with Margaret Atwood

Dec 1, 2016

Margaret Atwood is the author of many bestselling novels such as "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Cat's Eye." Her latest books include "Hag-Seed," which is a retelling of Shakespeare's play "The Tempest," and "Angel Catbird," a graphic novel featuring a cat-bird superhero. Margaret Atwood starts off telling Doug Stanton more about how she came to write "Angel Catbird."

We all fail sometimes. No exceptions. 

It's often hard to admit, but failure is an essential part of the human experience. 

That's what Failure:Lab is all about.

Radio Diaries: Scars Leave Scars

Nov 18, 2016

I have a scar on my face, under my right cheek bone.  Not very large, maybe an inch long.  I never notice it because I’ve never seen my face without it.

I was about five years old when I pulled my little wagon several blocks from my house to ride down a long, steep hill.  Just as I pushed off, my friend Tommy jumped on behind me—and we ran off the sidewalk into a rusty barbed-wire fence.

Radio Diaries: Making a Statement

Nov 18, 2016

“Clogs are in this season,” a colleague said to me, “so you’re in fashion.”

“That’s always my goal,” I replied, thinking that I have probably never been in fashion and certainly not on purpose.  In fact, I wasn’t aware that I had bought clogs.  I picked out these slip-on shoes because they were comfortable.

This all happened a while ago now but for a brief time, my feet were stylish.  As for the rest of me, well...  “It’s the L.L. Bean look,” I say if called upon to identify my philosophy of fashion.  I’m not called upon often.

Michigan Bookmark is a series that features Michigan authors reviewing Michigan books.

"Bob Seger's House and Other Stories" is a masterful anthology of short fiction by some of Michigan’s best living writers. The settings of the stories include the frozen landscape of the Upper Peninsula, a drug house in Detroit, a suburban office cubicle, and the top of a Ferris wheel at a rural county fair. The characters range in age, from an unborn child, to a 90-year-old war veteran, to a ghost well over a century old.

The stories in this diverse anthology, edited by Michael Delp and M.L. Liebler, are presented in many forms. There is an allegory, a fable, historical fiction, and even a Western-style tall tale. Magical realism transports us to the heavens and plain, old-fashioned realism grounds us to the Earth.  One hilarious story includes lines of script-like dialogue that the main character, a frustrated playwright, creates only in her head. A short, short story, less than a page long, packs more punch, word for word, than any story I’ve ever read.

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