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: 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.

Radio Diaries: Live Music

Nov 7, 2016

After camping for three days in the rain, we decided to go into town for supper.  The town was Munising, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the restaurant was the Falling Rock Café & Bookstore.  All we wanted was a dry place and some good food.

The bonus was live music!  A dozen gray-haired musicians were sitting in the front window of the funky, high-ceilinged old building—playing their hearts out.  Fiddles, guitars, mandolin, dulcimer, bass, ukulele, piano.  Scottish, Irish and Celtic tunes—one after another while we tapped our feet and ate our sandwiches.

National Writers Series: An evening with David Maraniss

Nov 3, 2016

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Maraniss says he was inspired to write his latest book after watching a now-iconic Chrysler commercial. David Maraniss was born in Detroit and is now an associate editor at the Washington Post. He’s written biographies of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Vince Lombardi, Roberto Clemente, and others. His newest book, “Once in a Great City,” traces the heyday of Detroit and its decline. He talks with fellow journalist John U. Bacon. David Maraniss starts out explaining more about how he decided to write “Once in a Great City.”

Radio Diaries: Brother & Siter

Oct 31, 2016

Last summer, my brother took me sailing on Lake Huron near where he lives.  When Bob struggled to haul up the sail, his voice held an edge of panic.  “Oh, oh, this isn’t good.”  Panic that I instantly recognized because we both tend to catastrophize about things.  

Of course we do.  We grew up in the same family where problems were often denied, rarely solved.  Later, drinking a beer in his back yard, we talked about this tendency—and other issues we’ve dragged with us from childhood.

Radio Diaries: Bad Boss

Oct 24, 2016

He might have been the worst boss I ever had.  I’ll call him Roy and he could have been a gifted leader.  He was smart and experienced and wonderfully funny.

But there was a dark side to Roy that emerged after he was hired.  He didn’t work very hard and couldn’t deal with problems or conflict.  Instead, he’d just leave the building—get in his car and drive around listening to country music.

National Writers Series: An evening with Paola Gianturco

Oct 24, 2016

Photojournalist Paola Gianturco’s work with women has taken her around the world, documenting their struggles and success stories. Her latest book, “Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon” profiles activist grandmothers from fifteen countries across five continents. The women in Gianturco’s books tell their stories in their own words, accompanied by her photographs. Fellow photographer Tony Demin will talk to Gianturco about her work. And we’ll hear from Jackson Kaguri, founder of the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project.

How do we respond to betrayal? Where do we turn when our horses bite us, our fiancés sneak into haylofts with other women, our husbands date their college students, our daughters run off with our boyfriends, our brothers place us in harm’s way? These are the kinds of predicaments Bonnie Jo Campbell confronts in her latest story collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters.

Irene Miller poses with a dog, during her childhood. She'll share her Holocaust survival story tonight at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City.
Irene Miller

Irene Miller fled Poland when she was about five years old in order to escape the Holocaust. She and her family dealt with soldiers breaking into her home in the middle of the night, a freezing labor camp, starvation, and more. 

Still, she says she has no bitterness towards those who wronged her.

"I am not angry, I am absolutely not bitter," Irene says. "I feel I have a lot of joy of living and a lot of love to share with others."

Irene Miller recounts her remarkable story in the book, Into No Man's Land. She'll share her story tonight at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City.

She says it's important to remember what took place, so we can avoid similar situations in the future.

Click here for more information about tonight's event.

C. S. Lewis believed the nuanced imagination was important for perceiving reality.
The Wade Center

C. S. Lewis was a Christian theologian who authored over 70 books, including The Space Trilogy, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

This weekend in Petoskey, the annual C. S. Lewis Festival will celebrate Lewis’ imagination. 

The authors of the book, The Surprising Imagination of C. S. Lewis say he had a nuanced understanding regarding imagination. They Identify over 30 different types of imagination that Lewis recognized and used in his writings.

Mark Neal is one of those authors, and a featured speaker at the festival in Petoskey. He says the nuanced approach to imagination helps us better understand reality. 

"It's this idea that it helps us to see things that, without it, would be unseeable," Neal says.

 

Radio Diaries: Awake at Night

Oct 14, 2016

My mother told me that when she was a little girl, there were times she couldn’t sleep at night.  “I would lie in bed and imagine that somewhere in the world there must be a single gas station that was open,” she said.  “Then I didn’t feel so alone and could go back to sleep.”

Her story comforted me, too, when I was awake in the quiet darkness.  I could picture that same gas station—the pump out front and a light on inside, with one guy at the desk reading a magazine.  Somehow, the world wasn’t so scary and I wasn’t so lonely.

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Each and every year, more than 230,000 American women will hear the words, “You have breast cancer.”

Of those, some 100,000 will undergo mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

When your world’s been turned upside down by a breast cancer diagnosis, it can be hard to grasp what options are there for you.

Pat Anstett’s new book provides answers, presented through the stories of women who have been handed that breast cancer diagnosis and then followed many different paths in treatment and reconstruction.

Radio Diaries: Closer to the Fire

Oct 10, 2016

It is late in the fall to be camping.  Darkness comes early and brings a creeping chill that penetrates my cotton sweatshirt.  I pull up the hood and lean closer to the campfire.  My husband grabs another piece of wood and lays it across the glowing logs.

“This oak burns real nice,” he says.  “Smells good, too.”  Turns toward me, then. “Say, are you warm enough?”

“Almost,” I say and stuff my hands into my pockets.

Radio Diaries: Leaves for Mildred

Sep 30, 2016

Mildred was a large, middle-aged woman who sat in the back row of my workshop and told me  she had to leave at the break.  “My husband is in the hospital,” she said and I wondered if she was just bored.

Two weeks later, I received a letter from Mildred, a letter that came from Hawaii.  “My husband died that afternoon,” she wrote, “and I sold my house and moved to Honolulu to be near my daughter.”

Hystopia, the first novel of acclaimed Michigan short story writer David Means, is a complex book built around a simple question: what can we do about the trauma that war inflicts on our veterans?  

Radio Diaries: Well-Hung Door

Sep 23, 2016

I live in an old house—and there are some nice things about old houses.  Nooks and crannies, history and character.  There are also other things, many of which appear on a list called “Improvements.”  Last summer, it was a new back door.  The old door was here when my husband and I bought the house 20 years ago—and it had huge claw marks in the wood as if the Hound of the Baskervilles had been trying to get in.

 

Eileen Pollack's new novel, A Perfect Life, took a while to find a publisher.

The book features a postdoctoral research scientist on a quest to uncover a genetic test for the disease that cut short her mother's life. This medical mystery also features a love story between the protagonist, Jane Weiss, and a man who may also carry the disease, adding human drama to the scientific exploration.

Still, the complexities of this plot were sometimes lost on publishers. One even told Pollack that "men don’t read fiction written by women, and women’s book groups don’t want to read something with science in it!"

The Next Idea

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and went to school where most of the kids looked like me. During the Jewish holidays, teachers didn't assign work because so many of us were absent. There might have been five or six African-American kids in my high school, and no one wore a hijab in public.

I’ve always been curious about the way other people live. My journey as a journalist and author and writing professor has taken me to find common ground in people different from me. I visited a mosque, attended a candlelight service in a Catholic church in Ireland, and spent a plane ride to Israel having a deep, powerful conversation with a Palestinian man going to see his family. As I developed my writing craft, I continued to seek out stories that showed the similarities in people, the beliefs we share, and the customs we have in common.

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