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.

A grandmother in Senegal, Africa. Grandmothers all over the world are highlighted in author Paola Gianturco's new book, 'Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon.'
Paola Gianturco

Paola Gianturco travels all over the world, writing books about women and girls. About 10 years ago, she was in Kenya interviewing women for a book she was working on. For some small talk before each interview, she asked each woman how many children she had.

The first woman told Ginaturco she had three, and 10 adopted. The second told her she had 5, and 15 adopted. The next said she had four and 12 adopted. Gianturco says all the women she spoke with answered the same way.

“And I suddenly realized that what they were telling me was that they were raising their grandchildren,” she says. “They had adopted them when their own children had died of AIDS.”

Radio Diaries: Matching Ottoman

Sep 9, 2016

A friend bought a house in an auction and decided to sell the furniture.  “Do you have any overstuffed chairs?” I asked.

“I have overstuffed everything,” she said.

And there it was, an enormous old horsehair chair that was just the sort of thing my daughter could curl up in with a book.

“A steal at seventy-five dollars,” my friend said.  “And the matching ottoman is only fifty.”

I sat in the chair, stroking its great round arms and admiring its carved wooden legs.  The footstool was equally handsome but I didn’t have an extra fifty dollars.

Radio Diaries: Happiness Entire

Sep 6, 2016

There was a time when all I needed to be happy was a box of eight Crayola crayons and a coloring book.  Stretched out on the living room floor, I would color for hours in a state of bliss.

Then, I noticed that Crayola sold a box of sixteen crayons.  It was nice having twice as many colors but it didn’t make me twice as happy.  Finally, the store started selling an enormous box with a flip-top lid that seemed to contain hundreds of crayons—and I got one.

Radio Diaries: First Gift

Aug 26, 2016

I still have my first gift from my first husband—on the occasion of my eighteenth birthday.  It’s a handsome wool sweater with uneven stripes of gray, brown, black and white—and little wooden buttons.  I remember trying it on at a department store and deciding it was too expensive.

Richard bought it anyway.  It was the kind of gesture he liked to make—a quality of generosity.  We’d only had a couple of dates and my mother worried about the appropriateness of such a gift.  In a month, we were going steady.

Radio Diaries: Don't Contradict

Aug 19, 2016

Freedom of speech, while guaranteed in the Constitution, was not encouraged in my home when I was growing up.  I could speak my mind only if I agreed with my parents.  Otherwise, I was told, “Don’t contradict.”

When they offered me an allowance of a dime a week, I objected.  Objection overruled.  When I claimed that an early curfew cramped my style, they said, “Exactly.”

National Writers Series: An evening with Jim and Lynn Kouf

Aug 18, 2016

Jim and Lynn Kouf have helped write and produce many Hollywood films, including Con Air, National Treasure, and Money Monster. Their most recent project together is the TV series “Grimm.” Jim and Lynn Kouf talk this hour with actor, writer, and director Benjamin Busch, who asked Jim how you get started as a writer in Hollywood.

National Writers Series: An evening with Lucy Kalanithi

Aug 17, 2016

When neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to write a memoir. He didn’t live to see his book “When Breath Becomes Air” published, but it turned into a New York Times number one bestseller.

His widow, Lucy Kalanithi, helped finish the book after Paul couldn’t continue. Doug Stanton talks this hour with Lucy Kalanithi.

Celebrated regional essayist Kathleen Stocking will read from her new book, The Long Arc of the Universe,

New York Times bestselling crime writer Steve Hamilton will introduce his new Nick Mason series and discuss the publishing business, and Gail Wallace Bozzono will read a selection from her winning entry in the 2016 Michigan Writers Chapbook Competition.

Radio Diaries: Celebrating Imperfections

Aug 12, 2016

Everywhere I look, something needs fixing, cleaning, organizing.  Weeds in the garden, dust balls under the table, papers on my desk.  So, I start in the kitchen, down on my knees with a bucket and sponge, finding cat toys and dried-up broccoli and pretzels.  Lots of pretzels.

But finally, the old hardwood floor shines, really shines—for about an hour.  By suppertime, I can already see a footprint in the doorway.  Mine!  I bang the bucket around on my way to the basement and go pull weeds.

Radio Diaries: Being an Expert

Aug 5, 2016

I need some paint for touch-ups on my kitchen cabinets and my kitchen guy said to take a cabinet door to the paint store.  “Ask them to match it,” he said, “and make sure you get a paint with no catalyst.”

I haven’t a clue about the catalyst part and confess this to the man behind the counter. He frowns and seizes this opportunity to display his expertise—in such technical terms that I’m more confused than ever.

Radio Diaries: B&B Roundup

Aug 1, 2016

“Can you recommend a restaurant?” I ask the woman behind the desk.  “Someplace we can get a cold beer?”  She nods as if this were a familiar question.  My husband and I stand in the lobby of the Super 8 Motel at the western edge of Iowa—after a 500-mile drive in ninety-degree heat.

“The B&B Roundup,” she says, “down Main Street, on your right.”

Radio Diaries: All about Love

Jul 22, 2016

A friend sends me a play list of favorite songs and I slide the CD into my car stereo.  Suddenly, instead of the news, I’m listening to Frank Sinatra.

Instead of driving my car, I’m lying in my dormitory bed at college, singing “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”  I know all the words and all the feelings by heart—by broken heart.

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

Seasonal Roads is the title of L.E. Kimball’s impressive new book of stories. The title refers to roads that are unplowed and therefore unpassable in winter. Kimball guides you down some of these roads in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – into cabins, forests, and rivers, and into the lives of three women. Author Lisa Lenzo has this review.

National Writers Series: An evening with Brian Castner

Jul 14, 2016

Writer and veteran Brian Castner wanted to write about the war in Afghanistan, but he wasn’t able to get interviews with generals, politicians, or other high-profile figures. So he decided to write the book that only he could write. Brian Castner’s latest book, “All the Ways We Kill and Die,” is about his friend and Traverse City native Matthew Schwartz, who was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan. The book is an investigation into finding the person who made the bomb that killed Schwartz. Castner talks this hour with actor, author, and fellow veteran Benjamin Busch.

Radio Diaries: Taking Down the Trees

Jul 13, 2016

Too much light is coming in my upstairs window this afternoon.  It’s pouring through an empty space in the sky where two trees used to be.

It took a crew of men a single morning to take down two maple trees in front of our house, trees which had spent a hundred years growing taller than the rooftops.  Now, ragged chunks lie everywhere in the grass, oozing sap and a wild sour smell.

“We were just going to trim out the dead stuff,” one of the work crew said, “but when we got up there, it looked pretty bad.”

Radio Diaries: My Landlord

Jul 6, 2016

When I left my marriage, I moved into a small rental house with my ten-year-old daughter.  The floors creaked and the windows leaked and the oven door wouldn’t stay closed, but I loved the place.  It felt cozy and funky and just the right size for my downsized life.

Then, after I’d lived there about six months, my landlord stopped by to tell me he had a buyer for the house.  “But I love it here,” I said, “and I’m in the middle of a divorce.”


CREEM Magazine began in 1969, sold from the trunk of Barry Kramer’s car. Kramer was the creator and publisher of the magazine, and from that small beginning, it blossomed into one of the top music publications in the world. It was bold in its irreverence, and it launched the careers of some of music’s biggest names — both artists and writers.

Radio Diaries: Mother's Refrigerator

Jun 29, 2016

My mother’s refrigerator was jam-packed—with jam and every other foodstuff that could be crammed onto its shelves.  “Please find me some black olives,” she’d say and I would dive into the chaos.

“We have three jars of black olives,” I would finally announce.  “Two are moldy.”

“Oh, goodness,” she’d say, as if surprised—though she had bought the jars herself.  “Throw them away before your father gets home.”

National Writers Series: An evening with David Ebershoff

Jun 23, 2016

David Ebershoff's novel “The Danish Girl,” is based on the story of a real person, but it’s a fictional book. Ebershoff says he wrote it as fiction to take us inside the character’s heart. “The Danish Girl” is about a Danish man named Einar Wegener who becomes one of the first people to seek out gender-altering surgery to become a woman, named Lili Elbe. David Ebershoff talks with writer David Griffith, who asked Ebershoff if he knew when he was writing “The Danish Girl” that it would interest the public so widely.

Radio Diaries: Friends with History

Jun 22, 2016

The first time Judy and I had lunch, we spoke from the heart.  She was just re-entering the workforce after raising four kids; I was just exiting to have one.  But we didn’t talk much about children.

We talked about ourselves, asking hard questions.  Judy was wondering about leaving her marriage.  I was wondering about leaving my job.  We didn’t know what we wanted—except to become better friends.  That was over 40 years ago and we’re still talking. 

Michigan has a rich history of wonderful writers. Among them are more than a few marquee names, but there are so many more whose works have been put on the shelf and are waiting to be rediscovered.

Jack Dempsey and his brother Dave Dempsey are doing their best to call attention to these unheralded Michigan writers with their latest book, Ink Trails II: Michigan's Famous and Forgotten Authors.

The book brings 16 writers' stories to the forefront to help readers rediscover them or discover them for the first time.

Now that we've gotten ourselves past Memorial Day, nice lazy weeks of summer reading beckon. Packing supplies for a day at the beach has to include a book. Here's a great suggestion for a beach read: The Charm Bracelet by Viola ShipmanIt's perfect because it is set in the fictional Michigan beach town of Scoops. 

Radio Diaries: Fred, the Actor

Jun 15, 2016

I met Fred at a fraternity party—a big burly guy with a handsome face and a deep voice.  Deep and dramatic—and I knew before he told me that he dreamed of being an actor.

On our first date we rode his motorcycle 20 miles from campus to an old cider mill.  With a gallon of cider and a bag of greasy donuts, we tramped the fields while Fred stood on stumps and proclaimed lines from Shakespeare.

Then we headed to the football game where Fred stood up in the stands to proclaim more Shakespeare.  “The play’s the thing!” he cried.

Radio Diaries: Eating Out

Jun 8, 2016

When I was growing up in Grand Rapids, my family sometimes went to dinner at a German restaurant called the “Schnitzelbank.”  Before the meal, my parents enjoyed having a “cocktail”—while my brother Bob and I finished off the basket of bread.

It was good dark German rye with whole seeds and hard crusts, unlike anything we ate at home.  When the waitress finally came, our father would say, “Order whatever you want,” and we did, forgetting we were already full.

Radio Diaries: Bad Mother

Jun 1, 2016

“Mom, can I have this?” my daughter asked.

We were browsing in a toy store and Sara had picked up one of those little wooden animals with jointed legs that move when you push on the base.

“No,” I said.  “You’d be bored with that in ten minutes.”

Like a good daughter, Sara put it back on the shelf.  Like a bad mother, I put it out of my mind.  Years later she told me how this experience had affected her.  “I was just crushed,” she said.

“I really said that?” I asked.

“You really said that,” she said.