Tag Archives: Midwest Literary Walk

Midwest Literary Walk 2021

27 Apr

In 2020, COVID hit right before the Midwest Literary Walk and it was one of the many things I had to cross of my calendar and was, of course, crushed about. I was so relieved to see that the 2021 event would go virtual and that I’d be able to attend. To make it even better, they had the two authors I most wanted to hear signed up to come back! Since I’m not a huge poetry fan, I was able to do some chores during the middle speaker and made the day a bit more focused on my interests, which felt really nice, too.

The first speaker was Laurie Hales Anderson. I don’t remember another year when MLW had a YA author so I was surprised and excited to hear her speak. Two of her books, Speak and Chains have been National Book Award Finalists. Her most recent book, Shout, is about her own experience with sexual violence. She was thirteen at the time but didn’t seek therapy to deal with her trauma until she had young children and realized her trauma was affecting her family. She first addressed sexual violence in Speak which is still often found on banned books lists. One of the reasons cited that always baffled her was that parents of boys say the book makes boys feel bad about themselves. Anderson listed several more books about sexual violence that are coming out with the topic being raised in the #MeToo movement. She hopes that these stories help people develop a vocabulary to talk about sexual violence so it becomes less hidden. Though it must be flattering to have a book so widely read so long after its publication, Anderson hopes that the book becomes less relatable as our society battles sexual violence and consent. She never talked to her mother about the book when it was published which speaks to the taboo nature of the topic. Recently, the book was turned into a graphic novel. Anderson said they chose the artist they did because she was known for drawing horror novels. One thing Anderson liked about the graphic novel format was how turning the page could be a moment of tension, since the reader is hit so forcefully with images when they’re revealed.

Anderson talked about her personal life and how it’s influenced her work. She grew up without wealth and worked on a dairy farm to make money to pay for her community college classes. She was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to Georgetown and received her degree in Linguistics, thinking she might become a translator. Her father was a poet and she said he was the single biggest influence on her life. Her latest book, Shout, is written in verse. She’s been fascinated with history and will read about it a lot. Anderson mentioned that when the COVID lockdown started, she was drawn to books about people during the Blitz in London because their lockdowns felt very relatable. Her book, Fever 1793 about the Yellow Fever saw a resurgence during COVID because readers seemed to connect with the relevance to our current lives. She mentioned that because of her two distinct genres, some of her fans aren’t even aware of her other genre books.

The second author I was excited to hear from was Azar Nafisi. I have a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran on my shelves and would have loved to get it signed, but I’ll settle for having heard Nafisi speak. I don’t have a ton of notes from her interview because I was so enthralled with it so please forgive me for a short recap. She has a book coming out next March called Read Dangerously where she talks about books that can inspire. Her most recent publication was That Other World where she focuses on Nabokov. The book was first written in Persian and has been published in that language. It was translated and first published in the US in 2019. Nafisi talked about how powerful books can be and how dedicated to them people can feel. She mentioned how some American literature is felt more deeply in countries outside the US. Some people’s present is more like America’s past. You don’t have to be at an event to understand what happened if you can read about it and put yourself in a person’s place who was there. My favorite line from Nafisi’s talk was that good literature does not allow people to live in a world that is black and white. Good literature makes us explore the grey.

Thank you to the Chelsea District Library for putting on such a great virtual event! I hope we can be back on the streets of Chelsea in 2022 for another good year. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Midwest Literary Walk 2017: Part 2

11 May

Welcome to part 2 of my recap of the Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan. This is my second time attending and it was, again, a great experience.

The second stop on the walk was a non-fiction author, Heather Ann Thompson, who won the Pulitzer Prize in History for her book, Blood in the Water. Thompson was interested in the high rates of incarceration in the US versus other countries and wanted to know why. She traced this back to a single incident, the Attica Prison uprising in New York. The story of Attica that was released to the public at the time painted the prisoners in a very dark light, blaming them for the deaths of guards and soldiers brought in to settle the uprising. The truth that Thompson was able to uncover was that the state shut down access to the prison, brought soldiers into violently take the prison with no intention of settling for the prisoner’s demands, and changed the story to encourage a punitive system in America. Thompson took thirteen years to write her book because she had so much trouble getting records that were not redacted too far to read or were not released to the public. She’s fighting for safe conditions for those incarcerated and transparency of what goes on a public (state and national) jails. Thompson thinks there was direction from a national level but wasn’t able to find any proof or ‘smoking gun’ as she said she was looking for. There are some fingers to point at the state level for sure.

Airea D. Matthews and moderator

The final stop was for poet Airea D. Matthews. She’s local to Detroit and has been active in the spoken word poetry scene for a long time before moving to written poetry. She said she started writing when she was a stay-at-home mom. She felt people judged her for not having a traditional job. She likes to write about a person’s hidden identity, one that is not immediately visible such as what we inherit from our parents. She was talking specifically about disease and inclinations toward additions and abuse. She feels that sharing her struggles helps her create a kinship with her readers. I noticed during her speech that she is very open and spoke about her struggles with mental illness very plainly. She said multiple times that she has become comfortable being uncomfortable.

This was a really great event and I’m so thankful that I live within driving distance of it. I look forward to going for years to come.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk 2017: Part 1

9 May

Palacio, Ho Davis, and moderator.

I’m very fortunate to live reasonably close to Chelsea, Michigan, home of the Midwest Literary Walk. I’ve decided to split the day into two posts because there’s way too much to share for one!

My friend Amy and I met up again for this event. It was a bit overcast, but a nice day compared to the weather we’ve been having in Southeast Michigan. The first event was Peter Ho Davis and Derek Palacio. I thought these two made for an odd pairing, but their books shared very similar themes. Both men wrote books about immigrants and each shares a heritage with the group they wrote about. The men saw it as a way to explore their heritage.

Ho Davis wrote in The Fortunes about Chinese immigration to the US. He went to China to do research for the book and had the odd feeling of not being Chinese. In the US and UK, people see him as Chinese instead of Welsh (where his other parent comes from). In China, he wasn’t seen as Chinese and it fostered a feeling of rejection. Ho Davis and Palacio both expressed anxieties about having the right to write about their cultures. Both had a generation’s remove from the people and places they were writing about and feared that they would not represent the place well.

Ho Davis’s book is split into several parts. He drew from historical figures for some of his characters, especially in the first part. He was able to incorporate some historical events as well. He pointed out to us that during the Gold Rush, much of the Chinese immigration was male, men coming to work. A lot of recent Chinese immigration has been through international adoption which has been highly female. I’d never thought about gender waves of immigration before. Speaking of being a writer, Ho Davis said that his parents stopped telling him as many stories as they had in his youth. Also, they’ve begun correcting some of the ones they used to tell. Oh, the power of the pen.

Derek Palacio didn’t go to Cuba until after The Mortifications was finished. He’d questioned if he could be Cuban if he’d never been to Cuba. The two discussed a feeling common to immigrants or the children of immigrants of being caught between two identities, one from the homeland and another from the new home. They both wanted to write about how impossible it is to leave your homeland behind. It comes with you and you have to adjust to where you end up.

Palacio’s characters did not live in Miami as one would expect with Cuban immigrants. Palacio didn’t grow up in Florida himself and put them in the Northeast to make them more relatable to himself. I was really intrigued by Palacio’s story especially considering my education in Spanish language, culture, and literature. I was surprised to read in his bio that his wife is Claire Vaye Watkins, the author whose book I got at the 2016 event. I asked Palacio for some advice on writing and told him I wanted to be a novelist. His advice was not to save something ‘good’ for the end of the book. He said to throw it in and see what happens. Maybe what comes from that event will be what’s really of interest.

I’ll be back Thursday with Part 2 of this event. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan

10 May

If you’re a book nerd like me and not friends with a local librarian, I HIGHLY recommend it. They’re always in the know about the coolest bookish events around. My good friend Amy told me about the Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan and we trudged the hour out there to see the five authors who came to the event.

Sorrentino is on the right.

Sorrentino is on the right.

The first two speakers were based out of the Chelsea Depot, the old train station which made a perfect venue. The first speaker was Christopher Sorrentino, a contemporary fiction writer. He spoke about his latest book, The Fugitives. The book is set in the fictional Cherry City, which many Michiganders identified as Traverse City, Michigan (TRAV-erse, not tra-VERSE). He said that all of his characters are liars and they’re all running away from something. That must make for some fun writing to be sure! The book is different from the normal character-driven plots he writes because there is a thriller/heist element to the book. He still think’s it’s a character study, but with a lot more plot than he usually bestows on a book. He put a part of himself in each character and I think all writers can agree they do that to an extent. Sorrentino spoke about how draining it is to write a book. This book took him five years and the one before took four. He was asked about how the book was received and despite the good reviews he’s received, he wasn’t able to forget about one bad review in the New York Times written by a review he knew personally. I guess even the seasoned pros get stuck on some bad comments.


Me and Watkins.

The second speaker was Claire Vaye Watkins. Amy had read her short story collection and really liked it so I decided I was going to buy her book (which I did, thanks to Literati Bookstore being on site!). He novel is called Gold Fame Citrus and I’m really excited to read it. She told us it’s classified as ‘cli-fi,’ climate fiction which she only heard of after publishing. Watkins has never worried about genre or form and writes whatever she wants. Her earlier books were praised for being fearless and bold but she feels that since she had a child, she’s become a bit more feminine. She writes in the mornings, after dropping her child with a sitter and writes for 2-3 hours, cranking out between 1,000 and 5,000 words. She said that she lets herself stop when writing is hard but not when thinking is hard. When she’s too tired, she stops but if she’s at a rough point in the book, she keeps going. When I got my book signed, I asked her what advice she would give me as an aspiring writer. She said to embrace perfection on the page, but nowhere else in life. Look for the perfect word, the perfect paragraph, but let appearance fall by the wayside. I’ll have to work on that one!

May and Lewis.

May and Lewis.

There were two poets at the third stop, Robin Coste Lewis is the National Book Award Winner for Poetry. She writes long form poetry which allows her to take the reader on a journey. She said that never tries to explain a feeling or experience to her reader, she lets them determine it for himself. The other poet was Jamaal May, a Detroit poet. When he read, it was very obvious he got his start writing slam poetry. His biggest advice was when there is something bothering hi, it’s a good sign that it’s something he should write about.

img_2980The last author up was the big headliner, Paula McClain. I read McClain’s book The Paris Wife a few years back and wasn’t a big fan of the novel but it was interesting to hear her speak. She earned her MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan and was amazed that she was able to do that. McClain spent 14 years in foster care and was on academic probation at a community college for three years so finishing a master’s degree was never what she expected of herself. Her first novel was a memoir and it took her five years to write. After learning about Hadley and being inspired by her, she hunkered down at a Cleveland Starbucks and wrote The Paris Wife in seven months. I was surprised to hear she’d never been to Paris before she wrote the book. She visited since, but I’m still amazed how alive she made Paris feel without having visited. I was amazed to hear that at a reading in St. Louis, she met Hadley’s nephew and other family members. What a rush that must have been!

It was a really great event and I’m glad I went. I plan to go again next year. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!