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.

Losing a child is one of the greatest blows anyone will bear.

It would be so understandable if that parent crumbles into his or her grief – becomes filled with sorrow and anger.

But when Vic Strecher lost his 19-year-old daughter, Julia, to heart disease, that experience of being "broken open" sent him on a voyage through philosophy, biology, psychology, literature, neuroscience, Egyptology, and more.

Strecher has turned that journey of self-discovery and growth into a remarkable graphic story.

It's called “On Purpose: Lessons in Life and Health from The Frog, the Dung Beetle, and Julia.”

*Listen to our interview with him above.

Nana's Life

Apr 19, 2014

My mother’s mother was named Belle, a name she never liked—perhaps because it meant “beautiful” and she was not.  Belle was what you would call a handsome woman with a large nose, wide mouth, and high forehead.

She didn’t like the name “Grandmother” either because it made her feel old, so we grandchildren called her “Nanna.”  I didn’t think about her age; I thought about her kind smile and sly sense of humor—and the always-full box of Scottish shortbread.

Nanna and Grandpa lived about a mile away when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time at their house—which was a refuge from the uncertainties of my own family.  On the old Victorian couch in Nanna’s living room or in one of the twin beds upstairs, I felt safe, accepted, loved.

She and I often sat together on the front porch, sipping gingerale and nibbling shortbread, while she told me about her early career as a teacher and her courtship by my grandfather.  Now, all these years later, I realize how little I knew about her life—maybe ten percent—and what a big difference she made in mine.  Ten percent—and yet it was enough.    

Lisa Wamsley

Apr 12, 2014

“It goes back to rubbing my mom’s feet when I was five,” Lisa Wamsley says.  “My hands are always on people.”  She laughs, knowing that sounds a little strange—but maybe not for a massage therapist.  Despite her mom’s happy feet, Lisa didn’t start out with this career in mind. “I was in banking for nine years but I was out of place in the corporate world.”

Using self-taught massage, she worked with a pregnant woman and was present at the birth.  Afterwards, the parents of the child told her, “This is your calling and we’ll loan you the money to get certified.”  She took them up on their offer and started her own business 16 years ago.  “I’m doing something that fulfills me and that helps people,” she says.  “It’s worth the financial uncertainty.”

“I’m humbled when someone walks in in pain and walks out in gratitude,” she says.  “Even if I can’t fix it, I can still help.”  She also gets massage herself.  “It’s a very physical job, the wear and tear on my shoulders and fingers.  And I do it for research—so I can learn from others and keep improving.  You can always get better.”

Turning to Light

Apr 5, 2014

When do you notice the days starting to get longer?  Every year it feels new to me, a kind of quiet discovery.  Maybe it’s when I open the front door in the morning to get the newspaper off the porch—and I don’t have to turn on the light to find it.

National Writers Series - George Packer

Apr 3, 2014
Allen Kent

George Packer is a journalist, novelist, and playwright. His new book, "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," won the 2013 National Book Award for nonfiction. Packer is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has contributed numerous articles on foreign affairs, American politics, and literature to many publications. He spoke at the National Writers Series with his friend Benjamin Busch, author of the memoir "Dust to Dust."

"Annie's Ghosts" - A Family Secret

Apr 3, 2014

Throughout Steve Luxenberg’s life, his mother had always insisted she was an only child. So, he was puzzled when, late in his mother’s life, he heard that she had had a sister, Annie. Luxenberg, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post, looked into the story and found that Annie had spent almost her entire adult life in a mental institution. That investigation turned into a book “Annie’s Ghosts.” It’s this year’s Great Michigan Read. Luxenberg will make several appearances in Northern Michigan next week. He said he learned about Annie’s existence by accident. 

Hannah Park

Mar 29, 2014

Nobody would call Grand Rapids, Michigan a recreational paradise.  But I didn’t know that when I was growing up there.  We played outside every day—in the front yards and back yards, on the sidewalks and streets.  In the winter we pulled our sleds about a mile to Franklin Park which offered a wonderful sliding hill.  I can still feel the excitement of steering my Flexible Flyer around trees on my way to a record finish.

You wake up on Christmas morning a bit hung over from too much spiked eggnog the night before. You woke up much later than you'd meant to and you try to shake off a lingering nightmare. You've got a houseful of guests to cook for, a moody teenage daughter sulking in her bedroom and there is a snowstorm to end all snowstorms howling outside.

Welcome to the world of Holly Judge. She's a wife, a mother, and a frustrated poet. And she's one of the central characters in the latest novel from Michigan author Laura Kasischke.  It's a psychological thriller called Mind of Winter.

Laura Kasischke joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

William Montgomery reads from his inspiring memoir, Prayer for Time.

Crime writer Elizabeth Buzzelli reads from her new book, A Tough Nut to Kill.

Fleda Brown provides an audio essay on American Poet Larry Levis.

Buffalo Farm

Mar 22, 2014

No matter how often I drive south on U.S. 31, I’m still a little awed to see a herd of buffalo east of the highway.  It feels like a scene out of a movie—the vision of those iconic animals grazing on a green hillside.  In the spring, the calves totter around after their mothers.  And in the winter,

the great beasts stand with a foot of snow on their backs.  “It doesn’t melt,” Brad Oleson says, “Their hide is so thick.”

Kelly Corrigan

Mar 20, 2014
Allen Kent

Kelly Corrigan is the author of three memoirs about mothers, fathers, children, and the journey to fully appreciate them. Corrigan is also a YouTube sensation, a contributor to "O: The Oprah Magazine," and a cancer survivor. Her latest book is "Glitter and Glue." Corrigan spoke with Rich Fahle, founder of bibliostar.tv.

At The Center

Mar 15, 2014

I am walking in my neighborhood on a winter day and see a mother pulling a small child on a sled.  As they cross the street, the sled bounces down a curb and suddenly I feel the jolt and it is my mittened hands gripping the wooden frame.

Looking up, I see my father holding the rope and snow filtering through street lights.  We have come outside after dinner and everything is glittering and quiet.  As we bump down the curb, my father stops in the middle of an empty intersection.  “Hold on tight,” he says and begins to turn around and around, spinning my sled out from him in a circle of light, around and around in the feathery snow, in the glittering dark.  

When my father finally stops, I beg for one more spin.  “Hold on then,” he says and hurls me into orbit again at the end of a loop of clothes line.  I don’t know whether this happened many times or only once.  It doesn’t matter.

It is a moment of joy so alive inside me that fifty years later, I need only see a mother pulling a child on a s

led and my mittened hands hold on tight.

It was Bill Gates who declared,"It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."

And it's good to realize that we all fail at times. It's just that most of us try to cover that up, or, at the very least, we don't broadcast our failures.

But that’s not how it works at Failure:Lab.

It’s a program designed to get us thinking about the meaning of failure – to realize that failure happens to everyone and to inspire us to take intelligent risks.

You can see our past Failure:Lab posts here.

Today, we hear about Ellie Rogers’ failure.

She works for leading furniture maker Herman Miller. She has an eight-year-old daughter, Campbell, and has found personal struggles to be overwhelming at times.

This is the story that Ellie shared at Failure:Lab Grand Rapids on May 23, 2013 at Wealthy Theatre.

Check it out below, or at this link.

Drs. Greg Holmes and Katherine Roth talk about their regional bestseller, The Good Fight: A Story of Cancer, Love, and Triumph.

Naturalist Doug Peacock reflects on his earlier memoirs and his new book, In the Shadow of the Sabertooth.

Fleda Brown shares some of the work of Minnesota poet Tom Hennen.

Kae Beth Rosenberg

Feb 18, 2014

“My goal is to spoil my clients, “ Kae Beth Rosenberg says, “to make them wonder how they got along without me.”  Kae Beth is a home health care worker.  She and her mother have a business called “Just Like Family” which provides a variety of services, including end-of-life care.

“We don’t take the place of family,” she says, “but we provide in-home support to people who are dealing with difficult situations.”  Dying might be the most difficult, but Kae Beth is comfortable even in this circumstance.

“I don’t want to die,” she says, “but it’s not scary to me because I’ve experienced it so many times.  Most dying people are curious about the process, whether they say so or not.”

She makes a comparison.  “It’s a struggle to go from this life to the next, like a baby being born.  The person wants to stay here and may need reassurance that it’s all right to go.  That the survivors will be fine.  We strive to make it peaceful.”

“I get to enjoy quality time with people,” Kae Beth says.  “Every client has taught me something.  I’ve learned to cherish every moment and enjoy the little things.  To laugh more.”

Autonomy Defined

Feb 8, 2014

I am spending the afternoon with a five-year-old.  Since my granddaughters are teen-agers, I have to borrow other people’s little children in order to play dolls, read fairy tales, and color in coloring books.  Sylvie is a former neighbor and now that her family has moved across town, I drive to pick her up.  We arrange her child seat in the back and buckle her in.

At my house, we revisit the Cabbage Patch dolls.  “How old are Lisa and Leslie?” Sylvie asks.  I think back to when my daughter received them and calculate about 30 years.  “They don’t look that old,” Sylvie remarks.  No, they still look like babies—a little the worse for wear but not adults.  Dolls do not have to grow up, to define themselves in a world of huge, autonomous beings.

Sylvie is doing that, however.  When I ask if she’s going to color the stars yellow, she says, “No, it’s too much work.”  I grudgingly respect her independence.  When we leave my house, she asks, “Can I open the door?”  She means the car.  It hadn’t occurred to me that this was important to her.  Autonomy comes in many steps, most of which I’ve forgotten.

I appreciate the reminder.

Amy Barritt

Feb 1, 2014

“I know I’ll find a copy,” Amy Barritt says.  “Someone has one.”  She is talking about a book called “The History of Buckley,” a little town south of Traverse City.  Why does she care?  Because Amy has a passion for research and because she’s the Special Collections Librarian at Traverse Area District Library.  “It’s my personal mission to build our local history program,” she says.

Growing up in Kingsley, another little town south of Traverse City, Amy counts as one of her successes finding the records of the Kingsley Farmers’ Coop.  “The building is still there,” she says, “It’s a slice of regional history.”

“Research requires a certain skill set,” Amy says, and lists “tenacity” first.  “It’s the thrill of the hunt and the rush when you find what you’re looking for.”  She also helps other people find what they’re looking for when she staffs the Reference Desk.  “The questions are seasonal,” she says.  “Like gardening in the spring, canning in the fall.  We’re a how-to culture and we like to do it ourselves.”

“I want people to have access to information in whatever way fits for them,” Amy says, “whether it’s at home, standing in the grocery line, or here at the library.”


Jan 25, 2014

A good friend is dying and I contact his wife to set up a time to visit.  He and I have shared meaningful conversations and we need one now.  Ten minutes after I arrive, however, a golfing buddy drops in and the three of us chat about local events.

Ten minutes after that, a woman colleague drops in with a bowl of chili.  The four of us chat about local events.  I don’t want to talk about local events; that’s why I set up a time for a private visit.  Then I remind myself it’s not about me.  It’s about my friend and he seems to be enjoying all this attention and affection, lying in a hospital bed in his living room.

I stay an hour and the golfing buddy is still there when I leave.  And I reflect as I’m driving home that the world is divided into two kinds of people:  the Drop-Inners and the Make-an-Appointmenters.  I’m clearly in the latter group.

I wish I weren’t.  All my life I’ve wanted to be more spontaneous, flexible, go-with-the-flow.  But trying to be spontaneous is a contradiction in terms.  In my next life I might drop in on you, but for now—I’ll call ahead.

Writer Jerry Dennis and illustrator Glenn Wolfe talk about the newest edition of their bestselling collaboration, It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomenon and Oddities of the Sky. 

William and Patricia Storrer provide a guided tour of the vineyards and tasting rooms of the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau County through the pages of their recently published book, Up North Michigan Wines by the Bay.

Fleda Brown reads some of later work of the celebrated American poet, Lucille Clifton.

Eric Hines

Jan 18, 2014

“I’m an advocate for amateurism,” Eric Hines says, “which means you love what you do.”  What Eric does is manage WNMC, the radio station at Northwestern Michigan College.  “Radio is increasingly homogenized,” he says.  “Fewer people are doing adventurous things.  We’re a place for people to do locally-focused radio that isn’t professional.”

“I push on my DJs,” Eric says.  “Don’t make it perfect; make it good.”  By “good,” he means something to engage the audience—which is a very diverse group.  “Our bread and butter is music,” Eric says.  “Jazz, naturally, and also world music—which I love because I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in South Philadelphia hearing salsa.  In many cultures, music is more than entertainment.  It carries the news.”

“One of our core things is to feature local musicians live in the studio,” he says.  “I’m big on spontaneity and sincerity—and having it go out in the moment with no editing.  I hate perfectionism.”

All this happens with the help of 85 volunteers.  “I’m not a people person,” Eric says, “but I love being with these folks.  They’re plugged into the community and each one has something personal to bring to the air.  A passion.”

Author Benjamin Busch On Al Qaeda's Rebound

Jan 13, 2014
Courtesy photo

Benjamin Busch is a writer, actor and Iraq war veteran. His photography has been displayed at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City and he has been a featured author at the Traverse City National Writers Series. Today Busch joins other Iraq war veterans on The Takeaway to reflect on Al Qaeda's rebound. The show starts at 2:00pm on IPR News Radio.

Waiting for Perfection

Dec 28, 2013

I don’t know where I first got the message that perfection is a goal.  Somehow, I grew up trying to achieve it.  Trying to get A’s in school to please my dad, trying to look like a movie star to please the boys.  Trying and trying.

But even when I got an A, my father asked about my other grades.  And when my hair curled just right there was a pimple on my chin.  You’d think I’d figure out that perfection was impossible but instead I just tried harder.

Once or twice, everything came together.  Many years ago I was visiting a boyfriend in California and we were going to a party at the home of some famous Hollywood person.  On that evening, I managed to assemble just the right hair and skin and dress. 

“This is it,” I thought.  “I’m here.”  But as I was stepping down into the host’s sunken living room, I stumbled and fell flat on my rear end.  A bruise the size and color of an eggplant would be the result.  Along with the reminder about perfection.  It’s not only an impossible goal; it’s the wrong goal.  A lesson I’ve been learning—like all the others—imperfectly.

(Editor's note: This story was first broadcast on September 3rd, 2013) 

The mystery of who killed Daisy Zick has been on the minds of police and residents of Battle Creek since January, 1963.  Though at least three people caught a glimpse of her killer, no one has ever been brought to justice for the crime.  

Writer Blaine Pardoe's latest book is called Murder in Battle Creek: The Mysterious Death of Daisy Zick.  He joined Cynthia Canty in the studio to talk about Daisy Zick, her unsolved murder, and the possibility that the killer may still be alive.  

Listen to the story above.

Alan Newton

Sara Paretsky is the author of 16 crime novels featuring her star protagonist, female private eye V.I. Warshawski. In her latest book, "Critical Mass," V.I. uncovers secrets buried in the rubble of World War II. Paretsky spoke with Nancy Baker, who serves as program director of Evanston Scholars in Evanston, Illinois.

This is the week we say farewell to autumn and officially welcome winter. (Unofficially, we can all agree, winter has arrived early and seems to have settled right in for the duration.)

And one of the great pleasures of changing seasons here on Stateside is the chance to welcome back poet and writer Keith Taylor. Taylor coordinates the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan. But we like to think of him as our Friendly Stateside Reading Guide.

Listen to Keith’s book pics above.