Posts Tagged ‘ann arbor book festival’

Ann Arbor Book Festival

When I moved to Ann Arbor late last summer, I did my best to become involved with the local literary community. After some Google searches, I found the Ann Arbor Book Festival. I met with executive director Kathy Robenalt and became a volunteer and presenter. It was so much fun to experience it this weekend.

There were an amazing number of events connected with the Ann Arbor Book Festival  this weekend and in the weeks and months leading up to it. You might remember my blogging about the Bacon Brunch at Zingerman’s.

The Ann Arbor Book Festival organizes a Writer’s Conference. I presented the workshop “Writing Your Family History,” which was great. We discussed not only how to gather information about your family, but also how to put it into a readable form. Participants completed some great writing in response to prompts. In particular, I remember one participant’s short piece on removing gefilte fish from a jar onto plate. She described the texture and smell perfectly.

I attended the lunch with keynote speaker Elizabeth Kostova. She discussed her writing process and how she completed her first book. Her talk was illuminating, although I’ll never understand participant questions at these kinds of events. There is a sense that writers know a mystical secret about writing and if participants can just hear the trick (write in the morning, write every day, hire a book doctor, etc.) then they will achieve the same product. Kostova was able to share her own techniques, but did a fine job of illuminating the simple work of writing. Write, share your work with others, edit fiercely. Indeed. 

The highpoint of the day was Colson Whitehead’s talk “How to Write, Or A Few Things I Learned From Listening to the Donna Summer Version of ‘MacArthur Park’. I will admit that I have never read any of his books, author and friend Erika Dreifus’ blog Practicing Writer recently led me to explore his writing and attend the session.  His talk was funny, sincere, and illuminating. He offered “rules” for writing and then undid them with humor and ended with the idea that that rules sometimes work, but mostly don’t. Everyone who had been at lunch should have heard his talk before asking Elizabeth Kostova questions. I look forward to reading his new and older books. 

I had some wonderful conversations with participants and authors from the conference. I met children’s author Tara Michener at the Author’s Reception at the library. Check out her cool book and blog about diversity, Who I am, not what I am.

I helped with the Author Breakfast on Saturday morning in the Michigan League. What fun to meet all of the authors – especially Desiree Cooper who led the conversation with the authors (despite the fire alarm going off just as she started!)

Here are a few photos:

 Colson Whitehead at author breakfastWilliam Powers and Desiree Cooper at Author Breakfast



Each writer graciously shared experiences and advice. As a volunteer, I helped to coordinate the event and had the pleasure of meeting almost all of the authors. I was lucky enough to sit with NJ based author Sung Woo and Detroit based Sharon Stanford. When I was in line for breakfast, I overheard Masha Hamilton encouraging a writer who had been in her session the day before. She encouraged the participant to take classes and publish her work. I was moved by the fiction writer’s dedication. She emphasized that we often sit on projects for too long when in fact, the public should have accessed to the well-crafted work. She offered suggestions about how to break down a longer project, in this case with a textbook with a cultural component, into smaller, perhaps more easily publishable pieces. (I will admit that I was surprised when Peter Yarrow, of the legendary Peter, Paul and Mary, arrived a bit late and was less pleasant. In fact, I was shocked that this peace-loving hippie folk singer snapped at me more than once.) 

Later that morning, I attended William Power’s talk on the business of writing. His focus was on finding your passion, pitching it and writing about things that interest you. He was efficient, clear and inspiring in his talk. He offered the perfect combination of left and right brain thinking. For example, he stressed rapid clustering as a brainstorming technique and precise editing for the pitch to editors. I look forward to reading his books.

At the book fair, I learned more about some local literary magazines, from The Michigan Quarterly Review to The MacGuffin There were a number of self-published authors, too, selling their books.

All in all, a great time. I look forward to being involved next year.

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 Erika Dreifus

Writing expert Erika Dreifus kindly invited me to write a guest blog entitled, “Writing Your Family History: Five Hints.”  Erika’s blog Practicing Writer and her newsletter  are incredible resources for writers. When I need some advice, I always turn to her list of resources. I hope you will check it out.


My mother, a professional photographer, and I compiled a collection of paired poems and photographs documenting our family’s emigration from southern Italy to New Jersey. These pieces are based on visits to the town where our family originated, oral histories collected with Americans and Italians, historical documents and cultural history about the towns and time periods involved. What we created contains an emotional truth and some facts, but the stories mostly contain facts as we experienced them or as they were told to us. We continue to translate the experiences in the form of our art.


Here are some of those poems published (sadly without the photographs):


Poem “Question of Return” in Lumina.

Poems “Spring Pool Water,” “Noisier Than the Milk,” and “Statue of Liberty, 1890 Spiralbridge.

Poem “Teresa serves dinner at 20:00” in Conte: An Online Journal of Narrative Writing.


My personalized wedding poem company, Word Arrangement and this blog grew out of these experiences. I enjoyed collecting oral histories and translating them into poems and found a way to continue with this interest. Through wedding poems, I am lucky enough to be able to hear other people’s stories. I particularly enjoy hearing love stories!


If you are interested in learning more on the subject of Writing Family History and you are in the Ann Arbor area, here are two upcoming opportunities:


I am presenting a workshop entitled, “Writing Your Family History” at the Ann Arbor Book Festival on Friday, May 15th from 10 – 11 am.

Here is the program description: Researching and writing your family history doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In this session, learn tips on how to gather information and brainstorm ideas before translating the stories and research into a form that you can share with family members.



I will also be teaching a related one session class through the Ann Arbor Rec & Ed the evening of May 7:

Here is the class description:

Preserve Family History

Don’t let the intimate stories of your unique family history pass on with loved ones. Learn how to collect these special stories from your family. Discover how to get started and complete an interview. Develop a better understanding of how to craft the questions, answer questions and what to do with the final product. 1 class.


6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)



An essay of mine about writing about your family history was published in the Canadian geneology magazine Family Chronicle last summer. Thanks to the Anglo-Celtic Connections Blog for the shout-out!



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I am now a Zingerman’s convert. I resisted for a while (if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I generally avoid agreeing with crowds), but after eating bacon-enhanced food for two hours at today’s Bacon & Brunch with Ari Weinzweig, I’m in with Zingerman’s.


The brunch and Ari’s talk on bacon, was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor Book Festival. In May, Ari will be on a panel with other foodie authors discussing his book, Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of pork bellies, hush puppies, rock’n’roll music and bacon fat mayonnaise.


The meal started out with Zingerman’s Bakehouse Bacon-Cheddar Scones and American Fried Bread. The bread was fried in, you guessed it, bacon fat. I have never eaten a more luscious piece of fried bread in my life. (My fiancé noticed a few people at the end looking in the baskets for more bread and snatching an extra piece or two.)


We were then treated to South Carolina Gold Rice Grits and Bits Waffle and Hangtown Fry (eggs with bacon and oysters mixed in) with Bacon Hash. The hash was particularly smooth and bursting with flavor. The waffles had crispy bacon bits on top. The bacon fat, which was the base for most of what we ate this morning, absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients and allows them to blossom.




Don’t fret, vegetarians. There was a tofu bacon option for you. The kind man sitting next to me let me take a picture of his dish:




Then we had a bacon tasting. Now, I might not have found a physician in Ann Arbor yet, but I’m sure she wouldn’t have approved of a plate of bacon. Still, this morning was like a bacon holiday, so who was I to resist? Here is the plate that Ari talked us through eating:





I had no idea that there were so many different kinds of bacon. I know that my father likes thicker slices of bacon and I tend to buy the less smoky organic bacon at Trader Joe’s. Ari talked about customers who know about different kinds of cheeses and wines, but have a hard time describing their favorite bacon. He suggested buying a variety of types of bacon and serving them at home to guests. (Is it too late to change our wedding menu to include more bacon?)


My favorite was Benton’s. It is the second to the last one on the plate. It originates in eastern Tennessee and is dry cured and smoked over hickory.


We ended with Buttermilk Biscuits with Chocolate-Bacon Gravy. My goodness, these were delicious. While I tried to hold back and not finish each plate offered, I wanted to lick this plate clean. The sweet-savory flavors shut off all my other senses so I could focus on the striking taste. It reminded me of the sweet-sour combination of a sea salt caramel, only chocolate was involved.




Throughout the meal, Ari shared his expertise with bacon. He shared some personal stories along the way. Ari grew up in a Kosher household and remembers eating fairly unremarkable beef bacon as a child. Most of the food that he sells at Zingerman’s is something he discovered, rather than something he grew up with.


About bacon’s importance, Ari stressed, “bacon is to North American cooking what olive oil is to Mediterranean food.” According to his research, bacon has been big since the beginning in America. It crosses almost all ethnic and cultural (although not religious) lines. The Europeans brought bacon with them and even influenced the Native American cooking. In the South, he said, you will almost always find a jar of bacon fat by the stove (not refrigerated) and it would be eaten in all seasons.


Zingerman’s kindly shared recipes from the upcoming book. I know I can’t wait until the book comes out to read more.


Hope to see you at the Ann Arbor Book Festival in May! I’ll be presenting at the Writer’s Conference (Writing Your Family History)  And let me know if you need a brunch date at Zingerman’s. After my fiancé and I fast for a few days, we’ll be ready for more.  


Ari and Kathy Robenalt, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Book Festival

Thanks to the Ann Arbor Chronicle for sharing this article.

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