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September 18, 2013

Annual Midtown Literary Walk is poetry in motion

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

METRO DETROIT — Bookstores might be harder and harder to find, but Detroit’s literary culture is alive, and it stands up as well on the stage as it does on the page.

Some of the best regional authors of prose and poetry — along with hip-hop, jazz and blues artists — will be sharing their work at various venues in and around the Wayne State University campus in Detroit for the second annual Midtown Literary Walk, a free series of public programs every hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 21.

This year, writers Kim Hunter, Michael Delp, Diane Shipley DeCillis, Caroline Maun, Brett Lott, Herbert Howard Martin, Jim Daniels, Lolita Hernandez, Bill Harris and National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon, along with musicians Sean Forbes, Mark Levin, LaShaun Phoenix Moore, Rev. Robert Jones, and walk organizer and poet M.L. Liebler and his Coyote Monk Poetry Band will perform. Most of the people on the bill have ties to the city or its suburbs.

St. Clair Shores Poet Laureate Liebler, the founder and director of this event, said in an email interview that at least 200 people attended the first walk last year, and he’s hoping to double that this year.

“I designed a Chelsea lit walk six years ago, and it has been a huge success,” Liebler said. “(Actor) Jeff Daniels — no relation to (poet Jim Daniels) — is thrilled to have a lit walk in his hometown, so he lets us have the Purple Rose (Theatre) as needed.”

Maun, of Grosse Pointe Park, is looking forward to taking part in her first Midtown Literary Walk. An associate professor of English at WSU, she said she missed the walk last year because she wasn’t in town. In an email interview, she said events like this are crucial for connecting writers with readers.

“Lit Walk and other reading events, especially ones that bring local writers and nationally known writers together, are important for a myriad of reasons: They bring awareness of literary culture to a broader community of readers, they provide ways for readers to meet authors and encounter books they might not otherwise learn about (and) they are great ways for writers to meet each other and learn about each others’ work,” Maun said. “In addition, an event like the Lit Walk is brilliant because it takes place in multiple, nearby cultural venues and is very visible and involving of the community. Someone may be familiar with the (Detroit Institute of Arts) but not with Wayne State, or familiar with Wayne State but hasn’t been inside the Detroit Historical Museum. Events like these enliven the arts and cultivate audiences at the same time.”

Maun will be reading several poems from her latest book, “What Remains,” which was published by Main Street Rag in July. A number of the pieces are about Maun’s relationship with her mother toward the end of her mother’s life.

“The book comes out of the experiences of our deepening friendship as we encountered each other as adults, and the sudden turn of events when she sustained a broken hip,” Maun wrote. “She survived that fall for only 10 weeks. Many of the poems are from our experiences of her illness, but also the aftermath as I find myself still dwelling in a house that we both lived in during an important part of our lives and that is permeated by her absence. The book is not all about loss, however — it is also about how we adjust to loss and how meaning inheres in even the most ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.”

For Maun, reflecting on these experiences in her work was “an important way … to process” her mother’s illness and passing.

“I see writing about things that are painful as a way to take some control of the emotions that are shaped by these experiences, and to put them outside of myself so I can have a new relationship to them,” she said. “Writing about my mother was an act of memorialization and love. I wanted the book to be a space where something of her can dwell.”

Daniels, a Warren native who’s now an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is looking forward to taking part in his second Midtown Literary Walk and reading from his new collection of poems, “Birth Marks” (BOA Editions).

“The line-up this year is particularly lively and impressive,” he said in an email interview. “As a writer, I want to reach as wide an audience as possible, so events like this offer a great opportunity. I also enjoy the camaraderie of being around the other writers and seeing old friends.”

Daniels said he had a good time interacting with the audience after his reading last year, and he appreciated the “diverse and ­ enthusiastic” crowd.

“It was fun, and, though I wish it were otherwise, all literary events aren’t fun,” said Daniels, who has a number of poetry and short story collections to his credit, along with independent films. “For those who haven’t been to a reading before, I recommend coming out to this one.”

It’s been more than 30 years since Daniels left metro Detroit, but he still has family and friends locally, and his work — including “Birth Marks” — still often speaks to his childhood and adolescence in Michigan.

“No matter where I go, no matter where I physically live, I am emotionally connected to Detroit,” Daniels said. “I’ve definitely found this to be true with Detroit in the (national) news so much. I find myself getting defensive when people make simple judgments about the place, when we all know how complex it is.”

The award-winning author said he’s now “less afraid of trying new things, of trying to go deeper and not settle for the easy resolution” with his work, and hopes that readers will connect with his writing, regardless of where they’re from.

“Writing has helped me try to come to terms with certain things in my life,” Daniels said. “There’s a tension between past and present for everyone, and who we become often gives us perspective on the past, and on the other hand, the past influences who we are now.”

Liebler said attendees — who will be able to purchase lunch at the Maccabees Building, the site of the 1 p.m. presentation — will “get a brief sample of many different and engaging literary styles over the course of a few hours.” And with venues including the main branch of the Detroit Public Library and the Detroit Historical Museum, attendees will get to take in some significant sites, as well.

“We expect a great Lit Walk this year and an even bigger one next (year), with (the) Knight Foundation’s support,” said Liebler, who recently received a Knight Foundation award for the 2014 event.

No reservations are required for any of the programs. Books by the featured writers will be available for purchase through Book Beat. For a full schedule and more information, visit the News & Events section at http://wsupress.wayne.edu and click on the link for the walk.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.