DetroitJune 27, 2012
Prolific poet, fiction writer continues to mine Michigan background in his work
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
DETROIT — To say that Jim Daniels is prolific is an understatement.
The Warren native, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University, had three books published last year: the poetry collection “Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry,” which won the 2012 Gold Medal for Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the 2012 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence from the Paterson Poetry Center; “Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City,” a short story collection that won in the Fiction: Short Story/Anthology category at the 2012 Midwest Book Awards; and “All of the Above,” a limited edition, hand-stitched poetry collection from Adastra Press. And in 2010, he published “From Milltown to Malltown,” a poetry and photography collaboration with Jane McCafferty and Charlee Brodsky, published by the Grosse Pointe-based Marick Press.
Daniels is one of the authors participating in Wayne State University Press’ Made in Michigan Literary Walk June 30 in Detroit’s Midtown area. He said moving back and forth between poetry and fiction — and even screenwriting, most recently on a film version of “Mr. Pleasant” — has helped.
“It continues to create new challenges for me and stimulates me, keeps me from getting in a rut,” he said by phone from his home in Pittsburgh.
He may be a college professor, but Daniels’ roots are blue collar, and he has a Midwestern work ethic. Daniels doesn’t have any new work coming out this year, but he is slated to publish another poetry collection in 2013 on BOA Editions.
“It’s sort of this addiction and compulsion that I have,” he said of writing regularly. “It’s a big part of my identity. It’s something I feel like I should be doing. I don’t wait for the muse to strike. … It’s for my mental health as much as anything. I need to write. I think about writing every day.”
He said he travels with 3-by-5-inch index cards in his pockets to jot down ideas when he’s out, and he uses those when he sits down to write.
Daniels and his wife, a writing teacher at a performing arts high school in Pittsburgh, are the parents of a 17-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son. His relatives still mostly live in metro Detroit — his parents are in Sterling Heights, a sister lives in Troy and one of his brothers lives in Warren — and although Daniels has lived in Pittsburgh since 1981, his work still often mines memories of growing up in Warren.
“That sense of being in between looking forward and looking back — a lot of my work has spun out of that,” Daniels said. “I continue to use my hometown as a setting for my work. I haven’t lived there in a long time, but my identity is kind of engrained there.”
By email, fellow poet M.L. Liebler of St. Clair Shores said “Trigger Man” is “a great collection of urban fiction with Detroit ties.” He said Daniels “is our beloved native son poet and writer, (and) he’s an engaging storyteller and reader.”
Liebler organized the literary walk based on a similar event he created five years ago in Chelsea, when he was that city’s first artist in residence. Most of the participants in the Detroit event have connections to WSU Press’ Made in Michigan series and are popular and well-known, Liebler said by email. Although Daniels’ most recent books are from other publishers, WSU Press has published several of his previous works, he said.
Daniels said he knows many of the writers participating in the literary walk, and he’s looking forward to reading with them. The 56-year-old Daniels said he hopes that he’s building on his past work and seeing topics in a different light as he continues to pen new material.
“I think as I’ve gotten older, I have a broader perspective on things and see some of the more subtle, complicated aspects of what’s going on and dig beneath the surface a little bit more,” he said. “The more I write, the more I’m trying to connect everything.”
The Literary Walk schedule is as follows: Terry Blackhawk, Teresa Scollon and Philip Sterling at noon at the Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward; Melba Joyce Boyd and Dorene O’Brien at 1 p.m. in the WSU Press office inside the Leonard Simons Buildings, 4809 Woodward; Susan Whitall, Kevin John and Brett Callwood at 2 p.m. at the WSU Welcome Center, 42 W. Warren; blues poetry with Bill Harris, Robert Jones and Liebler at 3 p.m. inside the WSU English Department on the fifth floor of 5057 Woodward; and Anne Marie Oomen, francine j. harris, Maria Maziotti Gillan and Daniels at 4 p.m. at the WSU Welcome Center. The readings are all free and take place within a half city block of each other along Woodward, between Forest and Warren.
Daniels will have copies of his books and the “Mr. Pleasant” DVD available for purchase at the reading. His work can also be purchased from Amazon.com. For more about Daniels, visit http://jimdaniels.wordpress.com. For more about the literary walk, visit www.wsupress.wayne.edu.
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