State of the Book symposium celebrates the creative economy
Gloomy though Michigan's economy may be, the state's creative economy is thriving.
That epiphany came to Jeremiah Chamberlin earlier this year, as he reflected on President Obama's State of the Union address. It sparked the creation of the like-titled State of the Book symposium. It opens at 10 a.m. Saturday in Rackham Auditorium.
"We wanted to create an event to celebrate both the amazing authors that this state produces, as well as the nonprofit literary organizations that attempt to nurture the next generation of writers at each stage of their careers," says Chamberlin, associate director of the English Department Writing Program and publisher of the online literary journal Fiction Writers Review.
"From there it was easy to go one step further and actually decide to declare Michigan the State of the Book," he says.
The goal is to celebrate the healthy state of Michigan's literary contributions, through free programs focused on Michigan writers and the craft of writing. The Fiction Writers Review and the U-M Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing will co-host the literary symposium. Its featured event is a Keynote Conversation with Charles Baxter, award-winning fiction writer and novelist, and Philip Levine, a former poet laureate of the United States, 7-8:15 p.m.
Born in Minneapolis, Baxter's work has been called "intelligent, original, gracefully written, always moving, frequently funny and — the rarest of compliments — wise" in the New York Times book review. He was a member of the Department of English faculty for 13 years and taught in its MFA program. He now teaches at the University of Minnesota.
Levine was educated in the Detroit public school system and at Wayne State University. A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, author and essayist, he is recognized for his devotion to exploring issues of race and class through his writings. Levine has earned two National Book Awards for his poetry collections. In 2011, he was named the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress.
Saturday presentations open with an 826michigan OMNIBUS Anthology Release and Reading from 10:15-11 a.m., a Youth and Collegiate Poetry Performance from 11 a.m.-noon, an Innovative Publishing Panel from 12:15-1:15 p.m., and a "Best American Nonrequired Reading" anthology conversation hosted by Dave Eggers from 1:30-2 p.m.
Afternoon sessions include a debut author's panel, and a panel on The Future of Literary Journalism.
"I think this is a great opportunity for people to meet like-minded folks and perhaps start other collaborations, including other writing-oriented events and programs," says Megan Levad, assistant director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing, who helped shape the event. "It's also good for the younger people in the audience to see other Michigan writers at work; it makes an inspiring model for them," she says.
Young writers will be among participants in a connected event, The Great Write Off. It is a collaborative writing competition running through today. Organizers seek to raise pledge funds in support of non-profit partner organizations of The State of the Book: 826michigan, Dzanc Books, Fiction Writers Review, InsideOut Literary Arts Project, The National Writers Series and The Neutral Zone. Donations are sought to support writing teams representing each organization.
Levad notes that both 826michigan and InsideOut offer U-M MFA students internships and teaching opportunities.
"We thought that a friendly competition to see who can involve the most writers, write the most pages, and raise the most money would be a great way to incentivize giving among our donors and to encourage participation," Chamberlin says. "We also wanted to bring attention to our nonprofit partners whose inspiring work is, in many ways, the reason our creative economy is so healthy. By working together on this write-a-thon we're able to increase visibility for each organization while at the same time sending a message of collaboration, as well as reinforcing that writing is a community — in this case, statewide — endeavor."
Of U-M's contribution to the state's literary output, Levad says, "We see our graduate program and its related events, such as readings in the Zell Visiting Writers Series and symposia like The Business of Writing and The State of the Book — all of which are free and open to the public — as one of Michigan's many unique cultural offerings."
She adds that several Michigan authors have earned their MFA degrees at U-M, among them Laura Kasischke, Natalie Bakopoulos and francine j. harris.
Chamberlin says he hopes the event will encourage Michigan citizens to recognize that the state's arts communities are among its greatest natural resources. "The benefits of the literary arts to our young people as thinkers and citizens, as well as in helping them express their vision and tap into the creative selves, can't be overstated," he says.
Chamberlin says the creative economy also can be an engine of development. He says Edwards Brothers Inc. of Ann Arbor and Thomson-Shore of Dexter are two examples of thriving printing companies.