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Blindfolded audience for the horror-thriller Bird Box

Midwest Literary Walk

Candid, intimate moments

by Stephanie Douglass

From the April, 2016 issue

The audience sits blindfolded as novelist and songwriter Josh Malerman performs a scene, with live musical accompaniment, from his horror-thriller Bird Box. As one of several unconventional readings at the 2015 Midwest Literary Walk, it's a fine example of what makes this festival worth attending: candid, intimate moments that reveal and strengthen the bond between writer and reader.

For the past seven years, avid readers have converged on downtown Chelsea to hear literary luminaries read in various downtown locations. In 2016, the walk promises to once again fill two historical landmarks--the Chelsea Depot and the Clocktower Commons--with some of the brightest minds currently writing.

If last year is any guide, the writers and poets will probably do much more than simply read their work. At the 2015 walk, Rebecca Scherm delivered a funny and insightful look into the inspirations for her novel Unbecoming. The young writer Angela Flournoy, whose father is from Detroit, described the city as it was and is and how she sought to capture time and memory in The Turner House, her debut novel that went on to be named a 2015 National Book Award finalist.

Started in 2009 by the prolific Detroit poet and tireless arts organizer M.L. Liebler (who was then the Chelsea District Library's Artist-in-Residence), the Midwest Literary Walk has consistently featured a thoughtfully curated lineup that showcases the talents of distinguished Michigan writers and poets. Writers of national acclaim have also taken the stage at past walks: Beat poet Michael McClure headlined the inaugural event.

As it's gotten older, the Midwest Literary Walk has grown, attracting larger audiences from more than a dozen towns, according to Chelsea District Library marketing coordinator Patty Roberts. Last year's crowd was a mix of people of all ages, including young and older adults and even the occasional parent, yoked to a stroller in the back of a venue.

The 2016 schedule is a kaleidoscope of poets and writers whose work is garnering attention and praise. The walk begins

...continued below...

with the novelist Christopher Sorrentino, author of the 2016 literary crime thriller The Fugitives, followed by Claire Vaye Watkins, a California native and current writing prof at the U-M, whose 2015 novel Gold Fame Citrus portrays a brutal, bewildering journey through a drought-stricken post-apocalyptic world. Detroit poets Jamaal May and Robin Coste Lewis will discuss poetry and read their own. May's poems are strong, stark expressions of loss, desperation, and isolation amid urban and industrial detritus. Lewis won the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry for Voyage of the Sable Venus, her debut collection, which draws on personal experience and historical artifacts and documents to redefine the black female figure. The readings conclude with the popular Cleveland writer Paula McLain, whose bestselling historical fiction novels include The Paris Wife, about Hemingway's first wife Hadley Richardson, and Circling the Sun, about the pioneering aviator Beryl Markham.

This year's Midwest Literary Walk is on Saturday, April 30.     (end of article)

[Originally published in April, 2016.]


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