Literary Boroughs #27: Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the twenty-seventh post on Ann Arbor, Michigan, by Megan Levad. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

aerial view of a busy downtown street - Liberty Street - in Ann Arbor
Image credit: Andrew Horne/Wikipedia

What the City is known for/what makes it unique:

The poetry collection or literary journal that you’re carrying around in your bag right now was probably printed here. But Ann Arbor is better known for football, Zingerman’s Deli (where Michael Dickman worked when he lived here), breweries, Iggy Pop, and lefty politics—Students for a Democratic Society was founded here in 1960.

Resident writers:

Natalie Bakopoulos, Michael Byers, Anne Carson (yeah, she’s at NYU now, but she’s back here every few weeks), Peter Ho Davies, Nicholas Delbanco, Harry Dolan, Tung-Hui Hu, V.V. Ganeshananthan, Lorna Goodison, Linda Gregerson, Travis Holland, A. Van Jordan, Laura Kasischke, Petra Kuppers, Khaled Mattawa, Aaron McCollough, Raymond McDaniel, Sarah Messer, Ken Mikolowski (former publisher, The Alternative Press), Thylias Moss, Margaret Noori, Zibby Oneal, Benjamin Paloff, Eileen Pollack, Sharon Pomerantz, Erin Stead, Keith Taylor, Douglas Trevor

Literary references:

Ann Arbor Variations,” by Frank O’Hara; “Ann Arbor Elegy, for Franny Winston died September 27, 1969,” by Ted Berrigan (mentions the long-since-closed Mr. Flood’s Party—best bar name ever); “Kicking the Leaves,” by Donald Hall; Feast of Love, Charles Baxter (opens with a sex scene on the 50-yard line of the University of Michigan football field, in “The Big House,” the largest stadium in the US)

Where to learn:

The MFA Program in Creative Writing, University of Michigan (@ummfa) is creative home to a revolving community of 66 writers (22 new ones come in each year), which doesn’t include the many graduates who get jobs teaching writing at U-M and help keep Ann Arbor lousy with writers.

Where to find reading material:

While we all miss Shaman Drum, Ann Arbor’s premiere independent for nearly thirty years, other local booksellers have stepped up since the Drum closed in 2009.  (Yes, Borders, which was founded here, closed too.)  But Nicola’s Books, in particular, comes out to sell books at local literary events, and now hosts several readings a month (including the release of Anne Carson’s Nox and a reading of her Antigonick with Raymond McDaniel in the title role).  Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room (@crazywisdomA2) carries several new literary fiction titles in addition to sage sticks, tarot cards, and Wiccan calendars, and Common Language (@glbtbooks), which specializes in books with a queer focus, also hosts book clubs and events.  And there’s a juicy rumor going around that a sexy young couple from Brooklyn is opening a new independent next to one of the brew pubs sometime soon…

One of the best things about bookshopping in Ann Arbor, though, is the proliferation of antiquarian and used bookstores.  Dawn Treader (LeVar Burton recently tweeted that it’s the “Best bookstore ever…”) has the most books, but Kaleidoscope has a great collection of mid-century stuff, including vintage toys, Aunt Agatha’s specializes in mysteries and thrillers, and Motte and Bailey and West Side Book Shop buy and sell gorgeous old and rares, as well as a good selection of literature, history, art & photography, and criticism.

Where to get published:

In addition to the venerable Michigan Quarterly Review, the University of Michigan also houses Canarium Books (@canariumbooks), co-founded by Joshua Edwards, and Fiction Writers Review (@fictionwriters), founded by Anne Stameshkin published by Jeremiah Chamberlin. MFA Program students intern at both publications, as well as at 826michigan (@826michigan), where a committee of high school students helps Dave Eggers edit The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Hobart’s trailer (@hobartpulp) is parked here, and David McLendon publishes UNSAID (@UNSAIDmag) from Ann Arbor, where he works at Nicola’s Books (and dies inside a little each time someone asks for Fifty Shades).  Brian Whitener publishes Displaced Press here, and Meghan Forbes’ Harlequin Creature holds those typing bees in Ann Arbor, too, where she learned the book arts at Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts. And SplitLevel Texts (@SplitLevelTexts), co-edited by Aaron McCollough, will start publishing this winter, with books by Jerome Rothenberg and Alan Gilbert.

Where to write:

While the easiest place to find a writer in Ann Arbor is probably Old Town Tavern (we’ll be at the table under the odalisque), you’ll also have good luck at Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, a Starbucks-y local chain where the Skazat! readings are hosted, Café Ambrosia, which has lots of seating, stays open late, and serves the vegan treats and cups up big and cheap, and Comet Coffee, where you’ll find writers waiting patiently for pourovers before they head to the University’s Rackham Reading Room or the Hatcher Graduate Library Reference Room.  (Laura Kasischke got a lot of work done here when she was in the MFA Program.)  And if you’d rather write in a bar, the one at 327 Braun Court is TV-free and has an excellent bourbon selection, reliably good music, and hard boiled eggs for $1.


The MFA Program at U-M also sponsors the Zell Visiting Writers Series, which hosts weekly readings in the University of Michigan Museum of Art.  This fall, visiting writers include Carrie Fountain, Oni Buchanan and Jon Woodward premiering “Uncanny Valley,” Robin Hemley, David Shields, David Mitchell, Toi Derricotte, Terrance Hayes, Aleksandar Hemon, and Amitav Ghosh. Hobart publishers Aaron Burch and Elizabeth Ellen also host Great Lakes, Great Times, at Arbor Brewing Company, most recently featuring Patrick Somerville.  The Hatcher Graduate Library and Ann Arbor District Library also hold readings, as do several of the bookstores mentioned above.

The Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair in May, the Ann Arbor Book Festival in June, and the Kerrytown BookFest each September are annual staples on the Ann Arbor book scene, recently joined by the first State of the Book (@stateofbook) symposium this fall, a celebration of Michigan writers and writing hosted by Fiction Writers Review and the MFA Program in Creative Writing.  Leading up to the State of the Book Fiction Writers Review spearheaded the first Great Write Off, a write-a-thon to benefit Michigan writing organizations, including 826michigan, which also holds an annual Spelling Bee in March.  And Zingerman’s, which has its own publishing arm, Zingerman’s Press, hosts the Vampires’ Ball benefit with Elizabeth Kostova every Halloween (this year she read with Natalie Bakopoulos).