Sunday, October 04, 2015

Between the Lines: Four-Legged Girl

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Diane Seuss


Kalamazoo has a well-deserved reputation for being rich in the literary arts. And Diane Seuss is one of the best-known and most loved poetic voices in town. When Seuss gives a reading, the room is usually packed, and the audience often sighs, emits "oohs" and "ahhs," and claps for more. She has also taught many workshops and seminars in local literary circles.

The writer-in-residence at Kalamazoo College launches her third poetry collection in October. It's called Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press). Seuss readily credits her friend and mentor, poet and Kalamazoo College professor emeritus Conrad Hilberry, for her success.
“There’s no me without Con,” says Seuss. “When I was 15, I went to a rural high school in Niles. So not even the main high school in town but in Brandywine, out in the cow pasture. Con was a poet in the schools then and he was signed up to go to Niles High School. He’d read a poem of mine that I was naïve enough to send to a contest for which he was the judge. He gave it an honorable mention but he didn’t forget it. He came on his own volition to my high school to find me.”
Having found her, Hilberry told Seuss how much he had enjoyed her poem and asked for more. He also invited her to give a reading with him at the school. The rest, as they say, is history. Seuss was encouraged to pursue a career in writing and to come to Kalamazoo College where, after earning degrees there and at Western Michigan University, she's taught since 1988.
Seuss didn't always write poetry, though. She recalls time in New York writing romance novels and what she politely refers to as “that other genre” for a quick buck when she was young and finding her way.
But it is poetry that's brought Seuss critical and popular acclaim. She's the author of two previous poetry collections: It Blows You Hollow, andWolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, a winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2014, the Georgia ReviewNew Orleans ReviewPoetryThe New Yorker, and elsewhere.
A theme that reappears in her work is the power of femininity.
“And it’s not pink,” Seuss says. When thinking about what feminine power means to her, she says, “The first thing that comes to my mind is ...

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Vibrant Schools, Vibrant City: Will Grand Rapids invest in its future?

Photography by Adam Bird
What’s Best for the Kids

One phrase stuck out in the mind of Larry Oberst, chief financial officer for Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), when he met the new superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal. It had become her mantra, and it convinced Oberst that he wanted to work alongside her.

“She kept saying, ‘what’s best for the kids, what’s best for the kids,’” Oberst says. “I realized she meant it. It wasn’t about what was best for her career, or even what was best for the teachers and staff. It’s always been about what’s best for the kids.”

The Grand Rapids school board approved Oberst unanimously in February 2014 as the district’s new CFO, hand-picked by Weatherall Neal. Oberst, who lives in Gaines Township, is the former vice president of finance for Spectrum Health Continuing Care. He’s been in accounting for more than 30 years, a partner for the international accounting and consulting firm, BDO USA, and CFO for Holland Home, a senior care community.

“Working here, it’s been challenging and fun,” Oberst says. “There are a lot of positives going on, and the superintendent has mended many broken fences, but we still need to make a lot of changes.”

Larry Oberst (Photo by Adam Bird)

When Oberst arrived at his new position with GRPS, the third largest employer in Grand Rapids, he found plenty to do. He was on board with Weatherall Neal’s Transformation Plan (see Call it a Comeback, Rapid Growth Media, September 17, 2015) and rolled up his sleeves to continue what he calls “the first attack cost-side.”

“GRPS was still working with an old business model, the same model that’s been used for school systems for the past hundred years,” Oberst says. “To remain relevant in a constantly changing, evolving world, a business model needs to be fluid. When you hear people say, ‘But that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ you know it’s time for a change. Too often, we take the old model and tweak it, but what we need to do is toss it out and begin by asking—if we were starting a new school today, what would it look like?”

One of the first things Oberst noticed in his new position was that the business software in use at GRPS administrative offices was obsolete. He couldn’t find a reliable head count for GRPS students. The old software wasn’t issuing the regular reports he needed to oversee the GRPS budget.

“That’s how we get paid,” he says. “We receive funding per pupil from the state. New technology will get us the data we need to move forward.”

Oberst says he started asking questions that made people uncomfortable, but then—


Monday, September 28, 2015

Between the Lines: Bonnie Jo Campbell on Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Bonnie Jo Campbell

Bonnie (Photo by Christopher Magson)

The women Bonnie Jo Campbell writes about face abuse in many ugly forms, yet they emerge empowered. The award-winning writer launches her new story collection Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (Norton) in October. It continues Campbell's exploration of the relationships between women.

“We put this collection together from stories I’ve written over the years,” Campbell says. “My editor and I saw a theme about motherhood and daughter-hood, and also sisterhood and aunt-hood, and what it means to be a grandmother. But maybe the most potent of the stories address the issues and difficulties between mothers and daughters.”

Campbell’s women are tough. They love and hate their men; they endure abuse but know also how to dish it out while taking their power back. They smoke. They drink. They castrate pigs and drown kittens. They butcher livestock and skin squirrels and shoot guns and hit bulls-eyes. But even while she's taking on serious themes in her work, Campbell maintains a sometimes wry and dark sense of humor, finding the joke in humanity.
Her stories may skirt the edges of the bizarre and be filled with the grit of everyday life. But Campbell's own life story is rich fodder for her fiction. Campbell grew up on a small farm in southwest Michigan with her mother and four siblings. It was then that she learned how to care for farm animals and developed a love for donkeys. She still has two on her own property today in Kalamazoo. Campbell hitchhiked across the United States and Canada —something she does not recommend to others—and scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle. She ran away with the circus and sold snow cones. Campbell also founded Goulash Tours, Inc., which lead conducted adventure tours in Russia, the Baltic countries, Romania and Bulgaria.
Referring to her penchant for chasing down adventures, Campbell says, “I don’t admit this often, but ...