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 ...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Call it a comeback: Grand Rapids Public Schools on the upswing, poised to thrive

Call it a comeback: Grand Rapids Public Schools on the upswing, poised to thrive

When GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal took the helm, she instituted an ambitious Transformation Plan with an eye towards stabilizing the district, then enabling it to grow and thrive. Nearly four years later, the district is decidedly on the upswing. Get the stats and the stories behind the turnaround, and see where Neal is steering the ship next.

This is the first in a four-part series.

When Grand Rapids Superintendent of Schools Teresa Weatherall Neal was hired for her position almost four years ago, she began her new job by listening. She called it her listening tour, and she listened to everyone. Realizing they were being heard, perhaps for the first time, members of the Grand Rapids community had much to say.

People stopped the superintendent in the street to talk with her. They scribbled notes on the edges of napkins and passed them to her in restaurants. On the backs of store receipts, even on torn off pieces of cardboard, people wrote their suggestions and grievances and passed them to Weatherall Neal. Whenever possible, they bent her ear. She was approached on the street, in the grocery store, in the hallway. She always stopped to listen, and she read every note given to her.

Students leave the bus for the C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy. (PHOTO by Adam Bird)
“I asked everyone, because everyone deserves to have a voice,” Weatherall Neal says. “I wanted to keep it simple, so I asked four questions: what’s working, what’s not, what are the barriers to success, and what are the solutions for improvement.”

Weatherall Neal gathered together all that she heard from community members, teachers, staff, students and their parents, and from that input, she created the GRPS Transformation Plan. The Grand Rapids Public Schools, after all, were in dire need of transformation. Enrollment had declined by 8,000 students. Graduation rates lagged at 47 percent and the drop-out rate was at nearly 20 percent. The budget had been cut by $100 million and 35 schools had been closed while half-empty hallways echoed in others.

How could one person possibly turn this sinking ship around?

Weatherall Neal is the first person who will tell you that it can’t be done by one person. It takes every person in the community doing his and her part, she insists. What she has brought to the village, however, provides leadership to the transformation.

“I have been with this district for 41 years,” Weatherall Neal says. “I love this district, always have. I grew up here, one of nine siblings. I went to school here, and I never felt the desire to leave.”

From Creston High School, Weatherall Neal went on to Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University. She worked in GRPS as a student worker, then a receptionist, then a secretary, a compliance officer, a director, and assistant to the superintendent, until she took that seat herself. She knew and relished each step on the ladder.

“I knew what greatness looked like,” Weatherall Neal says. “And I never left that, that we could be the best.”

The Labor Pains of Transformation

Under Weatherall Neal’s leadership, her team sifted out three goals for the Transformation Plan ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Between the Lines: The Underwater Typewriter

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: Marc Zegans 

Marc Zegans (Credit Jeff Haynes)

Ann Arbor, Michigan native Marc Zegans is better known for the spoken, rather than the written word. “As a spoken word artist with a penchant for immersive theater, I perform periodically with the New York Poetry Brothel under the nom de plumeBellocq C. Obscura,” Zegans says. “I’ve been doing spoken poetry as long as I can remember.”

But with his new poetry collection The Underwater Typewriter (Pelekinesis Press, September 2015), Zegans hopes to expand his written word readership. His spoken word albums include Night Work (2007) and Marker and Parker, recorded with jazz pianist Don Parker (2010). His collection of erotic senryu, a type of haiku, calledPillow Talk was published in 2008. Zegans is also a playwright and performs on stage.
“I was Narragansett Beer’s first Poet Laureate from 2010 to 2013 and a Poetry Whore with the New York Poetry Brothel,” Zegans says, laughing. “I had two friends in the New York Poetry Society who had grown tired of academic poetry readings and wanted something with greater depth than slam poetry.”
One of his poet friends thought about what she liked, then said, “Well, I love poetry, and I also like bourbon, and I like sex. How do I put them together?”
Zegans recalls, “So she came up with this idea of a 1920’s Prohibition bordello where rather than hire a prostitute, one would hire a poet for ...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Rooted: A Reading by Zinta Aistars

And you are invited! If you are in Southwest Michigan, please consider attending. I'd love to see you there. Visit the Facebook event page to sign up and learn more.

“Let the dam open. Let it flow. In this place of healing, where all rooted things offer blessing: the stalwart trees, the exuberant flowers, the field of grasses and alfalfa, yes, but also the birds, rooted in sky, and the furred creatures burrowing beneath the earth, the insects buzzing and winging through the air, all rooted in their own way. As am I. It took but once, stepping on this hallowed ground, and I felt the roots spring from my feet, from my hands, and instantly tangle with the roots already here to become one. At long last, I have come to know what it means to be Home.” ~ Zila

Zinta at Z Acres ... or is it Zila?

Zinta Aistars, creative director, writer and editor at Z Word, LLC, is known in the literary community for showcasing writers and artists in the online literary magazine, The Smoking Poet, for many years. Then, in January 2015, Zinta began hosting a weekly radio show called "Between the Lines" at WMUK 102.1 FM, the NPR affiliate station in Southwest Michigan, showcasing books and writers with a Michigan connection. 

When is it Zinta's turn to showcase her own work? 

By golly, it's now. Zinta will read from her work-in-progress, "Zila." In her novel, Zinta builds a story of finding Home after a lifetime of wanderlust. It is a story that grew out of the author’s own move to a ten-acre plot of land in Southwest Michigan in March 2012. She calls her home Z Acres, a place that offers a little of everything: woods, water, open fields. Through her main character, Zila, Zinta explores what it means to grow up bicultural, straddling two countries, never quite belonging in either. Without a place to call Home, a place where one can be rooted, Zila has spent her life wandering in place, in career choices, but perhaps most of all in relationships. The wandering is over, but being rooted comes with its own strange challenges.

Alongside the reading, an exhibit of Zinta's photography of Z Acres will be on view in the Portage District Library, 300 Library Lane, Portage, Michigan, from Sept. 4 to Oct. 31. All photos are for sale, all priced at $30. Own a little piece of Z Acres for yourself and support a starving (well, not quite starving, but always hungry for a salty chip) artist.

The reading is open to all at no cost. Rumor has it there may even be refreshments, straight from the farm.


What fun! Lori Moore has invited me to appear on The Lori Moore Show on Tuesday, September 22. I'll have an opportunity to talk a bit more about what you'll be hearing at "ROOTED: A Reading by Zinta Aistars "... as well as some behind-the-scenes teasers about my weekly radio show, Between the Lines, on WMUK 102.1 FM. Maybe I can pick up some radio hints from Lori, one of the area's radio greats prior to her television show.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Between the Lines: Eating Wild

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: Lisa Rose

Lisa Rose

What others mow over, pull up, and toss into the weed pile, Lisa Rose adds to her dinner plate. Dandelions, cow parsnip, jewelweed and milkweed, honeysuckle, goldenrod, nettle, field garlic — these are just a very few of the plants Rose covers in her new book, Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach (Timber Press, 2015).

The guide lists and illustrates plants of interest to foragers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Ontario.
Rose leads foraging plant walks and classes on edible and medicinal wild plants in the greater Grand Rapids area. With a background in anthropology and a professional focus on community health, she's made foraging a part of her lifestyle since childhood.
“Foraging and wild plants have been a part of my entire life,” says Rose. “I grew up just a few miles from the 'Big Lake,' and I had a family that was outside all four seasons. My mom kept a garden; she canned and preserved what we got out of the garden and farmers markets. But we also had wild Concord grapes, and I knew where the wild apples were. My first pie in college was mulberry pie. I’ve always had a really close relationship to the land around me.”
Rose is also the author of Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution (History Press, 2013). Rose says it's her call to take up a shovel, dig into the earth, and create change in our food system.
"We need to learn how to be better stewards of our resources. Gardening is empowering people. The book is a call to action to the people of Grand Rapids to do more, to sit down at the table to talk about the economic impact on our community when we connect to place, when we grow our own food."
Rose says she's traveled a "nonlinear path" to get where she is today. She started as a music major at Grand Valley State University but discovered she wanted to ...

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.