Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Club of Detroit

We participated in Michigan in Perspective Local History Conference in Detroit.  Conference sessions focused on many aspects of southeastern Michigan history including oral history and historical societies. BCD member, Suzanne Bilek, author of Great Female Artists of Detroit, spoke about artists in Detroit, such as Patricia Hill Burnett, Gilda Snowden, and Frida Kahlo

Book cover by Suzanne Bilek, BCD member.

Bilek offers a new perspective of Detroit by describing the ways female artists built their international careers. Burnett a community leader, feminist trailblazer, and accomplished artist, paints portraits including Indira Ghandi, Joyce Carol Oates, and Martha Griffiths. Snowden, professor at College for Creative Studies, explores the complexities of nature and documents her own history. She has pieces in the Detroit Institute of Arts and many corporate collections. Kahlo painted her first pieces in Detroit including “My Birth” now owned by pop star Madonna.

In a joint meeting with the Detroit Drunken Historical Society, we enjoyed a presentation by Melba Joyce Boyd and M. L. Liebler on the unique, daring, and diverse world of Motor City poetry and literature over the past century. From the 1940s to the 1960s Detroit’s industrial wealth embellished the city’s educational and cultural institutions. Combined with a great migration of working class people, poetry in Detroit flourished. Independent poetry presses emerged including Broadside Press, Lotus Press, and the Alternative Press. Boyd, author and editor of several publications including Wrestling with the Muse, and Liebler, Wayne State faculty member and author of several poetry books including Wide Awake in Someone Else’s Dream, discussed key figures in Detroit’s modern literary history, such as Philip Levine, Robert Hayden, Dudley Randall, and Naomi Long Madgett.

Since most BCD members collect or sell books, we had the good fortune of having Gene Alloway share impressions from a workshop given by Foyles Charing Cross. Foyles is a renowned independent bookstore in the United Kingdom and has earned several Bookseller Industry Awards. Alloway, owner of Motte and Bailey Booksellers in Ann Arbor, dreamed to study English bookstore philosophies. After a tense waitlist period, Alloway ventured across the pond to spend two weeks of doing nothing but "booking." A dream come true!

Alloway’s BCD talk, An American Bookseller in London: Future of Bookshops on Two Continents, summarized ways to make bookshops vibrant. Workshop participants brainstormed ideas.  Alloway visited bookstores. Best practices include curated collections, attractive spaces, events, sections given to certain publishers or types of books, and staff with customer insights. Alloway’s list of best stores includes Slightly Foxed, London Review Bookshop, and Peter Ellis.

Teresa K. Irish, author of A Thousand Letters Home, One WWII Soldiers Story of War, Love, and Life, shared highlights of her journey to review over 1000 letters written by her father and stored over 60 years in the family attic. When her dad died in 2006, Irish opened the trunk entered the inspirational and life-affirming story of her father. A tender, emotional moment came when Irish had BCD members recall and sing a love song popular in the WWII era.

“Bud” Irish letter describing going home.

For the remainder of the year, we look forward to a letterpress demonstration at Signal Return where we will make a print to take home and a talk about Shaping the Future from the perspective of H.G. Wells and Henry Ford. Visit The Book Club of Detroit for more information or to join.