Top-notch guests help National Writers Series flourish in Traverse City – Detroit Free Press
The National Writers Series in Traverse City is a labor of love and deep source of pride for Doug and Anne Stanton, who co-founded the nonprofit in 2009 as a way to get authors and audiences more engaged with each other.
The idea began when Doug was on tour with his second book, Ã¢Â€ÂœHorse Soldiers,Ã¢Â€Â in 2009 and realized how much the world had changed for authors like him Ã¢Â€Â” authors selling plenty of books but meeting fewer and fewer of their readers.
So he starting asking questions about what made the best events in each city he was in. He discovered food writers had the most fun events because they did something with the audience. Ã¢Â€ÂœSo I thought, this isnÃ¢Â€Â™t really about a reading or a lecture;Ã‚Â people are coming to actually commune.Ã¢Â€Â
He made a list and told Anne: Ã¢Â€ÂœWeÃ¢Â€Â™re going to make the best book event we can.Ã¢Â€Â With the help of DougÃ¢Â€Â™s parents, Anne, then a full-time reporter at the Northern Express, booked the City Opera House for a “Night at the Opera,” selling out the nearly 700-seat venue. Ã¢Â€ÂœIt was really fun and we gave the proceeds to a school,Ã¢Â€Â she says.
They did a second event two months later, featuring authors Elmore and Peter Leonard. Unbeknownst to Anne, Doug announced that night they were launching the series. The nonprofit was officially born when their third founder, Grant Parsons, signed on. And they havenÃ¢Â€Â™t looked back.
The year-round festival has produced about 110 events, averaging more than one each month. Top namesÃ‚Â have includedÃ‚Â Tom Brokaw, Lee Child, David Sedaris, Ann Patchett, Margaret Atwood and the writers of the AMC show Ã¢Â€ÂœMad Men.Ã¢Â€Â
The series is most notable for its lively onstage conversations between the authors and a well-matched guest host, usually an author. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s an exchange they liken to a summer dinner party where the discussion flows and the audience leans in and always gets a chance to engage. Ã¢Â€ÂœWeÃ¢Â€Â™re approaching it as theater onstage,Ã¢Â€Â says Doug, a regular host who takes the stage Sunday to discuss his new book, Ã¢Â€ÂœThe Odyssey of Echo Company,Ã¢Â€Â and other things with his editor, Colin Harrison, Scribner editor-in-chief.
What makes the series so special is the community involvement, including a local bakery that creates custom treats for each author with a play on their name. When famed chef Alice Waters visits Sept. 24, it will mark the finale of cityÃ¢Â€Â™s first annual Local Harvest Restaurant Week, duringÃ‚Â whichÃ‚Â restaurants offer locally sourced recipes or those made from aÃ‚Â WatersÃ‚Â cookbook. The local theaterÃ‚Â also is going to screen one of her favorite foodie films.
ItÃ¢Â€Â™s a good deal for authors, who often see the biggest audiences of their national tours, says Doug, who says they promote each event hard through local media and even book them for interviews on local radio to ensure good turnouts.
That coverage is very important, says David Ebershoff, author of “The Danish Girl” and former editor at Random House, whoÃ¢Â€Â™s been to the series twice. Ã¢Â€ÂœIf you can (reach)Ã‚Â local champions, people who talk about books Ã¢Â€Â¦ then it goes on social media.Ã¢Â€Â
As a place for authors to promote themselves, he says:Ã‚Â Ã¢Â€ÂœItÃ¢Â€Â™s one of the best in the country.Ã¢Â€Â He says it attracts authors who would probably never go to Traverse City without assurance that the event would be is a success.
Ebershoff was especially impressed with a chance to speak with high school students through the nonprofitÃ¢Â€Â™s Front Street Writers (FSW), which offers free, for-credit writing programs for juniors and seniors. Ã¢Â€ÂœThey were so engaged,Ã¢Â€Â he says. Ã¢Â€ÂœTheir questions about craft were really sophisticated.Ã¢Â€Â
Anais Mohr, now a sophomore at Champlain College in Vermont, spent two years with FSW, a rigorous program taught by publishing writers-in-residence. Ã¢Â€ÂœOne of the most valuable things I learned was how to workshop a story well,Ã¢Â€Â she says of the practice of sharing and critiquing each othersÃ¢Â€Â™ work. Ã¢Â€ÂœInstead of just saying this is not good, you learn why itÃ¢Â€Â™s not good.Ã¢Â€Â She says writers ahead of her now in college say they wish they had a program like that. Ã¢Â€ÂœI feel itÃ¢Â€Â™s prepared me in the way no other program could.Ã¢Â€Â
Anne, now full-time as executive director for the series, says the youth programs have been their fastest growing. Besides FSW, they offer a poetry workshop at Traverse Heights Elementary, which serves of at-risk kids, and Battle of the Books, in whichÃ‚Â kids team up to read a set of books then compete to show what they know.Ã‚Â To date, theyÃ¢Â€Â™ve given 21 students $42,000 in scholarships through writing competitions.
Meanwhile, the author events continue to flourish. Ã¢Â€ÂœI just know that when authors come here, they are flabbergasted and just so happy,Ã¢Â€Â says Anne, who addedÃ‚Â they usually have audiences of at least 200, or up to 670 if it sells out. Ã¢Â€ÂœYou put them on a big gorgeous stage in this beautiful opera house, and our audiences just love to laugh and engage and theyÃ¢Â€Â™re like rock stars for a night.Ã¢Â€Â
National Writers Series
Doug Stanton, with guest host Colin Harrison, 7 p.m. Sunday, City Opera House
Alice Waters, with guest hosts Jennifer Blakeslee and Eric Patterson, 7 p.m. Sept. 24,Ã‚Â CityÃ‚Â OperaÃ‚Â House
Terry McDonell, with guest hostÃ‚Â Doug Stanton, 7 p.m. Oct. 13, City Opera House
Dan Gerber, withÃ‚Â Ã‚Â guest host Michael Delp, 7 p.m. Oct. 27, Bluewater Hall
Murray Howe, with guest host John U. Bacon, 7 p.m. Nov. 12,Ã‚Â CityÃ‚Â OperaÃ‚Â House
Sebastian Junger, with guest Host Doug Stanton, 7 p.m. Nov. 15,Ã‚Â CityÃ‚Â OperaÃ‚Â House
Nikki Giovanni, with guest Host Fleda Brown, 7 p.m. Dec. 3, CityÃ‚Â OperaÃ‚Â House
Tickets can be purchased at the City Opera House box office, by phone at 231-941-8082 and online at www.cityoperahouse.org.
More info: www.nationalwritersseries.org.
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