The Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea isn't your average author reading. It's seven author mini-readings rolled into one day.
"It's sort of a Whitman's sampler, if you will," says poet and Literary Walk co-founder M.L. Liebler. "It's not as if you're going to a full reading at each spot because that would be longer than a Grateful Dead concert. We don't do that."
The free event returns on Saturday for its seventh year, featuring seven author presentations at locations across downtown Chelsea. Attendees may follow the entire walk through all presentations — strolling between venues including the Chelsea Depot, Chelsea Alehouse and Clocktower Commons — or choose individual readings.
"When we originally thought of this concept, we wanted to kind of change the lens with which people tend to look at poetry events at libraries or poetry events at bookstores," says Bill Harmer, event co-founder and director of the Chelsea District Library, which presents the event. "Instead of it being this stuffy, academic atmosphere, we really wanted to bring it out of that kind of a context."
The event is intimate, with each presentation drawing a crowd of about 100. The readings are kept intentionally short at about 15-20 minutes to emphasize discussion and dialogue between authors and audience. The range of authors is broad. Harmer has difficulty picking a favorite out of this year's seven presenters.
"What I like about it is literally the diversity of the offering," he says.
Most of the featured authors have a Metro Detroit connection of some sort. Ann Arborite Davy Rothbart, creator of "Found" magazine, will read from his new essay collection "My Heart Is An Idiot." Ferndale resident Josh Malerman will bring in a live band and blindfold his audience for a reading from his horror novel "Bird Box."
First-time author Angela Flournoy's book "The Turner House" deals explicitly with Detroit as setting and subject matter. Flournoy is based in Southern California, but has visited Detroit frequently throughout her life to visit her father's family. She says "The Turner House" chronicles changes in a family and their neighborhood over 50 years in the same house on Detroit's east side.
"I'm interested in houses and homes, and what it means to own a home," Flournoy says. "We do all this work for our homes. We saw in 2008, when the book is set, a lot of people lost their homes all over the country. What does that mean as far as your identity and who you're working for, if not for this home?"
The crown jewel of this year's lineup is poet Edward Hirsch, a MacArthur fellow and former Detroit resident. Liebler originally connected with Hirsch when they taught at Wayne State University over three decades ago.
"You may not have heard of him because the poetry world is different from the rock star world," Liebler says. "But Ed Hirsch essentially, in the poetry world, is a rock star."
Harmer says attendance for the walk has grown steadily each year. This year's event will feature more sizable venues in anticipation of larger crowds for big names like Hirsch. Harmer attributes the event's success to its fun and unconventional approach to literature.
"It just adds a bit of a twist on it," he says. "Instead of coming to see it at a bookstore or at the library or in a university, you're literally coming to these downtown businesses to see a reading and then you move on to the next one ... It's just a great day."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Midwest Literary Walk
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
All around Chelsea
All events are free
(734) 475-8732 ext. 217
11 a.m. Saturday
320 N. Main, Chelsea
1:30 p.m. Saturday
125 Jackson, Chelsea
2:30 p.m. Saturday
3:30 p.m. Saturday
4:30 p.m. Saturday
320 N. Main, Chelsea
5:30 p.m. Saturday
420 N. Main, Suite 100, Chelsea