Monday, December 5, 2011

Michigander Monday: Patricia Majher

I'm pleased to welcome Patricia Majher to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Patricia, please tell us a little about yourself.

Patricia:  I'm a product of Bay City Catholic schools, got my undergrad degree in journalism from Central Michigan, and started my career as an advertising copywriter in 1979. After 10 years or so, I got restless in the business and began to look for a new direction to take. While on a walking tour of Ypsilanti's historic homes, I heard about a program in historic preservation offered at Eastern Michigan. I took one class, and another, and ended up finishing a master's degree there. Then I kept on doing what I'd been doing until 2003, when I decided to dust off the diploma and see where it could get me.

Though a change in career meant I had to start over on the pay scale (all the way back to minimum wage!), I built up some great experience at Michigan museums big and small. In 2009, the combination of my writing background and my knowledge of state and local history got me the job of editing Michigan History--a dream position.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book, Ladies of the Lights.

Patricia:  The book had its genesis in my previous job, as assistant director/curator for the Michigan Women's Historical Center in Lansing. Among my responsibilities there was the development of new exhibits highlighting the historical achievements of Michigan women. An article on female lighthouse keepers sparked my interest, and eventually became the focus of my first exhibit. The exhibit's popularity surprised me, and made me think that the subject might make a good book. Thankfully, the University of Michigan Press agreed.

I spent another year on additional research into the subject, and saw Ladies of the Lights published in the fall of 2010. I've been on the road about once a month since, talking up the book and selling copies out of my trunk! (Sometimes literally.)

The book introduced me to many brave and interesting women who worked in the predominantly male occupation of lighthouse keeping. I grew especially fond of our last female keeper--Frances (Wuori Johnson) Marshall--and had the unique opportunity to interview her before her death. She was the last link in a chain of female keepers that stretched back to 1849 in the Great Lakes State. 

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Patricia:  I've explored the idea of a children's picture book, and was amazed to discover what a different publishing experience that would be. I didn't know I'd have to find my own illustrator!

Debbie:  I'm very thankful my publishers found mine - I wouldn't know where to start!  Patricia, how about upcoming appearances?

Patricia:  I'm taking it easy for the rest of the year. We'll see what 2012 brings.

Debbie:  Do you have favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

PatriciaNicola's in Ann Arbor is my local favorite. She's really weathered the storm of store closings--even outlasting Borders--with style. My favorite library would probably be the one I grew up with: Sage Library in Bay City. The elegant, chateauesque structure was so unlike anything in the surrounding neighborhood that it was like visiting another world.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Patricia:  I had the privilege of working for about a year on Mackinac Island. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the history of that place.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Patricia:  My husband and I like to make the rounds of summer festivals in Washtenaw County: the Manchester Chicken Broil, Dixboro Fair, Old St. Pat's Labor Day Picnic, and the Webster Fall Festival.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Patricia:  Two people who come immediately to mind are Jack and Dave Dempsey. I met Jack through Michigan History; he was a huge help in shaping the magazine's commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial. (He sits on the Michigan Historical Commission, is a leader in the state's effort to commemorate the Civil War, and has written his own book on Michigan's involvement in that conflict.) I crossed paths with his brother Dave Dempsey when I was still at the women's museum. Dave's book on Michigan's conservation history was my primary source for an exhibit on Michigan women in nature and the environment.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Patricia:  That you shouldn't judge the state solely by the southeast corner. I've met so many people (some of them natives) who've never ventured outside the metro area and yet claim to know all there is about Michigan!

Debbie:  Finally, one last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Patricia:  I'm lining up with the minority vote: I prefer "Michiganian." I find "Michigander" too slangy for my taste. Who wants to be compared to a male goose!

Debbie:  Michiganian it is!  We'll add you to tally.  Patricia, thank you so much for being here today for Michigander, er, Michiganian Monday!!

1 comment:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. Interesting how you changed your career. I may have to do that myself in the next few years so it was interesting to see about how you did it. And I didn't know about the women at lighthouses. Thanks for sharing.