I'm pleased to welcome Phillip Sterling to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Phillip, please tell us a little about yourself.
Phillip: I was born in Pontiac but spent the majority of my formative years in and around the Traverse City area (Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse Counties). After graduation from TCHS, I went “away” for college and other educational and occupational opportunities (Nebraska, Kentucky, Ohio, New York). Then, by quirk, returned to Michigan permanently in 1987 to take assume a professorship at Ferris State, from where I will retire next year. I am the father of five: my four older children, raised in Big Rapids, are now successfully poised in various professions and happy domestic relationships. My youngest, Graham, is going-on seven years old. Graham is the child of a brief and somewhat unsettling second marriage; joint custody of Graham is the primary reason why I live where I currently do (Ada) and why I spend nearly one-half of my time playing with Legos, reading, baking cookies, going to the zoo, eating popsicles, and training to be a ninja.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Phillip: My first book of poetry, Mutual Shores, was published by New Issues in 2000. It was released just before my 50th birthday. I then published three “series” of poems in chapbook form: Significant Others (Main Street Rag 2005), Quatrains (Pudding House 2006), and Abeyance (winner of the Frank Cat Press chapbook award 2007). My first collection of short fiction, titled In Which Brief Stories Are Told, was published in 2011 by Wayne State University Press. I have also edited an anthology of stories, poems, and essays by former Fulbrighters, Imported Breads: Literature of Cultural Exchange, as I was twice the recipient of a Fulbright award myself and am duly aware of how my writing has been informed by those foreign experiences.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Phillip: Like every other poet in the United States, I am circulating a couple manuscripts that continue to find themselves in the finalist or semi-finalist categories of book competitions. I’m also working on a second story collection--what my friends refer to as the “darker” stories. And compiling, revising, and adding to thirty years of essays and nonfiction to see if they will work as a book. Up until recently, my family commitments and teaching obligations have placed serious time-constraints on these projects--that, and I’m a slow, methodical writer. I’m hoping to apply a certain amount of discipline to my “retirement” in order to help move some of these projects along.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Phillip: Great Lakes Book and Supply in Big Rapids is a godsend, not only to the Ferris State University community but to several counties of literary wilderness between Grand Rapids and Traverse City. Lynn Anderson, the manager, is committed to providing access to visiting writers and contemporary literature. Great Lakes offers an extensive collection of contemporary Michigan literature. My other favorite bookstore, Literary Life in Grand Rapids, alas!, recently closed its doors. As for libraries, a person can’t go wrong with any of the branches of the Kent District Library. My local branch, Cascade, is a good example: the staff and Friends of the Library there support an incredible number of visiting authors, book clubs, used book sales, activities for different age groups, DVDs . . . And the main branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library hosts several local author events, and has a massive collection of Michigan historical media.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Phillip: I’m pretty fond of Leelanau County, though probably more so the memory of it now. There was a wonderful little, somewhat-isolated park on the west side of the strip of little finger above Northport that I used to visit quite often back in the day . . . I’m not sure it’s still there. And much of Benzie County as well. There was a remote public access we called “Otter Creek” that I think is now a boat-launch site in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. That whole stretch of Lake Michigan coast, in fact, from Ludington to Leland. Many fond memories. The landscape and locales from there crop up quite regularly in my writing.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Phillip: I try not to miss Poetry Night, which is part of Grand Valley State University’s Annual Arts Festival in the fall. And for a number of years, I’ve been a regular volunteer--the primary chef(?)--at the annual chicken barbeque/Friends of the Community Library fundraiser hosted by the Sawmill Saloon in Big Rapids.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Phillip: The problem with dropping names is that I’m likely to actually “drop” (as in lose) some. But a quick shortlist would include authors or literary advocates of one sort or another: Bonnie Jo Campbell, M.L. Liebler, Jack Ridl, Terry Blackhawk, Anne Marie Oomen, Jack Driscoll, Ron Riekki (in the U.P.), George Dila (Ludington Visiting Writers), Foster Neill (The Michigan Poet), Zachary Tomaszewski (watch out for this young man!). And Jane Wheeler is not only a fun (though little-known) poet but a terrific horsewoman as well.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Phillip: Michigan has a wealth of literary talent that competes favorably with the East and West Coast establishments. And, yes, we are part of the Midwest . . . in that sense, it IS a true third coast, or fourth, or fifth (depending on whether one favors Lake Michigan, or Superior, or Huron).
Debbie: 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"?
Phillip: Despite its goosey gender-bias, I’ve always said Michigander. (What’s a Michiganian anyway? And is it pronounced with a long or short a?)
Debbie: I just pronounce it Michigander. Phillip, thank you very much for joining us today!