Monday, September 23, 2013

Michigander Monday: Jean Alicia Elster

This post includes a giveaway!

(Thought I'd work that in right away.  Details at the end of the post.)

I am so very pleased to welcome Jean Alicia Elster back to Michigander Monday.  Jean stopped by here a few years back and she's returned to update us and to tell us about her brand new book, The Colored Car.

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

Jean:  A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit School of Law, I am formerly a practicing attorney and still licensed by the State Bar of Michigan if you can believe that. I’m now a professional writer and the founder and president of Write Word LLC. In addition to the youth lit books I’ve written, I’ve also edited several books including The Death Penalty and The Outbreak of the Civil War –I know, pretty heavy topics—published by Greenhaven Press. Some of the other titles I’ve edited are Building Up Zion’s Walls: Ministry for Empowering the African American Family and Playbook for Christian Manhood: 12 Key Plays for Black Teen Boys, published by Judson Press. In addition, my essays have appeared in national publications including Ms., World Vision, Black Child, and Christian Science Sentinel magazines. I was thrilled to collaborate in the preparation of the manuscript for Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialog with Today’s Youth, by civil rights icon Rosa Parks (Lee and Low, 1996), which was honored with four awards including the NAACP Image Award and the Teachers’ Choice Award.

I am frequently invited to speak at schools, libraries, and conferences throughout the state of Michigan. Last year, I was selected as the inaugural visiting author for The Lori Lutz Visiting Artist Series at The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

My husband and I live in Detroit, Michigan, and we are the very proud parents of two adult children.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your newest book, The Colored Car.

JeanThe Colored Car was released just last week by Wayne State University Press. The main character is a twelve-year-old African American girl named Patsy. During the summer of 1937, her entire worldview changes in unexpected ways after a train trip down south to Clarksville, Tennessee.

The Colored Car is based on real events in my maternal family’s history. My grandparents, Douglas and “May” Ford, came to Detroit in 1922 and my grandfather started a wood business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company. My grandmother was an integral part of that business—taking orders, keeping the books—but she also managed the household with canning, sewing and caring for their five children. My grandparents were also central to the stability of their neighborhood. This book explores their relationship within the community while their oldest daughter, Patsy, experiences events foreign to the world as she knows it.

(See these websites for more info on The Colored Car: and )

Debbie:  What about your other books?

Jean:  I am the author of the novel Who’s Jim Hines?—for ages 8 and older—and published by Wayne State University Press. It was released in August 2008 and is in its second printing. Also based upon my family’s history, the main character, twelve-year-old Doug Ford Jr., comes to terms with the racial realities of Detroit in 1935. Who’s Jim Hines? was selected as one of the Library of Michigan’s 2009 Michigan Notable Books. In addition, the Michigan Reading Association placed Who’s Jim Hines? on the Great Lakes Great Books Award 2009-2010 ballot for grades 4-5. Who’s Jim Hines? was also a ForeWord Magazine 2008 Book of the Year Award Finalist in the category of Juvenile Fiction.

I am also the author of the children’s book series Joe Joe in the City, which includes the books Just Call Me Joe Joe (2001), I Have A Dream, Too! (2002), I’ll Fly My Own Plane (2002), and I’ll Do the Right Thing (2003), all published by Judson Press. In each volume, ten-year-old Joe Joe learns some important life lessons when he reads about heroes from African American history.  I was awarded the 2002 Governors’ Emerging Artist Award by ArtServe Michigan in recognition of the series and in 2004, I’ll Do the Right Thing received the Atlanta Daily World Choice Award in the category of children’s books.

(See my website  for more info on these books.)

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jean:  I’d be thrilled to see some of your readers at these events—

Wayne State University Press’ 10th Annual Celebration of Books, Thursday September 26, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Metropolitan United Methodist Church Library, Sunday October 6, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Leon & Lulu’s annual Books & Authors event, Sunday October 27, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Novi Public Library, Monday January 20, 7 p.m.

Lyon Township Public Library, Saturday February 8, 2 p.m.

(See my continually updated calendar for more events at )

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Jean:  My favorite bookstore in the lower peninsula is The Book Beat in Oak Park. They deserve hearty congratulations for celebrating their 30th anniversary in business last year! My favorite bookstore in the upper peninsula is Snowbound Books in Marquette. It’s our first stop when hubby and I vacation near the shores of Lake Superior each summer.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jean:  Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Greenway is my new favorite place. Formerly a below street level railroad line, it starts just south of the Eastern Market and ends in Milliken State Park at the Detroit River. It’s a marvelous mile-long path past some of the best examples of urban graffiti you’re see anywhere as well as lush trees and wildflower patches. Walk, bike, jog, rollerblade—anyway you choose to enjoy it, you’ll want to return again and again!

Debbie:  What do you do when you’re not writing books?

Jean:  I’m a grant writer for a nonprofit agency, based in Detroit, that provides shelter for homeless youth and young adults. I like to walk and hike with my husband in Michigan’s beautiful parks. We also visit museums and galleries as we travel throughout the state. I’ve been known to go on knitting binges. And, doing my part to keep the Ford family tradition alive, I have made one quilt.

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

Jean:  I recommend you stop and chat with any of the farmers and vendors at Detroit’s Eastern Market. I’ve been buying locally grown fruits and veggies from some of these folks for years and years. They arrive each Saturday morning from all parts of the state, near and far, and have some amazing food facts to share as well as being super nice folks.

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

Jean:  Michigan is home to some of the finest university presses in the country. And, of course, I place my publisher—Wayne State University Press—at the top of the list!

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

Jean:  Michiganians rule!!

Debbie:  Jean, we'll add you to the Michiganian column.  Thank you so much for being here today for Michigander, I mean, Michiganian Monday!

To be entered for a chance to win a copy of Jean Alicia Elster's book The Colored Car, leave a comment below or drop me an email at deborah[at]


Angie Karcher said...

I enjoyed this interview and now want to visit Michigan! I'm intrigued about The Colored Car and would love to read it soon!

Unknown said...

Great interview...I will be reading her bookds! thank you Deb. Laurie

Unknown said...

Great interview! I will be reading Ms. Elster's books. Laurie

Unknown said...

Great interview...I will be reading her bookds! thank you Deb. Laurie

Kristin Lenz said...

Very nice interview. I didn't know Jean used to work as a lawyer and currently as a grant writer. Of course I know about Eastern market, but I didn't know about the Dequindre Cut Greenway.