I'm pleased to welcome Russell Brakefield to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Russell, please tell us a little about yourself.
Russell: I grew up on the West Side of the state, near Grand Rapids. I studied poetry and world literature at Central Michigan University as an undergraduate. I received an MFA in poetry in 2011 from Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program and taught at Michigan for many years. I write poetry and teach college writing courses. Sometimes I sell books. Sometimes I play the banjo. I like reading, hiking, biking, skiing, live music, and mopeds. I've live in Michigan almost my entire life, though I'm in Denver right now teaching at the University of Denver.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your forthcoming book.
Russell: My first collection of poetry Field Recordings is due out in March from Wayne State University Press as part of their Made in Michigan Series. Field Recordings uses American folk music as a lens to investigate themes of origin, family, art, and masculinity. The book is anchored by a long poem that tracks the famous ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax on his 1938 journey through Michigan collecting music for the Library of Congress. So the book is about Michigan history, landscape, and music, but it is also about how those things have affected my own voice and personal history. In addition to that, I was recently included in a few anthologies of writing; one about Isle Royale and one about the Upper Peninsula. I have new poems coming out this year including work in Bomb, The Literary Review, The Southeast Review, and Shallow Ends.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Russell: I'm working on several projects right now, but mostly I've been excited just to sit down and write poems about whatever digs its hooks into my brain on that day. I loved working to finish a book, but being done is also very liberating for my writing process. I am working on a book of poems about the national parks, which may or may not ever see the light of day. For me, writing and researching about the national parks has simply been a way to feel proactive in a time of imminent environmental disaster.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Russell: I'm doing quite a few readings to promote the new book in the spring. I'll be at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Tampa in March. I'll also be launching my book in Michigan in April. I'm reading at Third Man Books in Detroit on April 5th, Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor on April 6th, and I'll be in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo after that. I'm also doing several readings in Colorado at the end of April. I play banjo in an acoustic music project called winter/sessions as well, and we have a few shows scattered throughout the spring. I have information about readings and other events at my website russellbrakefield.com.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Russell: I worked for three years at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, and it is my favorite bookstore. The booksellers there (past and present) are like family to me. It also happens to be objectively the best bookstore in the country, with an amazing curated selection of books, great coffee, and really incredible events. I'm looking forward to launching my book there in the spring. I'll also give a shout out to the Yankee Clipper Branch Library in Grand Rapids, where my mom used to bring me as a kid. Back then I think I was mostly interested in King Arthur and Mad Magazine, but it was a formative place for me nonetheless.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Russell: There is a secret beach in Northern Michigan that I love. I can't tell you where it is, but take my word that it is breathtaking. I also love the U.P, especially the Pictured Rocks area, Copper Harbor, and Isle Royale.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Russell: The Harvest Gathering, put on annually in Lake City by the Earthwork Music Collective, has been an important event for me for many years. My favorite Michigan band (I think we can still claim them) is Greensky Bluegrass. They host a weekend at Bells Beer Garden in June and a festival in Northern Michigan each summer, both of which are incredibly inspirational events, and are a sort of family reunions for me. Also an important Michigan event for me, the first snow that is so big it shuts down traffic so you can walk down the middle of the empty streets at night.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Russell: Oh there are so many. Poets. Musicians. Plus too many other amazing farmers, artists, builders, teachers, etc. to name here. A few Michigan writers that really helped me along: Keith Taylor, Raymond McDaniell, Laura Kasischke, Robert Fanning. I'll plug the Earthwork Music collective again, especially Seth Bernard and my good friend Mark Lavengood, two musicians who are fighting the good fight.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Russell: It is as cold as you think it is, but the summers make it all worth it. The contrasts in the seasons is a good metaphor for many aspects of what makes this state what it is and also a good test in how to practice gratitude and perseverance.
Debbie: Gratitude and perseverance - that would be a great state motto! 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?
Russell: Michigander is of course the only right answer to this question.
Debbie: Agreed! (Oops - so much for my impartial tallying... :) We shall add you to the Michigander column. Thank you for joining us today for Michigander Monday!