What a pleasure to have Shirley Neitzel here for Michigander Monday! I have long admired Shirley, a writer who embodies professionalism and generosity. Welcome!
Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.
Shirley: From the time I was very young, I loved to read and I loved to write, so it's no surprise I studied to be an elementary teacher. When I taught in the Caledonia Schools, I modeled writing with my students, as I had been encouraged to do when taking a class patterned after the National Writing Project. I am a founding member of Peninsula Writers, a professional organization that grew out of that class. We encourage excellence in writing and the teaching of writing.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Shirley: One of the stories I wrote and read to my students was about a child with a stuck zipper. I also shared it with my teacher/writer friends who encouraged me to "do something with it," a euphemism meaning "send it to a publisher." I was timid to do that, but eventually did, and was ecstatic when the editor accepted it. That story became my first picture book, The Jacket I Wear in the Snow. It's a cumulative rhyme which Nancy Winslow Parker illustrated as a rebus with little pictures taking the place of key words. That was back in 1989, and I'm delighted to say the book is still in print. In fact I recently learned an educational publisher has chosen to translate it into Spanish for teachers to use as part of their curriculum.
The first book was followed by another, The Dress I'll Wear to the Party. When the editor accepted a third, she referred to them as a series...so I was encouraged to send more. The series has grown to nine: The Bag I'm Taking to Grandma's, We're Making Breakfast for Mother, The House I'll Build for the Wrens, I'm Not Feeling Well Today, Our Class Took a Trip to the Zoo, and Who Will I Be? A Halloween Rebus. Not all of these have enjoyed the longevity of the first book. It's sad to see a book go out of print.
I also have a book of retold Ojibwa legends, From the Land of the White Birch, a book about Core Democratic Values, Liberty and Justice for All, and two religious books, The Ark That Noah Built, and Friends of Jesus.
Debbie: Do you have new books and projects on the horizon?
Shirley: Not everything I write becomes a book. Some pieces are magazine stories. Much of what I write is for children, but I also contribute to women's and general interest magazines. Even when I think a piece is a book, it's not a book until an editor says it's a book:=)
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Shirley: This doesn't qualify as an appearance, but I'd like to share that the Michigan Reading Association selected me for the 2009 MRA Gwen Frostic Award. The award "honors an author or illustrator who has greatly influenced literacy in Michigan."
It's humbling to be chosen for this award. It encourages me to continue to go to schools as visiting author, do workshops for students and teachers, and of course, write--all things I enjoy. Folks interested in contacting me for a speaking event can find contact information at my website http://www.shirleyneitzel.com/.
Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?
Shirley: My home is on the left bank of the Thornapple River. From my desk, or most any place in my house, I see the water and beyond it a tree-covered hill where turkeys roost and deer forage for acorns. A muskrat burrows among the roots and rocks on my bank and beaver have set up housekeeping near the opposite shore. Wild iris, anemone, buttercups, trout lily, and asters greet me in their seasons. I love to travel, but with this waiting for me, I'm always happy to arrive back home.
Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?
Shirley: On the 50th anniversary of the Mackinac Bridge, my daughter, granddaughter and I participated in the annual five-mile Labor Day Bridge Walk. I was concerned my fear of heights would hinder me, maybe make me crawl across on my hands and knees, but the enthusiasm of fellow walkers, and the promise of fudge at the finish line, spurred me on, upright the entire way.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Shirley: As an introvert, everyone is more interesting than I am. If you talk to the children next door, the clerk behind the register at the drugstore, or the fisherman at the dock (but keep your voice low so as not to scare the fish) you'll meet some of the most interesting people in our friendly state.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?
Shirley: Our state stone, the Petoskey stone, is actually a coral from the time when the area was a large inland sea, and we have huge salt deposits in our soil, particularly under the city of Detroit. Perhaps you could say we're well-seasoned. (I heard you groan.)
Debbie: Yes, but the groan is the universal sound of pun-appreciation!
Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?
Shirley: Well, your previous question gives away your leaning, and I have to agree. I'm a Michigander. For the first quarter of my life I was a Yooper, but I've lived below the bridge long enough that I am now a Troll.
Debbie: Shirley, it's been a true pleasure to have you here today.
And hearty congratulations to you on the MRA Gwen Frostic Award. It's a very well deserved honor, for a wonderful Michigander!