Monday, September 26, 2011

Michigander Monday: Jerry Dennis

I'm very pleased to welcome Jerry Dennis to Michigander Monday!  His newest book, The Windward Shore, is just out this month and already a bestseller!

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

Jerry:  Dangerous question! Whenever I do journalism, that’s the first question I ask the people I interview, because I know that they will 1) tell a LOT about themselves, and 2) tell stuff they didn’t intend to tell. But here goes: I’m a full-time writer (have been since 1986) because I know that if I had another job, even a few hours a week of honest manual labor for minimum wage, I’d be too lazy, self-indulgent, exhausted, resentful, and distracted to write much of anything. I need to feel that time is expanding endlessly around me so that when I enter my office in the stone hut in the morning and know that I have all day ahead with no chance of being interrupted, I might be able to silence the monkey chatter in my head and sink into the work. Happily married for many, many years to my best friend. Proud father of extraordinary sons, Aaron and Nick. Outdoorsman, reader, animal lover, former athlete turned sometimes ardent tv sports fan (baseball, hockey, football. And now, women’s soccer!).

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Jerry:  Ten published, plus the new book just out. Subjects of books are like rooms in the mansion of the author’s life, each packed with overflowing boxes, swollen file cabinets, photos and art on the walls, miscellaneous oddities junk, all theme-based. In my case, the themes have been the sense of wonder and the complexity of life, canoeing, camping, fishing, wildlife, growing up on the water and in the woods of rural northern Michigan, natural phenomena of the sky, Leelanau County, the Great Lakes.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

JerryThe Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes is now out from the University of Michigan Press. It will be followed by a collection of essays about animals, their behavior, and our relationships with them, with stunning illustrations by Glenn Wolff. Also in progress: a sprawling inquiry into the idea of abundance in life. And a collection of short stories which I have been working on for two decades and have appeared in literary magazines at the break-neck pace of one every two years. And another collection of essays on nature.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jerry:  Many this fall. See my website ( or the University of Michigan Press for the schedule.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? Favorite Michigan library?

Jerry:  I’m a hometown boy: favorite bookstore is Horizon Books in Traverse City. Vic and his staff embraced me when I was a punk first-time writer entering their store in 1986 with the news that my guidebook to canoeing in Michigan was about to be published, and they’ve embraced me and every one of my books ever since. Favorite library is Traverse Area District Library (the brilliant successor to the richly atmospheric Carnegie Library on Sixth Street where I composed some of my early work and where my young sons fell in love with books). A close second is Peninsula Community Library down the road from my house, which is staffed by lovely friends and fellow book-lovers.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jerry:  An embarrassment of riches! I’m prejudiced, of course, but I can never resist raving about northwest Lower Peninsula — the Lake Michigan shoreline and the dunes, the rivers and creeks, the rolling wooded hills, the swamps and bogs, the abandoned farmsteads turned wildflower meadows. When Gail and I need to get away we love the U.P., especially the Whitefish Point area and the Keweenaw Peninsula.

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

Jerry:  First snowfall in November, when the landscape becomes monochromatic overnight. First blizzard. First scent of spring (usually, very faintly, in January). Maple syrup time in March. Morel mushrooms late April through May. Traditional trout opener last Saturday in April. Hawk migration at Whitefish Point in early May. Arrival of the neotropical songbirds in mid- to late-May. Bird camp in the U.P. in October with ten fellow writers (25 years and counting).

Debbie:  What a great range of Michigan events and happenings!  How about a  few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

JerryI have collaborated with three artists who continually inspire and delight me. They are northern-Michiganders by choice, but are known around the world:

-- artist/musician Glenn Wolff ( whose illustrations have enriched my books immeasurably and whose fine-art enriches the world.

-- Ken Scott (, whose unique vision and tireless work ethic have rewarded us with iconic images of Leelanau County that shatter all the easy, tourist-bureau snapshots.

-- Chad Pastotnik ( whose astonishing letterpress creations may help ensure that the book as an object of art survives the digital age.

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

Jerry:  That it’s an astonishingly rich and diverse place and there’s much more to it than you suspect.

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

Jerry:  I’m definitely a Michigander.

Debbie:  Jerry, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you, so much, for being with us today.

To learn more about Jerry and his books, visit his website and his blog.  And be sure to check his appearances list, as there's a good chance he'll be in a bookstore or library near you this fall!

1 comment:

Alexander said...

Interesting interview! I really enjoy it!