Debbie: Bruce, please tell us a little about yourself.
Bruce: Though I’ve now lived in Michigan for nearly twenty-two years, my family (and imagination) has deep roots in Iowa. I am reminded of this affinity to flat land and prairie when I travel the tree-lined roads near Kalamazoo. I can feel a bit closed in at times! From my home town of Storm Lake, I could drive five minutes, pull onto a gravel road, and see little but small farm groves and distant water towers poking the horizon. Nothing but field and sky—or so it seems.
Still, I am a proud Kalamazoon—pronounced Kalamazoo-en!—having taught in the English Department at Kalamazoo College now for over two decades. Among other things, the city is known for The Promise that, depending upon the number of years a student attends the city’s public schools, provides partial or full tuition to any state university. (My daughter went to the University of Michigan as a result of this program.) The city and county also has rich resources for people on the autism spectrum, a fact important to my family after our son was diagnosed in 1995.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Bruce: I feel the need to claim both my work as a scholar in American literature and a writer of creative nonfiction! In addition to books focusing on abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, I published Poe, Fuller, and the Mesmeric Arts: Transition States in the American Renaissance, research that investigated Edgar Allan Poe’s and Margaret Fuller’s fascination with early notions of the unconscious in their fiction and nonfiction.
More recently, I have turned to creative nonfiction. In 2011, I co-edited Siblings and Autism: Stories Spanning Generations and Cultures with Debra Cumberland. And, this past November, my memoir An Archaeology of Yearning was released by Etruscan Press. It is this book that I have been traveling with this winter and spring. As I have noted in publicity material, the memoir explores my family’s relationship with my son. As the absence of the word “autism” in the title suggests, however, I hope to have captured something more expansive through this archaeological dig. That is, the book reflects upon the nature of human connection and illuminates how stories and storytelling keep that connection alive.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Bruce: I have been captivated by the evolution of my small home town of ten thousand in Iowa. Almost entirely white in my growing up years (early 1960s to mid-1980s), residents of color currently make up nearly half the population. This transformation intrigues me. As you might imagine, it is a community whose members commit to work, to worship, and to the schools with different pasts. When I drive along Lakeshore Drive, I observe Vietnamese families picnicking; at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church where I was confirmed, announcements for passers-by are in Spanish and English. I am not sure whether I will compose a book as yet, but I feel the need to write my way into this present in light of my past.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Bruce: I am between a run of spring events and scheduling summer and fall ones. Looking farther ahead, I will be doing a talk/book signing in association with the Developmental Disabilities Institute at Wayne State University on October 30—for those Michiganders in the Detroit area who may be interested! I will be posting other events as they get scheduled on my website: http://blogs.kzoo.edu/bmills/ .
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? A favorite Michigan library?
Bruce: In Kalamazoo, we have three independent bookstores that support a vibrant writing community: The Bookbug, Kazoo Books, and Michigan News Agency. I admire the owners who invest their heart, soul, and money in these enterprises: Joanna Parzakonis and Derek Moliter (Bookbug), Gloria Tiller (Kazoo Books), and Dean Hauk (Michigan News Agency). The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor (and its owners Hilary Lowe and Mike Gustafson) also deserves a shout out for establishing a downtown bookstore after the departure of Borders.
Regarding Michigan libraries, let me note two award-winning ones. Kalamazoo Public Library, recipient of the Library of the Year Award in 2002, and the Chelsea District Library which was honored as the Best Small Library in 2008. These places and spaces really elevate the community through their engaged staff, resources, and support for readings (and authors!).
And I cannot forget the archives at Kalamazoo College and the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor. During this past year, I have spent time in both.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Bruce: By now, you have certainly heard of my love of Kalamazoo. In the summer, when my wife and I are able, we enjoy the many fests: Island, Blues, and the Rib Fest. The Rib Fest is especially important to us since it supports Community Advocates and its mission of serving those with physical and developmental disabilities.
We have also loved getting away to South Haven in the summer. We like the beach and always try to make it to their blueberry festival in early August.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Bruce: In mid-May, I enjoyed my first Zoo-de-Mack Bike Bash and thoroughly enjoyed the fifty-one mile ride with friends and the post-event camaraderie. The bike ride starts at Boyne Highlands Resort and ends at Mackinac City. My daughter, Sarah, talked me into the event. (The ride was an act of faith given that I had only covered 25 miles in any single outing in the weeks prior to the trip.) While I only endured the final 8-10 miles by carrying on a lively conversation with myself, I did cross the finish line without collapsing. Even while gasping for oxygen along the way at times, I enjoyed the scenic roads, especially those that offered a glimpse of Lake Michigan.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Bruce: Perhaps the best way I can respond to this question is by encouraging readers to click the following link about the writing community in Kalamazoo:
The work coming out of this area is quite stunning.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Bruce: Fruit. Farmer’s Markets. And, of course, plenty of camping and outdoor opportunities, especially from the knuckles to fingertips of the Michigan mitten.
Here is a fun fact. You could drive from Kalamazoo to New York in about the same time it takes to travel from the city to the far end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I am not sure what this means—except, perhaps, that the state has much for people to explore.
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?
Bruce: I have already tipped my hat on this one in an earlier response. Michigander.
Debbie: Bruce, we'll add you to the Michigander column! Thank you so much for being here today for Michigander Monday!