Author Birthdays: Miller, Toomer, Sedaris

December 26th marks the birthday of authors Henry Miller, Jean Toomer, and David Sedaris.

Henry Miller was an American writer whose book Tropic of Cancer was tried as "obscene" in the U.S. Supreme Court; the book was found to be a work of literature, and was then published.

Almost all of Miller's works are at least semi-autobiographical. Among such "fictional" novels are the three books of the series The Rosy Crucifixion: Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus. The first discusses his divorce and remarriage, the second describes his second marriage and struggle to find himself, and the third focuses on his problems with his second wife and her lover.

Jean Toomer was an American writer and figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and grandson of the first African-American governor of a U.S. state. His novel Cane, a short story cycle, describes the origins of African-Americans in the United States; the most well-known of the stories within the novel is called "Harvest Song".

While he is most well known for Cane, Toomer also wrote many essays on race relations, as well as literary criticisms of other authors--many of these are collected in one volume.

David Sedaris is an American writer and humorist, and brother to actress and fellow author Amy Sedaris, with whom he has written plays under the name "The Talent Family".

Sedaris mostly writes short, autobiographical stories, almost always funny. My personal favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which discusses very important and serious subjects like menu options and mistaken identity. His latest, however, called Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, is animal-related, and looks to be pretty hilarious itself.

Pulitzer-Winning Play Adapted for the Silver Screen

The recently released film For Colored Girls is based on the 1975 Pulitzer-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, long considered to be a landmark piece in African American literature.

Billed as "a theatrical celebration, in verse and prose, of being female and black, it incorporates the triumphs, joys, griefs, and losses of black women in America".

The original text is in the form for a "choreopoem" - consisting of a series of 20 poems. It is performed by a cast of seven women characters, each of whom is known only by a color. Written, directed and produced by Tyler Perry, the film features Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, among others.

Check out the movie reviews by New York Times and Variety.

Ann Arbor Blues in Black & White

Lightnin' Hopkins, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Albert King, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Junior Wells--that's the short list. The Ann Arbor blues festivals of 1969 and 1970 saw one of the most astonishing lineups of musical artists of any genre at any time (including the more famed Woodstock festival of 1969).

"Were you there?" was the question many blues fans were asking each another in 1969. But they didn't mean Woodstock, they meant Ann Arbor.

Michael and Stanley and thousands of others were here in Ann Arbor to witness and facilitate the spread of electric city blues as it made its way from the small Chitlin' Circuit to an enthusiastic larger audience hungry for this new, powerful roots-inspired American "folk" music.

Join us Thursday, August 19, 7-9 p.m. as Michael Erlewine, chronicler of popular music and founder of the largest music review database in the world, All-Music Guide, discusses Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals, with stunning photographs by Stanley Livingston. A book signing, with books for sale, will follow the talk.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

In February 1960 four young men stood up for justice by sitting at a segregated lunch counter. This simple act of defiance helped moved America toward integration. Andrea Davis Pinkney powerful prose illuminate the courage and fortitude of the Greensboro Four.

Visit the Underground Railroad in Michigan

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A new book, The Underground Railroad in Michigan, by Ann Arbor's Carol Mull, is a comprehensive exploration of abolitionism and the network of escape from slavery in our state. The book includes both an overview of national events and vivid first-person accounts taken from The Signal of Liberty, an 1840s-era abolitionist newspaper published in Ann Arbor, to explore Michigan's role in the antislavery movement. The Signal of Liberty is available for full-text searching and browsing at: http://signalofliberty.aadl.org/.

For an overview of Ann Arbor's role in the Underground Railroad, you can listen to our podcast with Carol from last year or read Grace Shackman's article from the Ann Arbor Observer. You can also take your own walking tour: Start with this plaque on the Broadway Bridge, then make your way to lower Broadway to the former site where the Signal of Liberty was published (across the street from the Anson Brown Building, which today houses the St. Vincent de Paul store), followed by a brief stroll to 1425 Pontiac Trail for a glimpse of Reverend Guy Beckley's home.

Happy Birthday Miles Davis!

As I begin this blog, I am faced with the reality that a proper tribute to Miles Davis is quite a daunting task. To say he was a famous jazz musician is a bit of an understatement. "Throughout a professional career lasting 50 years, Miles Davis played the trumpet in a lyrical, introspective, and melodic style, often employing a stemless Harmon mute to make his sound more personal and intimate. But if his approach to his instrument was constant, his approach to jazz was dazzlingly protean. To examine his career is to examine the history of jazz from the mid-'40s to the early '90s, since he was in the thick of almost every important innovation and stylistic development in the music during that period, and he often led the way in those changes, both with his own performances and recordings and by choosing sidemen and collaborators who forged new directions. It can even be argued that jazz stopped evolving when Davis wasn't there to push it forward. - Allmusic.com"
Do yourself a favor and check out some of his incredible music from the AADL or watch one of our DVDs to see him in action. Try Kind of Blue if you need a place to start. We also have many many books about Miles Davis for you to get better acquainted with this icon of music history. miles davismiles davis

Happy Birthday Sarah Vaughan!

"Possessor of one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century, Sarah Vaughan ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers." Born March 27, 1924, in New Jersey, Sarah Vaughan had an incredibly prolific career in American jazz from the 1940s up until her death in 1990. Celebrate her birthday by checking out some of her cds from the AADL. Try The Roulette Years. Vols. 1 & 2, Sarah Vaughan Favorites, After Hours, or Ultimate Sarah Vaughan. For more information about the woman behind the amazing voice, check out the biography Sassy : The Life of Sarah Vaughan or the PBS dvd Jazz. Episode nine, The adventure.

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African-American Woman's Book Club

Are you a female fan of Black Literature? With more than 30 chapters in 12 states, The Go On Girl! Book Club claims to be the largest African-American woman's book club in the country. Their website has a great list of reading resources as well as information on how to start your own local GOG chapter.

Interested in catching up with their reading selections? 2010's winter/spring books are as follows:
January 2010 - Wife of the Gods, Kwei Quartey (Mystery)
February 2010 - Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell (Nonfiction)
March 2010 - Black Water Rising, Attica Locke (Fiction)
April 2010 - Sag Harbor: A Novel, Colson Whitehead (Fiction)

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January's Sparrow by Michigan author Patricia Polacco

Join us for a Black History Month program at the Pittsfield Branch on Wednesday, February 24 from 2 - 3 p.m. We will feature Patricia Polacco's new book, January's Sparrow, which tells the story of a slave family's journey through the Underground Railroad from Kentucky to Michigan. Then weave a paper kente cloth using the bright colors of the historical fabrics. This is for children grades K - 5.

It's Funky...

This morning I was walking down the sci fi section, looking for something unique to blog about. As I looked at all of the books, the title of this one jumped out at me, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust. With a title like that, how can you go wrong? Set in Edmonton Canada, the book is filled with quirky pop culture references, like RPG style statistics for all of the major characters and Star Wars quotes just to name two. Follow the exploits of Hamza and Yehat, The Coyote Kings, best friends and underachievers as they search for a lost artifact with the mysterious Sherem. Can they find it before their rivals do?

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