Two poets

Today, May 24 is the birthday of two poets, different in origins and influences, but both renowned. Joseph Brodsky was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1940. His father was kicked out of the army for being Jewish and the family fell into poverty. Brodsky started writing poetry at the age of 15. In his twenties, his poetry began attracting a large audience. The Soviet government eventually sent him to a labor camp for five years but because of protest, his sentence was commuted. He came to the U.S. and taught at several universities including the University of Michigan. The writer of not only poems but also plays and essays, Brodsky received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and became the Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 1991.

Bob Dylan, nee Robert Zimmerman, was born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. His first musical influence was his parents who listened to the Grand Ole Opry but after hearing Little Richard on the radio, he wanted to play rock and roll. He was in a band through high school but when he went to the University of Minnesota and began hearing the traditional folk music of people like Odetta, he traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic one.

Dylan's influence on music and popular culture has been profound, spawning a golden age of social protest songs and a love for the clever, seemingly contorted Chagall-like word images he created. Dylan's move from acoustic protest to electronic, to country and blues also reflected the changing faces of American music. The Library has many of his recordings and his newest, Together Through Life, is on order. Who can forget, once hearing them, the first few lines of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and not smile at Dylan's universal empathy for the human condition?

Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government...
Look out kid
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again..

Morningstar Investment Database Computer Training Class

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Four spots are still available for the Morningstar Investment Database Class being held at the Downtown Library Computer Training Center on Wednesday, April 29th from 4-5 pm.

Keep that promise you made on April 15th to get a handle on your investments by learning how to use the Morningstar Database—ranked by Barron’s and Forbes as one of the top investing sites. Now, more than ever, it pays to have solid, unbiased information to make investment decisions. Register online or by calling 327-4555.

Celebrate National Poetry Month

To help celebrate National Poetry Month, come to a reading and open mike event this Thursday, April 9, at the Downtown Library. Acclaimed poet and Central Michigan University Professor Robert Fanning will be reading from both old and new work, the latest of which, American Prophet, is a series of observations by an imaginary black suited prophet who travels through America, visiting its dry cleaners, back streets, big cities and rural landscapes, testing the pulse of the country. One reviewer comments: "...these lyrics work the way poetry is meant to work, they move us past presumption and lax acceptance, past what we think we know, to make us rethink our staid convictions, whatever those might be." After Fanning's reading, people will have the opportunity to read their own work to a very friendly cadre of fellow writers and poetry lovers.

Great concerts this weekend, for free!

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The The University of Michigan School of Music offers some outstanding free concerts. Two are coming up tonight. The first, at 5:15 p.m., at the School of Music's Rehearsal Hall, is by the the Prism Quartet. These U/M alums perform progressive saxophone music. The New York Times calls the group "mellifluous and stylistically versatile." The second concert, at 7 p.m., in the Stamps Auditorium, features Daniel Bernard Roumain, a Haitian-American composer who combines classical influences with funk, rock and hip-hop. He will be joined by U of M faculty and students. Take advantage of this great opportunity to hear some excellent and innovative music.

A master playwright remembered

Today is the birthday of Tennesse Williams who was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911. Williams had a very unhappy childhood and dropped out of college continued to write. He eventally returned to college in Iowa where his first plays were performed and were resounding successes. His work is characterized by smoldering emotion, either expressed or just beneath the suface. He also wrote screenplays, novels, short stories, and a book of poetry. His play, A Streetcar Named Desire was recently produced by the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea and got rave reviews.

Modern love- a literary take

Originally published in 1980, Shirley Hazzard's novel The Transit of Venus displays her prodigious talent. Hazzard, a past winner of National Book Critics Award, tells the story of Caroline and Grace Bell who have come from Australia to find work and love in England. Caro enters into a passionate but not long lived affair with playwright Paul Ivory. Her sister, Grace, the "good girl," marries and leads a conventional life but yearns for something more. The bulk of the book is centered on Caro, as she's called, and the revelation of some secrets that change her conception of self and history. Hazzard doesn't cast her characters as angels or sinners but through rich prose, exposes the consequences of human vulnerability.

Master of magical realism

Today, March 6, is the birthday of Colombian author and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez who was born in Aracataca, Colombia in 1928. Most widely known for his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez drew from his colorful life to create his stories. The oldest of twelve children, he was primarily raised by his grandparents. His grandmother was a weaver of tales full of ghosts, omens, and the supernatural. His grandfather was a leftist colonel who fought in two civil wars. Garcia Marquez became a journalist and had no thoughts of writing fiction until driving one day between Mexico City and Acapulco, the whole first chapter of One Hundred Years... came to him. His wife had to pawn household goods, sell their car, and apply for loans to support him while he wrote. To date, that book has sold about 30 million copies.

Garcia Marquez said: "Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry."

Ark's Storytelling Festival

Time Warp tales

Don’t miss the Ark's 22nd Annual Storytelling Festival this weekend, with Beverly Black and Jeff Doyle, members of the Ann Arbor Storyteller's Guild, Sue Black and Antonio Sacre. This is the best way to bring on the warmth of Spring!

Girls with Grit!

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I am really excited about “Girls with Grit” on March 12th at 7:00 p.m. at the Pittsfield Branch Library! I’ll be joining the talented Josie Barnes Parker, Betsy Beckerman and Sara Melton Keller for an evening of edgy adult storytelling and music in honor of Women’s History Month. Josie and I have made an annual tradition of telling tales from our own colorful “histories” and this year we are delighted to be joined by Betsy and Sara who entertain our littlest listeners every week at storytime and relish the opportunity to choose more sophisticated selections for this adult crowd!

Dickens redux in America

Hannah Tinti's first novel, The Good Thief, evokes a Dickensian world of crippled orphans, exploitive masters, graverobbing, murder and other juicy pasttimes. In colonial New England, Ren, a one-handed orphan at St. Anthony's Orphanage is adopted by Benjamin, a con artist who uses Ren's handicap to his own advantage. Encounters at a mousetrap factory, Ren's unlikely friendship with a dwarf who lives in a chimney and a mad scientist who does strange things to corpses all add up to a dark, funny and truly satisfying read.

For another adventure series, tamer than this one but still fun, read Phillip Pullman's Sally Lockhart mystery series beginning with The Ruby in the Smoke. The other two are Shadow in the North and The Tiger in the Well.

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