"A woman precedes me up the long rope...."

Today, June 27th, is the birthday of poet Lucille Clifton who was born in 1936 in Depew, New York. Clifton's first book, Good Times, was entered into a poetry competition by Robert Hayden, an acclaimed poet who taught at the University of Michigan. Clifton's poetry like that of other African-American poets of her time including Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez described the lives of African Americans, using free verse and the cadences of language she heard around her. Later in her writing, she dealt with themes related to being a woman and described social conditions, always drawing from her own experience. Clifton is also well known for her books for children, especially those about her beloved character, Everett Anderson.

Carnegie Medal winner a riveting read

In Tamar, a compelling story of courage, love and betrayal, Mal Peet, winner of Britain's 2005 Carnegie Medal for the best children's and young adult books, takes us back and forth in time, from the Dutch resistance movement during World War II to the 1990's. Tamar, named by her grandfather who was a code breaker in Holland during the war, is shocked by his suicide and determined to solve the puzzle he's left her in some old maps. But the most exciting sections of the book take place in Holland where Tamar and Dart, both code breakers, try to organize the resistance in the most dangerous of circumstances with the Nazis on their heels at every moment. Add romance to this mix in the person of Marijke who is Tamar's love but also the object of Dart's passion. A tightly constucted plot with unrelenting suspense and sound characterization will hold you hostage till the last page.

Sam Spade will never die.

Today, May 27 is the birthday of two great mystery novelists, Tony Hillerman who was born in 1925 and Dashiell Hammett who was born in 1894. Hillerman, a former journalist and past president of Mystery Writers of America is best known for his mysteries about the Navajo in which Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn chase down culprits in the often brutal sun of the Southwest.

Hammett was best known for his hard-boiled detective novels that featured cynical, fast talking characters who got things done. Hammett based some of his stories on work he had done with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The movie, The Maltese Falcon was based on his book and starred Hunphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.

Older Michiganians Unite!

If I was headed to the Washtenaw County Older Michiganians Rally, I might want to at least scan the new book Meet the Next President: What you don’t know about the candidates. But that’s just me. Others may want to simply show up, as the flyer says, to learn about and respond to issues affecting seniors, find out what you can do, and maybe talk to some elected officials and local leaders. The rally is June 2, 9:30-11:30 a.m. in the St. Joseph Senior Health Building, Lower Level, 5631 McCauley Drive. It’s intended for seniors, advocates for older adults, state and local elected officials, and “anyone interested in making Michigan a great place to live!” Wait, isn’t that everyone? Presenters of the rally are Area Agency on Aging 1B, Blueprint for Aging and Senior Advocates of Washtenaw.

Talking & Singing About the Good Old Days

Ann Arbor District Library now has a dozen multi-media Bi-Folkal Kits that provide fine opportunities to remininisce with elders who have done many fascinating things in their lives. The kits work well with large or small groups if you take time to familiarize yourself with the excellent materials provided. You will be rewarded through hearing the rich stories, singing familiar songs and getting to know your group better through this activity. You can include other library materials to enhance your program. Call 734-327-8365 for more information or to reserve a kit.

"Off with her head!"

Today, May 19, is the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn who was beheaded by sword at the Tower of London in 1536. When Boleyn demanded that Henry VIII make her his wife, not his mistress, years of religious turmoil in the Catholic Church ensued because of their prohibition against divorce. Henry did have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled and wed Boleyn in 1533. But because she couldn't produce any male heirs, she was accused of adultery and executed. (Sometimes you just can't win).

There's a treasure trove of books on Anne and now, even her sister, Mary, whose story was told in the recently released film, The Other Boleyn Girl based on the book by Philippa Gregory.

"A story of quiet humanity..."

Jeff Talarigo, author of the acclaimed novel, The Pearl Diver, has given us another haunting story, The Ginseng Hunter. An unnamed narrator follows his family's tradition of finding and harvesting one ginseng root a day in the mountains of China near the border of North Korea. On a monthly trip to the nearest city to visit a bordello, he meets a young woman who is a refugee from this oppressive regime. Interwoven with his developing relationship with her is the story of a North Korean mother who is separated from her daughter and who travels miles, always in fear of being discovered, in the hopes of finding her. The author evokes the harsh climate and rugged beauty of this country as well as the suffering and compassion of people just struggling to survive.

In praise of mothers

In honor of Mother's Day, following are two books and one film that tell the stories of three remarkable mothers:

From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island by Lorna Goodison describes this local poet's mother, Doris who grew up in a privileged family in Jamaica but then married a chauffeur, moved to urban Kingston and raised nine children.

A Remarkable Mother by former President Jimmy Carter is his loving tribute to Lillian Carter, a nurse serving troops in World War I and in her later years a Peace Corps volunteer in India.

My Flesh and Blood is a documentary about Susan Tom, a single mother, who adopted eleven special needs children.

Young writer expands territory

Adam Mansbach's third novel, The End of the Jews shows the writer's growth in his ability to expand his universe, i.e., from hip-hop culture which still plays a part in this story, into other expressions of the American experience. His last novel, Angry Black White Boy brilliantly conveyed both the excitement and anger of that sub-culture.

Tristan Brodsky, one of the featured characters, is the son of Jewish immigrants and a writer who is influenced by jazz and African-American culture. His grandson, Tris, is a suburban teenager who loves hip-hop and is also a writer although not as successful. The third main character is Nina, a young and beautiful Czech photographer who has been hired by a black jazz combo to travel the U.S. with them as they perform. Mansbach adeptly moves back and forth in time to tell their stories and to articulate, often with great touches of humor, the odd dislocation of people caught at different moments in the soupy mix caused by the diaspora.

"Woman's Day" Magazine promotes libraries

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"Woman's Day" Magazine and the American Library Association are co-sponsoring a new health initiative. The magazine is asking readers 18 or older to submit stories of 700 words or less on how libraries have helped them improve their own or a family member's health. Up to four of the stories will be featured in the March, 2009 issue. Deadline for submissions is May 11, 2008. For submission guidelines, go to their guidelines page.

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