Hot Fiction: Gold Fame Citrus

The dystopian novel Gold Fame Citrus has gotten a lot of buzz in recent months. Named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2015 and reviewed favorably in the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review, The Lost Angeles Times and The Washington Post, the book shines as brightly as the white dune sea of the near-future southwestern United States that it describes. Author Claire Vaye Watkins is a writing professor here in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan, and Gold Fame Citrus is a hit of a debut novel.

The apocalyptic world that Watkins paints so vividly is that of fiction… for now. Drought has struck the southwestern United States. High winds and broiling temperatures have created a rolling “dune sea”, devoid of almost all life, and moving across the country at breakneck speed. A few survivors hold out, among them former model Luz Dunn and her partner, Ray. The two live in an abandoned Hollywood mansion, surviving on rationed cola and whatever else they can find. When they discover a child one day, however, their world—unexpectedly stable despite the destruction around them—turns upside down. What follows is a fascinating look at how humans react in the face of fear and the unknown, when survival is constantly on the line. Deciding to leave California, Ray, Luz, and the baby attempt to cross the dune sea to make it to the eastern United States—overcrowded but still livable.

The setting of Gold Fame Citrus is fascinating in and of itself, but Watkins creates such a brilliant storyline and uses such descriptive language that readers may feel as though they are trekking across the dusty landscape next to Ray and Luz, with the sun beating down upon them, tasting salt and grit on their tongue. “Gold Fame Citrus is a dreamy story with a mystical streak and a core of juvenile irresponsibility that does not go unpunished,” writes Jason Sheehan in his review of the book for NPR. “She's [Watkins] got a knife eye for details, a vicious talent for cutting to the throbbing vein of animal strangeness that scratches inside all of us.” The characters are as intense as the landscape. Despite being in a place that is entirely unfamiliar to us today, the characters and their reactions make sense to readers, if not always in a positive way. “A great pleasure of the book is Watkins’s fearlessness, particularly in giving her characters free rein to be themselves. People who were shiftless and irresponsible before the disaster are shiftless and irresponsible afterward. This particular apocalypse is not an opportunity for redemption, and no one is ennobled by it,” reads the New York Times review of Gold Fame Citrus. “We were dishonest with ourselves and others before the apocalypse, Watkins suggests, and the same will hold true afterward. The world might be irrevocably altered, but we’re still us.”

Watkins is also the author of the short story collection Battleborn.


Scott Ellsworth has just won the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing 2016 for his book, The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph. It is the story of a 1944 illegal basketball game between the North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham and the Duke University Medical School team. Congratulations to Ellsworth, who is a lecturer in the UM Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.

Women's History Month Event: Great Girls in Michigan History

Saturday March 19, 2016: 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm -- Malletts Creek Branch: Program Room

This event is intended for grade 3 - adult

A dancer, a pilot, a writer, and an Ann Arbor wrestler—these are among the girls you'll meet when author Patricia Majher leads this fascinating look at famous women, Michigan, and her new book, Great Girls in Michigan History.

The easy-to-read short biographies in her book, named a 2016 Michigan Notable Book, uncover the stories of 20 girls from Michigan’s past who did amazing things before they turned 20 years old. From lesser-known leaders and writers to more well-known figures, the girls in her book come from a variety of personal backgrounds and interests, locations across the state, and historical time periods.

Patricia Majher is the editor of Michigan History magazine (published by the Historical Society of Michigan) and the author of Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.

Do not miss this look at Michigan's past through the lens of its most famous women! A book signing will follow and books will be for sale.

Leni Sinclair, 2016 Kresge Eminent Artist

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Congratulations to Leni Sinclair, recently named the 2016 Kresge Eminent Artist!

AADL was privileged to work with Leni on the events and website surrounding the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in 2011. You'll find several of Leni's photographs relating to the Rally and her years in Ann Arbor on AADL's Freeing John Sinclair site. Here you can also listen to an interview with Leni in which she recalls the origins of the Detroit Artists Workshop and their strategic retreat to Ann Arbor following the Detroit Riots, or a joint video interview with John Sinclair on their memories of the 1971 Rally. Read Leni's essay about her life in Ann Arbor's Hill House commune, or check out her work in Detroit Rocks (2012), co-authored with Gary Grimshaw.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #571 (and truly a small gem)

As I was getting ready my Small Gems blog for this December, my copy of Anna and the Swallow Man * * arrived on my doorstep, and my choice is obvious. "I have never read anything quite like this book", wrote the reviewer for The Guardian, and neither have I.

"When Anna Lania woke on the morning of the sixth of November in the year 1939 - her seventh - there was several things that she did not know", one of them being her father, a Linguistics professor at the Jagiellonian University, would never return, having been rounded up by the Gestapos in Occupied Poland.

Turned out by a fearful family friend, hungry and cold, Anna met a tall and exceedingly thin man who not only shared Anna's command of languages, but he could also speak to the birds, and seemed to have more than a little magic up his sleeves. As the pair wandered the countryside together for years, they dodged bombs, tame soldiers, and in the process, the Swallow Man taught Anna lessons of survival while remaining an enigma until the end.

"Subtly crafted with an intelligent structure and beautiful language, this was a compelling and thought-provoking read." "Artful, original, insightful." Marketed as Teen fiction, Anna will nevertheless appeal to readers of any age.

A readalike for The Book Thief, it too, is "a story about growing up during a time of monumental changes. It reveals life's hardest lesson while celebrating its miraculous possibilities."

Debut novelist Gavriel Savit holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he grew up. An an actor and singer, he lives in Brooklyn.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #564

Gold Fame Citrus * * *, the debut novel by UM Assistant Professor Claire Vaye Watkins is truly worth the wait. (No doubt, my eager anticipation is due in part, to the New York Times book review by Emily St. John Mandel).

Set in the near future, when extreme drought and water shortage laid waste to much of the western states, Los Angeles is not longer the land of gold, fame and citrus. With mass exodus to lusher regions, only a few hardy souls remain. Luz, a 25-year old former model and her boyfriend Ray, whose survival skills are keeping them alive, are holed up in the abandoned mansion of a Hollywood starlet. But when they take in a very strange little girl, they realize that it's time to seek a safer place.

Danger lurks as they head east - sinkholes, patrolling authorities, bandits and the brutal sun. Seeking refuge in a rumored desert commune, Luz comes under the sway of the charismatic leader of an outpost in the desert, threatening the bond of their make-shift family.

"Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own."

Readers might want to check out Claire Vaye Watkins’s multiple-awards winning story collection, Battleborn, among them, the National Book Foundation “5 Under 35”, and the Story Prize.

This debut novel would likely remind readers of Swamplandia! by Karen Russell; Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

$2.00 a day

In $2.00 a day: living on almost nothing in America, Kathryn J. Edin and University of Michigan professor H. Luke Shaefer, illuminate a population of America that endeavors to survive, out of necessity, on little to no cash, $2.00 per day per person, or less, “what many of us spend on a cup of coffee each day.” Alex Kotlowitz, There are no children here : the story of two boys growing up in the other America.
This alarming narrative weaves together personal stories and recent economic history to show how these Americans got to this point, and who, exactly is suffering. Edin and Shaefer narrow their focus on four areas of America; one that represents the "typical" American city, one a rural locale that has been deeply poor for more than half a century, the third, a place where deep poverty is a newer phenomenon, and finally, a place that had been very poor in recent decades but is experiencing economic recovery. Their book takes us to Chicago, Cleveland, Johnson City, Tennessee in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and several small, rural hamlets in the Mississippi Delta, to get at the heart of what daily life is like for individuals struggling with deep poverty, and the means they go through to survive. The first hand accounts of children going without food for weeks at a time and parents who sell whatever they can (rides in their cars, plasma, social security numbers) to alleviate this hunger are unforgettable. This is an eye opening and important read.

“Affluent Americans often cherish the belief that poverty in America is far more comfortable than poverty in the rest of the world. Edin and Shaefer’s devastating account...blows that myth out of the water.” Barbara Ehrenreich author of Nickel and dimed : on (not) getting by in America

Night of Notable Authors

Saturday October 24, 2015: 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

The Ann Arbor District Library, the Library of Michigan and the Library of Michigan Foundation are pleased to present this special event, Night Of Notable Authors, featuring 15 authors who were awarded the distinction of having their work selected as a Michigan Notable Book.

The program room of the Library will remain open after 6 pm for this special evening, which includes a panel discussion by 4 distinguished notable authors, followed by an elegant reception in the Library lobby with music, refreshments, a book signing and the chance to mingle with all 15 authors at this event.

Every year, the Library of Michigan selects up to twenty of the most notable books, either written by a Michigan resident or about Michigan or the Great Lakes. The selected books are honored in the year after their publication or copyright date. Each selected title speaks to our state's rich cultural, historical, and literary heritage and proves without a doubt that some of the greatest stories are found in the Great Lakes State.

The Night Of Notable Authors features:

6 – 7:30 pm Panel Discussion

Moderated by Anna Clark (A Detroit Anthology, a 2015 Michigan Notable Book). Panelists include:
Michigan Outdoor Writer and Poet Jerry Dennis (several Michigan Notable Book titles, including The Living Great Lakes: Searching For The Heart Of The Inland Seas, a 2004 Michigan Notable Book)
Mystery Author Loren Estleman (Nicotine Kiss: An Amos Walker Novel, a 2007 Michigan Notable Book)
Memoirist and True Crime Author Mardi Jo Link (two Michigan Notable Book titles, including Bootstrapper: From Broke To Badass On A Northern Michigan Farm, a 2014 Michigan Notable Book)

7:30 – 8:30 pm Reception and Booksigning

Enjoy exquisite music by harpist Deborah Gabrion, elegant refreshments, and the chance to mingle with 15 Michigan Notable Authors:
Steve Amick
Anna Clark
Jack Dempsey
Jerry Dennis
Loren Estleman
Don Faber
Larry Glazer
Lolita Hernandez
Michael Hodges
Sally Howell
Sharon Kegerries
Mardi Jo Link
Donald Lystra
Anne-Marie Oomen
Barbara Rylko-Bauer

Books will be for sale at the event, courtesy of Literati Bookstore and Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop

Emerging Writers Workshop: Writing for Children with Shutta Crum

Thursday May 5, 2016: 7:00 pm to 8:45 pm -- Traverwood Branch: Program Room

This event is intended for grade 6 - adult

Picture books, early chapter books and middle grade fiction may look simple, but writing them is hard work.

In this workshop, Bethany Neal and Alex Kourvo will be joined by local author Shutta Crum, to discuss inspiration, the writing process, and how children’s books get published. Shutta is the author of over 13 books for children of various ages. Shutta is also a professional storyteller, and a retired Ann Arbor District Library librarian.

This is part of the monthly Emerging Writer’s Workshops which offer support, learning, and advice for local authors.

Each month, two weeks after the workshop, (this month on Thursday, May 19 from 7 – 8:45 pm at Traverwood Branch) there is a Meetup where the instructors will read samples of your work and offer advice and assistance in a casual, supportive atmosphere.

Emerging Writers Workshop: Publishing Options

Thursday April 7, 2016: 7:00 pm to 8:45 pm -- Traverwood Branch: Program Room

This event is intended for grade 6 - adult

Things are changing in the book world, and writers have more places than ever to publish their work. But which option is best for you?

In this workshop, Bethany Neal and Alex Kourvo will discuss the difference between traditional and self-publishing and examine the benefits and drawbacks of each path.

This is part of the monthly, Emerging Writer’s Workshops, which offer support, learning and advice for local authors.

Each month, two weeks after the workshop, (this month on Thursday, April 21 from 7 – 8:45 pm at Traverwood Branch) there is a Meet-Up where the instructors will read samples of your work and offer advice and assistance in a casual, supportive atmosphere.

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