Our lesson for today is...listen to us. Yes, we have a lot of events, but sometimes we clearly are a little more excited than others. Today the announcement came for the Man Booker Shortlist, the first one with American authors included, and not one, but two authors who visited are in the top six. Congratulations to both Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Joshua Ferris, author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Thank you again for appearing at Boswell--we knew you when!
So I mention this today because there's a novel that comes out that we've got the same feeling about--that if you miss this event, one day you'll kick yourself. It's for Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, her fourth published novel, following Last Night in Montreal, The Singer's Gun, and The Lola Quartet, which you may remember also led to a Boswell appearance from Mandel. It was a Saturday night event, which is a bit unusual for developing literary writers with no local ties, but this was what would work to make it onto the tour. Sometimes you take what you can get and make the best of it.
The Lola Quartet was her third novel with Unbridled and they'd done a great job getting booksellers behind Mandel. Not one, but two of her novels was the #1 Indie Next Pick for their respective months. But for some reason, the critics at big media, who sometimes, unfairly of course, overlook the small publishers gems, weren't buying in at the breakout level. It's tough for the indies to do a big launch campaign for fiction (nonfiction is easier, because the author's platform drives a lot of the momentum), and the books that work, either build slowly or win a major award, like Tinkers.
So it was with something akin to fascination when I heard that Emily St. John Mandel's next book would be published by Knopf from Jason Gobble*, our rep. We saw the book on the fall electronic catalog. Because of the heartland enthusiasm, Mandel would definitely making some midwest stops. Then we learned that the book would be on the editor's buzz list at the Book Expo. It's another genre change-up for Mandel, this time being a dystopian tale, set in a world destroyed by a killer flu. There are simply no people around to make the technology work, let alone keep law and order and prevent fires or react to natural disasters (the few survivors retreat into hiding), and with that, our systems collapse.
Uh, oh, now that our cult favorite author was breaking out nationally, would the tour wind up being restricted to the East and West coast? You laugh, but look at the tours for most high-profile literary writers. That's just the way it goes. But no, it turns out that not only is Emily St. John Mandel (photo credit Dese'rae Stage) coming to Boswell on Monday, September 22, but she's visiting Books and Company on September 23, both at 7, with additional stops in Illinois and Michigan, where much of the plot of Station Eleven unfolds.
But I must have inhaled an extra dose of caffeine, because it struck me with a breakout like this, we needed to go the extra mile to make this appearance more of an event. Several times we've had these great collaboration with theater groups, and Station Eleven was just the kind of novel where this might work. For one thing, the focus of the story is a theater/concert troupe that travels to small settlements to perform Shakespeare and classical music, twenty years after the apocalypse.
For another, I happened to be chatting with Mark Flagg of Soulstice Theatre, and he had collaborated with us once before, on our Dava Sobel Copernicus program for A More Perfect Heaven. It was great! So he rounded up some actors, and with input from the author, we've created a program that combines dramatic reading and a traditional author talk. And in addition to our event with Christopher Moore for The Serpent of Venice, you could say we did this once before, for Manette Ansay's Good Things I Wish You. More music than theater, but same concept. I wish we could do these more, but they are hard and require a lot of love from the collaborators.
Before I get to writing about the artists, I wanted to include Sharon and my staff recs for Station Eleven (the UK and Canada jacket is shown to the right). First from Boswellian Sharon Nagel: "Emily St. John Mandel takes a radical departure from her earlier work such as The Singer’s Gun and The Lola Quartet to bring us a dark depiction of the collapse of civilization. Reminiscent of The Stand, by Stephen King, the majority of the population is wiped out by a highly contagious flu. The few that remain must do their best to rebuild a society of sorts without most modern conveniences such as electricity or the Internet. A group known as the Traveling Symphony crosses the country, performing Shakespeare for various settlements. This provides a bright spot in this new existence, and serves to represent that not everything of beauty from the former world has been lost. Station Eleven is a stark and stunningly written story about the resiliency of mankind."
Here's the rec from me: "In this powerful new novel, the end of civilization might not come via nuclear war or environmental catastrophe, but by a flu virus so lethal that there is simply nobody around to keep civilization going. By the time we’re in shape to recover, it’s too late to stop out-of-control fires, or contain lawlessness, let alone turn back on electricity, the internet, or gas pumps. In this post-apocalyptic world, small outposts remain, congregated around abandoned fast food restaurants and airplane terminals with little to bring joy and beauty to their lives aside from a periodic visit from the Traveling Symphony, a group of Shakespeare-performing classical musicians. One day, the Symphony comes to St. Deborah by the Water, only to find that the village has been taken over by a cult, and things turn particularly dangerous when one of the villagers becomes a stowaway. And then one of the performers, Kirsten, slowly learns that she and the ruthless cult leader might have more in common than she imagined. And in fact almost all the characters in this story are connected by an unlikely source—an actor named Arthur Leander, whose on-stage death opened the story. Station Eleven is an entrancing thriller/fantasy epic/comic satire/domestic drama, and while the setup might have reminded you of The Hunger Games, the result is more A Visit from the Goon Squad." (Just in case this gets cut and pasted out of here, I am still Daniel Goldin)
Here are the actors we are working with, in addition to Mark Flagg at Soulstice, who is coordinating the whole thing.
First up is Stephan Roselin. Stephan is excited to be working with Soulstice Theatre. He will also be directing a reading of Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations with Soulstice in March 2015. Stephan has been involved with Milwaukee theater for over 20 years. He was a Co-Founder/Producer/Actor with Bialystock and Bloom. He has also performed with The Milwaukee Rep,Chamber Theater, Next Act, First Stage Children's Theater, Renaissance Theaterworks, and Playwrights Studio Theater.
Josh Perkins has been involved in the Milwaukee theatre scene for the last 15 years. He's had the good luck to have acted for Bialystock and Bloom, Renaissance Theatreworks, Bunny Gumbo, Dramatists Theatre and acted/directed/designed many, many shows at Soulstice Theatre. His current Soulstice show is a staged reading of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy radio scripts. Josh is also a co-founder of Angry Young Men, ltd, a puppet performance group that has brought Night Of The Living Dead - The Puppet Show back to life at The Oriental Theater every Halloween for the last 7 years. Josh will also be working with Alchemist Theatre in their February 2015 production of 1984, a dark stage play based on George Orwell's dystopian novel.
A veteran of Milwaukee’s theatre community, Bo Johnson has worked as an actor and technician for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre, Skylight Theatre, ComedySportz, First Stage Children’s Theater, The Dead Alewives, Theatre X, Theatre Gigante, Milwaukee Public Theatre, In Tandem Theater, Alchemist Theatre, American Folklore Theatre and many others. Just recently he co-founded a new company, Umbrella Group Milwaukee. Bo is currently in the cast of The Doyle and Debbie Show at Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret. Look for his production of Who Killed Santa this December.
Continuing to highlight our guests in reverse alphabetical order, we welcome Margaret Casey. Margaret’s theatrical journey started in Milwaukee and continued through many moves around the country and on to Germany and the UK. In recent years she has performed with Milwaukee Irish Arts, Soulstice Theatre, Boulevard Ensemble, Alchemist Theatre and Optimist Theatre.
As mentioned above, the Soulstice Theatre's regular season starts with a reprisal of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as written by Douglas Adams. From the brilliantly twisted mind of Douglas Adams comes the staged reading that answers the question of life, the universe, and everything. Adams's book is one in which literally anything can happen, with the only rule being that what comes next will probably be the last thing the reader would expect and is bound to be amusing. Performances run Sept. 19 through 27 with more information here, noting that Fits 1-4 are performed on the 19th and 20th and Fits 5-8 are highlighted on September 26th and 27th. These staged readings are enhanced with lighting and original sound effects (as nearly as possible). It is humor and absurdity on a cosmic scale, i.e. just like life.
After that, The Soulstice is performing Moon Over Buffalo, running November 7 through 22, and then comes their version of Macbeth, with an all-female cast, in January 2015. Our collaboration with Soulstice originally commenced because of the Shakespeare connection, which was actually what led to the Theatre Gigante collaboration as well with Christopher Moore. It's always Shakespeare, isn't it?. Because as we've noted, King Lear plays a role in Station Eleven, not just as a pivotal plot point, but in theme as well.
The Soulstice Theatre is located at 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave, Suite 2, in St. Francis, WI 53235. For more information, call (414)481-2800, or contact them here.
To recap: 1) Station Eleven is on sale today. 2) Our event with Emily St. John Mandel and The Soulstice Theatre is Monday, September 22, 7 pm. If you can't attend, why not order a signed first edition?
*Mr. Gobble is said to have had a hand in clueing in Jenny Jackson, Mandel's editor, to Mandel's potential, or so it was said in the Book Expo Buzz Panel.