Monday, July 27, 2020

Miles and Myles and Kelli - Boswell events for the week of July 27 with Kelli Jo Ford, Myles Hopper, and Miles Harvey

Here's what's happening virtually with Boswell this week. 

Monday, July 27, 7:00 pm
Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah
in conversation with Boswell's Daniel Goldin for a virtual event.
Register on Zoom here.

Here's the story about how we wound up with an event for Kelli Jo Ford, citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. It was last January and booksellers were meeting in Baltimore for Winter Institute. Did you ever go to a conference and run into a person you've never met before and then proceed to run into them 100 more times, and yet there are all these other folks you know from previous conferences that you see once if at all? Well, that was the case for Ford and me. First we sat together at a seminar where she told me about her book, then then a sales rep talked about it at the rep-around lunch, and then I got a copy signed by her at a reception. Every time we passed each other in the hall, we waved. How could I not read her debut novel?*

The best part was that the novel, Crooked Hallelujah, was as wonderful as the kismet-like way we were brought together, again and again. Here's my recommendation: "The complicated bonds of three generations of Cherokee women are explored in Ford’s striking debut, a chapter of which won the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize. At the start, Justine is a teenager rebelling against Lula, her strict Holy Roller mom. A decade later, Justine is raising her own daughter, hoping that she can give Reney a better future. Both Justine and Reney struggle with abusive men as mom and daughter move away from their Oklahoma reservation and back again, toward dreams and away from reality. Eventually the elements rebel and the family must confront tornadoes, fires, and more. Crooked Hallelujah is not quite a novel and not quite not a novel as Ford plays with style, chronology, and perspective (a heads up to you plot obsessives). One particular piece follows a lesbian couple that moves to rural Texas and have a life-threatening test; it’s a great story but seemed ancillary to the rest of the plotline. But I actually enjoyed that chapter a lot, so I can see how the decision was made to include it – just too good to let go! Come to think of it, that’s my feeling about the whole book – I didn’t want it to end.

And I'm not the only fan. Ford won the Plimpton Prize, "an annual award of $10,000 given by The Paris Review to a previously unpublished or emerging author who has written a work of fiction that was recently published in its publication." Ford got great advance reviews on Booklist and Publishers Weekly, the latter of whom said, "Ford's storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner."

Here's the great review from Dwight Garner in The New York Times. Here's the very quotable write up from Julie Buntin in the San Francisco Chronicle. One Buntin pull-out: "The novel is told in cleverly connected stories that span time (from 1974 to the near future) and point of view - a prismatic lens that emphasizes the way each woman’s story depends on the women who came before her. Ford’s pages ache with tenderness and love and no small amount of frustration — her characters are all trapped in different ways, by crappy jobs with too-small paychecks, by men who fail to do right or stay, by the debt of love they owe their mothers, their daughters."

And yesterday Sarah McCammon spoke to Ford on Weekend Edition Sunday. Ford spoke about her inspiration: "The first inspiration, for me and what continues to be one of my strongest inspirations is that there were times in my life when I was a little girl that I - like Reney, the book's youngest protagonist, also lived in a household with four generations of Cherokee women. And so growing up with a strong woman, these strong personalities, these really close relationships in, you know, one household? That was just going to stick with me, I think. It was going to probably come out in some way if I was going to make art of any kind."

We're hoping to help set up another event with Ford and UWM Access, where she'll be joined by local Indigenous participants for a Circle of Women. I almost consider Monday's event a preview for that one.

Tuesday, July 28, 7:00 pm
Myles Hopper, author of My Father’s Shadow
in conversation with Kim Suhr for a virtual event
Register for this event on Zoom right here.

We’re pleased to host Shorewood author Hopper as he chats about his memoir with Red Oak Writing's Kim Suhr. This event is of course cosponsored by Red Oak Writing.  Looking for an online critique group for your work in progress? Red Oak is meeting on Zoom. Here's more information

Last week I visited Orange Hat Publishing in downtown Waukesha. I had a flashback to 30 years ago in the height of my department store obsession, when I got someone to drive me to Johnson Hill's, which I think also traded under the name McCoys. At that time, there was still a JC Penney and two variety stores, despite the presence of Brookfield Square, which had led to the closing of Sears. Shannon Ishizaki gave me a mini tour as I picked up signed copies of Myles Hopper's memoir. And yes, that means we have actual signed copies.

A little boy with hair the color red - his scarlet letter - and family secrets to be disclosed only decades later. A man late in life confronted with looming mortality. These are the bookends of My Father’s Shadow, a narrative nonfiction collection of timely stories with universal themes that are heartwarming, painful, distressing, humorous. This memoir examines how one person has managed to thrive in a world replete with wild imperfections and an eclectic array of people and relationships, some nurturing, others much less so. My Father’s Shadow delves deep into the pain and joy of life itself.

Myles Hopper is a cultural anthropologist and former faculty member at universities in Canada and the United States. His writing has appeared in the Jewish Literary Journal and Creative Wisconsin Anthology, and has been anthologized in Friends: Voices on the Gift of Companionship and Family Stories from the Attic. 

Are you a Kim Suhr fan? Don't forget she's also interviewing Randall Kenan, author of If I Had Two Wings, on August 12. Register here.

Thursday, July 30, 7:00 pm:
Miles Harvey, author of The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
in conversation with Daniel Goldin for a virtual event
Register here for our Zoom conversation.

Boswell Book Company presents Miles Harvey, author of The Island of Lost Maps, who’ll chat about his latest, the story of the most infamous American con man you've never heard of: James Strang, the self-proclaimed divine king of earth, heaven, and an island in Lake Michigan. Purchase your copy of The King of Confidence from Boswell using the link above for 20% off the list price through at least August 6.

Here's yet another event we've been working on forever. The King of Confidence was originally coming out earlier, and I was trying to set up an event at the American Geographical Society map library at UWM. Reading The King of Confidence, I could actually visualize the maps of this story. And where is Beaver Island, the nexus of James Strang's kingdom? It's about 100 miles east of Washington Island. I think it's officially in Michigan waters, but there's no question that Strang's first stronghold was Burlington, which is definitely in Wisconsin.

Here's the official certified Daniel recommendation: "How many of you know the story of James J Strang, the man who claimed an angel came to him after the death of Joseph Smith and said he, and not Brigham Young, was the true heir to the LDS church? Establishing a base just outside of Burlington, Wisconsin, he and his followers went on to control Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. From there, his followers did a little piracy, some counterfeiting, and something called consecration, where you rob nonbelievers in the name of religion. Yes, it’s crazy. But what’s even more interesting of the story is how this now footnote to history captured the 19th century zeitgeist in so many ways, from religious revivals to astounding transformations to the rise of the confidence man, such that Strang’s story might have been one of the inspirations for Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man and an incident in Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. Fascinating history with lots of great stories!" 

Vanity Fair calls it “A rollicking story ripe for the Hollywood treatment.” And Jennifer Day, writing for the Chicago Tribune, says ”Harvey serves up what promises to be a page-turner about this bizarre moment in Michigan history where fair Beaver Island served as an epicenter of fraud, polygamy and piracy."  But wait, there's more - it's reviewed in today's New York Times Book Review by Chris Jennings: "Harvey’s wonderfully digressive narrative is interspersed with news clippings, playbills, land surveys and daguerreotypes, as if to periodically certify that all of this madness is really true. Strang himself, however, remains a cipher. Where did the calculation end and the delusion begin? Did he himself ever convert to his own gospel? In any case, the inner life of a prophet is less interesting than his or her effect on the world. Tinhorn revelators are seldom in short supply. Few of them secure private theocracies."

Miles Harvey is the author of the national and international bestseller The Island of Lost Maps and the recipient of a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship. His book Painter in a Savage Land was named a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year. He teaches at DePaul University.  Is DePaul our favorite source for writerly events? Could be? We're hosting Harvey's colleague Kathleen Rooney for Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey on August 18. Yes, that's the author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Register here.

More events on our upcoming event page. How did I wind up scheduling myself doing two conversations on the same week? I should get a better manager.

*This reminds me of the late William "Holly" Whyte's theory of why cities are so productive. And it's also why we still would have conferences in person in a COVID-free world despite the ability to do everything online. 

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