WMU News

Southwest Michigan authors write of small town life

October 6, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- It has been the subject of literary works by authors ranging from Thornton Wilder to Thomas Wolfe, and now authors from villages and hamlets across southwest Michigan are sharing their perspectives on small town life in a new book published by Western Michigan University's New Issues Press.

"Home and Other Places: Voices of Southwest Michigan," features more than 100 authors and was compiled and edited by members of the Rural Voices, Country Schools research project affiliated with WMU's Third Coast Writing Project and the Annenberg Rural Challenge. According to Dr. Ellen Brinkley, WMU associate professor of English and Third Coast Writing Project director, the book, published with a $17, 850 grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, is an "extra." The research project was originally designed for eight southwest Michigan teachers to document information about their small town schools and rural communities. But when an MCACA grant designated for a project in the region that would provide access to areas underserved by the arts, the project expanded to include publication of a book.

"The grant just seemed a natural fit, so we applied for and were awarded it," says Brinkley.

"Home and Other Places: Voices of Southwest Michigan" will be sold for $5 at a series of multimedia presentations and will be available through the mail from New Issues Press. The presentations are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Whitcomb Towers, St. Joseph; Wednesday, Oct. 21, at the Richland Community Center, Richland; Wednesday, Oct. 28, at the Fennville District Library, Fennville; and Tuesday, Nov. 10, Four Flags Hotel, Niles. All presentations begin at 7 p.m.

Ranging in age from 7 to 102, the book's authors submitted their prose and poetry in response to a call for manuscripts that was posted in such community meeting places as libraries, bookstores, retirement residences and Laundromats. More than 1,000 submissions were received and the project team selected 103 for publication.

Depending on authors' experiences, small town life is about such things as pickles, fishing off the pier, election day or cows outside your window. The book's oldest author, Rose Burket, a resident of Whitcomb Towers in St. Joseph, tells the story of a candidate for a minister's job who wouldn't get off "the

high seat" of a wagon going up a hill. While one of the younger contributors, Adam Burhdoff of Gull Lake Middle School, reports that Richland is an old-fashioned place that has more banks than folks but is "just right for people eight and older."

Some chose to address their settings, the natural beauty and the effects of weather and landscape while others write of family ties, friends or fond memories. Logan Witt, of Hartford, laments "Please stop and consider/tell me if you would,/Are the simpler times/Really gone for good?"

Regardless of the subject, however, most authors agree that small communities are truly unique. For Joseph Biron, of Mendon Elementary School, his bedroom is the most special place of all. "My room is nothing like other ten year olds [sic] rooms, " he writes, "because my cat, my best cat, had babies in it."

The book is available through New Issues Press at WMU by calling (616) 387-8743. For more information about the Rural Voices, Country Schools project, persons should contact Brinkley at (616) 387-2581.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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