If you’re a writer, want to be a writer or just enjoy reading, be sure to attend the Lansing Book Party 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 30) at various bookstores and venues throughout the city, including A Novel Concept, Socialight Society, Hooked, Deadtime Stories, Wayfaring Booksellers, Everybody Reads, the Robin Theatre and the Capital Area District Libraries’ downtown Lansing branch. The daylong event offers a book crawl, writing activities, author visits, readings and more.
One of Everybody Reads’ special guests, visiting from 2:30 to 4 p.m., will be Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of several novels and collections of short stories. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Campbell gained fame with the publication of her book “American Salvage” in 2008, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.
Subsequently, in 2011, she published “Once Upon a River,” which The New York Times referred to as “rural Michigan gothic.” The novel follows teenage protagonist Margo Crane, a cross between Huckleberry Finn and Annie Oakley, as she takes to the water to find her mother. In 2019, the novel was adapted into a movie starring Kenadi DelaCerna.
Longtime fans have been waiting patiently for Campbell’s next book. Their wait will come to an end in January 2024, when the author returns to rural Michigan with “Still Waters.”
At her home near Portage, Campbell is never far from her three donkeys, so it wasn’t unusual to interview her by phone as she was feeding the hulking creatures.
“They weigh up to 700 pounds, so it hurts when they step on your foot,” she said.
About the new book, Campbell said, “It takes place in the swamp, and it is about a family of wild women and men who are well-armed. The children are brilliant, and the women are fed up. It takes on the divided society of America, and it works like a fable: A woman lives on an enchanted island with three daughters, and they want to protect the swamp from developers.”
Campbell said she started writing the book with only women characters but later realized she needed both men and women.
Without ruining any plotlines, let’s just say the book goes in a direction you won’t expect.
Cambell said writing novels takes her a long time, so during the process, she also wrote a book of poetry and started a podcast. Her podcast is titled “Bonnie Jo Talks to Everybody,” and she’s just as likely to talk to an author as she is a plumber. The podcast can be accessed on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
“Since I agonize so much over writing a book, and it takes so long, I needed to find a new art form that I don’t agonize over, and the podcast seemed natural,” she said.
On Saturday, Campbell will join Everybody Reads owner Scott Harris in recording several podcasts with other local authors.
She’s also working on a book trailer, a short video or teaser promoting a book, with the director of “Once Upon a River,” which she says will have “a lot of swamp pictures.”
“I had to get a laminated copy of my book jacket so it was waterproof,” she said. She added that it’s likely that an eastern massasauga rattlesnake will make an appearance in the video as it does in the book.
“They are quite common in Kalamazoo County,” she said.
Recently, two college professors wrote a textbook-style guide for college students about Campbell’s writing, “Michigan Salvage,” which Campbell said is “one of the biggest honors of my life.”
“What a pleasure to see someone take my work seriously,” she said.
In addition to Campbell, several other local authors will make appearances at the Lansing Book Party, which was co-organized by Dawn Burns, an assistant professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures.
“The event will be an opportunity for writers to come and hang out and have conversations with other writers,” Burns said. “At the end, writers will have an open mic to read from their work. Overall, the idea is to help build a community of writers and have fun.”
Burns believes Lansing provides a lot of opportunities for people to connect, and the daylong event is open to any community members who want to engage in writing and reading activities.
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