Michael Zadoorian has spent a lifetime saddled with a last name that starts with the letter “Z.”
“Growing up, going to school, we were always seated alphabetically, and me and Billy Zimmerman were always at the back of the room next to the window,” he said.
Despite his last initial, Zadoorian recently jumped to the head of his class when he was named the recipient of the Library of Michigan’s 2022 Michigan Author Award. He will receive the award at a special ceremony and dinner at the Library of Michigan in August.
The Michigan Author Award recognizes significant Michigan authors for their lifetime literary achievements. Previous winners include Elmore Leonard, Jim Harrison, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Gloria Whelan.
Zadoorian has published several novels and a collection of short stories. His earliest works, “Second Hand” and “The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit,” became cult favorites in the Motor City. The books are funny and poignant and delve into the lives of antique pickers and urban spelunkers.
His 2009 book, “The Leisure Seeker,” which was inspired by his parents and follows an aging couple on their final cross-country trip, propelled his literary career when it was made into a movie starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.
In a normal world, the successes of the novel and the film would’ve been Zadoorian’s ticket to fame, but that wasn’t how things played out. He followed up with “Beautiful Music” in 2018 and “The Narcissism of Small Differences” in 2020, about a Detroit-area couple whose marriage is going through a rough patch. They were solid books but didn’t catch on.
He has since completed two manuscripts.
“It’s another dry spell, and I haven’t been able to sell them,” he said. “Friends ask me if I’ve got writer’s block.”
He recently began working on a novel that serves as a predecessor to “The Leisure Seeker” and is based on the letters his father wrote to his mother during World War II.
“It just felt right to me. It takes place 50 years earlier than ‘The Leisure Seeker,’ he said. “It’s funny, tragic and was a lot of fun to do.”
“Fun” is an operative word for Zadoorian. Over the last couple of years, he has hosted a weekly radio show, “Retro Groove,” on a small Detroit station.
In March, he featured songs that speak to Detroit, like all three versions of “Detroit City,” Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” and “Henry Ford” from the Broadway musical “Ragtime,” which is based on E.L. Doctorow’s book of the same name.
He had the idea for the program while doing research for “Beautiful Music,” which is about an aging DJ.
Zadoorian said the Michigan Author Award was a “neat thing to happen, and it came at a time I had taken a lot of body blows.”
He believes the award speaks to other Detroit writers as well.
“Detroit is so underappreciated, and it’s important its creatives are heard. It’s underrepresented and misinterpreted,” he said.
For example, he was disappointed that the lead characters in the film adaptation of “The Leisure Seeker” were portrayed as being from Boston instead of Detroit, as it was originally written.
He hopes the award will uproot the school seating chart, like the few days during the school year when the teacher announced, “We will start at the end of the alphabet.”
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