MARQUETTE - Some of the best Upper Peninsula writers are featured in a new anthology "The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works" being published by the Wayne State University Press in May.
Negaunee native Ron Riekki served as the book's editor.
"It's nice to feel that your best book is about to come out. And it is," said Riekki in an email interview. "Because Annie Martin, the senior acquisitions editor at Wayne State University Press, ensured it was. She had brilliant suggestions. And it feels like an important book. "When I talk to some writers and librarians and bookstore owners, I can be shocked a bit at how few U.P. authors they know, especially in poetry," Riekki said. "I'm glad that this book will announce more than 40 of the top writers in the region, all in one book, so that a reader can finish it and quickly know a handful of impressive writers who can capture the area well. It's exciting to have a book come out that's going to shine a light on the great variety of poets and fiction writers we have emerging on the national level who write about the U.P.
Author Jonathan Johnson rows in a boat — in which he sometimes writes — in Marquette’s Lower Harbor (Photo by Amy Howko)
"I'm like on a mission to make sure people know who Jonathan Johnson, Catie Rosemurgy, and Austin Hummell are. And, luckily, I have a publisher who's doing a great job of promoting it. The WSU Press website has been featuring the book and it's already available for pre-orders even though it doesn't come out until May."
Johnson, a 1986 graduate of Marquette Senior High School, splits his time between this area and other parts of the globe.
"My father, his wife, and my wife's family all still live in Marquette," Johnson said in an email. "My wife and daughter and I do still come home every year for summers and Christmases, Also, after missing the sled dog races for the last several years, we're hoping to be home for the 2014 U.P. 200.
"I'm a very migratory writer; spending time each year in the U.P. is an essential part of my process," Johnson said. "Then I take my experiences and go back to Washington State, or to Scotland where I also spend time each year, and write about the U.P. from those places. I'm a little like a lover who writes better love letters from afar."
Johnson, whose wife Amy Howko is a renowned photographer and Marquette native, has certain routines when visiting Marquette.
"Every Thursday night when I'm home I stop in at Vango's to listen to Jim and Ray. I've been listening to them since about 1985 or '86 when I was in high school, and it's enormously reassuring to sit in one of those same booths and hear their voices singing Van Morrison and Tom Waits songs again. It feels like nothing will ever change and nobody ever has to grow old and die," he said.
"I have this lovely wooden rowboat a friend built for me. Most afternoons in the summer, when I get up from the writing desk, I bike down to Thill's for some smoked whitefish and row out and eat a late lunch," he said. "I throw the bright bones in and watch them sink back into the green darkness from which they came. Then sometimes, if it's not too windy, I'll drift and scribble a line or two in my little notebook.
"I suppose I come home to feel a little of what I felt when I was young, how the wilderness comes with the lake and woods right to the edge of town, how it enters town and the old neighborhoods with the deer and moose and the sound of the waves and the snow that drifts over the streets. That encroaching wilderness has been a kind of muse and companion to me since I was 16."
One spot in particular has significance.
"Presque Isle is also important to me, as it is for most of us from Marquette," Johnson said. "My wife and I spent many of our early dates and eventually were married there, my daughter (Anya) had her first birthday party there, and my mother's ashes were scattered in Lake Superior there, as I want my own ashes to be one day. So it's important that I spend time checking in with that place every year."
Johnson is thrilled to be part of the anthology.
"I was honored, naturally, to have my work chosen for such an important anthology that collects so many writers connected with the place I love and whose work I admire and enjoy," he said. "It was an added honor to be asked to write the introduction. I felt like the host at some wonderful gathering in the woods of all these great voices.
"Also included in the anthology are my short story, 'Notes from the End of My Occupational Life,' and my poem 'For Amy,' which was inspired by a show of my wife's photography a couple years ago at the Oasis Gallery in Marquette."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org