Story and photos by Mike Gesler
The moment I stepped into the auditorium of St. Cecilia Music Center and saw the orchestra exposed, I thought, “This is going to be fun.” Last night I had the opportunity to attend the final dress performance of Opera Grand Rapids production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” This is Gilbert and Sullivan’s ninth operatic collaboration, and arguably one of their most popular and beloved operas.
The story is a two act comedy set in the town of Titipu where a handsome, yet poor, minstrel with a secret past named Nanki-Poo comes seeking Yum-Yum, a schoolgirl his heart pines for. Unfortunately, he learns from the haughty Poo-Bah, a nobleman who holds all the official town’s posts that Yum-Yum is to marry Ko-Ko, her ward, the next day. Ko-Ko however, who is a prisoner, in a twist of fate, is made the town’s Lord High Executioner. The town reasons that in order to thwart the decrees of the Mikado and stop the beheadings, since Ko-Ko was next to be executed, if Ko-Ko is the Lord High Executioner then he cannot cut off his own head. However, the Mikado has learned that the executions have stopped in Titipu, and orders that an execution take place within a month or the town will be reduced to a village. A distraught Nanki-Poo and an anxious Ko-Ko come up with a scheme that will allow both Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko to marry Yum-Yum and save Titipu from being reduced to a village. It all seems like a perfect plan until Katisha arrives on the scene to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband. Now folks, that’s just the first act. If you want to know how the second act resolves this crazy mess, you’ll need to go and see for yourself.
It’s not too often that I watch a production and find myself so drawn into the cast that I completely forget about set design, lighting, choreography, costumes, and all those nuances that go into a production. But last night I was completely taken in by what appeared to be a cast that so genuinely enjoyed themselves and what they were doing that I almost completely overlooked everything else. Eve Summer, a rising star in stage direction, directed this amazing cast, and she does a brilliant job with the stage at St. Cecilia’s. From the moment Drake Dantzler (Nanki-Poo) stepped on stage, I was drawn into his infectious tenor voice and radiant smile. I found myself wishing that Nanki-Poo was my friend as there would never be a dull moment with Nanki-Poo around. Andrew Potter’s (Poo-Bah) towering presence and imposing bass voice is casting brilliance.
Now I’ll admit that Steven Condy (Ko-Ko) frustrated me at first, but it wasn’t for lack of talent. Condy is one very talented baritone. What frustrated me was that he reminded me of someone else and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me. He reminded me of George Rose, and that really says a lot about Condy’s performance. But it was Grand Rapids native Rachel Mills (Yum-Yum) who stole my heart. I now have a new favorite Yum-Yum. I honestly believe that Gilbert and Sullivan had someone like Mills in mind when they composed and wrote “The Mikado.” Her comedic timing and sense of theatrical flair is spot on. Watching Mills, Dantzler, Potter, and Condy interact with each other was so refreshing and enjoyable. They took the fun I first anticipated, and brought it to levels of pure delight. Diane Schoff (Katisha) and Donald Hartmann (The Mikado) round out the cast, and are equally talented in their own right.
The set design is simple and minimal, but very effective. Images of London and English gardens are projected to help set the scene. The Edwardian period costuming is simply beautiful. The lighting design while not complex, is subtle lending to the mood of each scene. And the music is so wonderfully played by the orchestra. Conductor Ace Edeward’s passion for the music comes through with each note. All-in-all, this truly was a special production by Opera Grand Rapids that I for one am glad I didn’t miss, and sad that I can’t see one more time.
“The Mikado” is being presented this weekend at 7:30pm on both Friday, November 1, and Saturday, November 2, at St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids. As near as I can tell, tickets are sold out for Friday’s performance, and only a few single seats are available for Saturday’s performance. Any questions regarding tickets can be made by calling the Opera Grand Rapids Box Office at 616.451.2741.
A few Halloween doings.
“Halloween is the only time people can become what they want to be without getting fired.-Sylvester Stallone
There is some serious Halloween celebrating going down in the county seat Thursday.
The Boomerang folks have helped organize a variety of events, and the library is to become haunted once again.
Get your face painted at the library starting at 3pm...maybe as part of your entry into the costume contest... the one beginning at 4:30 in the Rosenberg’s parking lot. Then there’s a sidewalk parade of the costumed kids from there to the library. From 5-7pm it’s Trunk of Treat time at the Rudert’s parking lot.
The talented troupe of the White Cloud Library are hosting their 2nd annual literary themed haunted house from 6:30-8pm.. They plan to incorporate stories from a childhood favorite, “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” into the experience so while this may be a bit scary for smaller children, but the library assures that “ there is an option to hold a ‘glowing talisman’ that when used, scary characters will not jump out at you.
I gotta admit I’ve not had great experiences at these things. A particular one visited years ago still brings tears to the eyes of my Lifetime Spousal Companion Lil who describes my yell as “Pretty much like the scream of a pre teen girl at an early Justin Bieber concert”, a story she loves to tell when able to stop laughing long enough to tell it.
Yup. Yours truly will be looking to get one of those talismen.
Then of course there is the Haunted Museum in downtown Newaygo (5-8pm) Here we have a couple dozen creative peeps channelling their macabre side to bring a healthy dose of terror to the citizenry who enter their doors.
And thankfully there are two tracks. One for those who enjoy engaging in scary endeavors and even relish the experience (LSC Lil) and another for those of us who have a reputation for being a little, uh, skittish at such things.
It’s free but donations are encouraged and listen, this type of thing goes for around $15 and up at other places so pony up a couple bucks and you’ll feel good, they’ll feel good, and the museum is haunted on this night so we want it to feel good as well.
Not enough Halloweening? Already gone through the kids’ candy for the reeses cups and twix? Ready to celebrate your own holiday without manning the door for trick or treaters, traipsing about in the rain and cold that always seems to accompany the day, or being trapped in a haunted museum or library?
Well Friday is the day for you.
River Stop Saloon in Newaygo is having a bit of a shindig with a costume contest that nets a cool Franklin to the winner, half a C for 2nd and $25 in goods for 3rd. Food and drink specials are on the agenda as well as some live music. The costume winners will be announced at midnight so don’t peak too early.
Reminder You can arrive anytime but don’t arrive the day before in costume because that will likely be a little weird despite it being Halloween.
Although I once knew a guy who used to on random occasions wear one of his many costumes to a bar.. He always claimed his Gumby outfit was best for meeting women though the Lone Ranger also fared well.
Got other Halloween doings? Add them to our comments.
Do you find yourself diving into a duet performance when one of your favorite Seger songs comes on the car radio? When you mention Alicia Keyes to Alexa and the song selected channels your inner R&B artistry do you bust out the pipes for some soulful synchronicity?
Or perhaps you solo in the shower with a litany of favored hits that echo resoundingly off the walls of the room.
You, my friend, need to join the Newaygo Community Choir.
Every year a group of citizens whose vocal abilities span a wide range, gather together to rehearse a set of songs to be performed at their annual Christmas concert.
The cast has some enduring characters who have long been involved but each year they welcome in new folks to the mix and from all reports thus far it appears to be time well spent and a boatload of fun.
Besides singing in a choir reduces stress, increases sociability, and according to research can help with things like blood pressure, heart rate and even snoring.
How you ask? How do I join this eclectic collective choir?
Show up. Tuesdays at 6:30pm
Rehearsals begin next week so there’s time to mark it off your schedule.
Here’s the skinny on the whole deal courtesy of our good friend Barbara Boss.
The River Country Community Choir will soon begin rehearsals for our Community Christmas concert! This choir and concert has been a tradition for Newaygo Country for over thirty years! Anyone who enjoys singing—especially with a choir of nearly fifty voices—is welcome to be part of the 2019 choir! Rehearsals begin on Tuesday November 5 at 6:30 pm. We will rehearse every Tuesday through December 3 from 6:30-8:30 at Family of God Community Church, 90 Quarterline, Newaygo. The Annual Christmas Concert, held at the Grant Fine Arts Center, will be on SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8 at 6:00 pm.
If you have questions, please email Barb Boss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come sing with us!
Che Apalache will perform at the Dogwood Center on Thursday, November 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box. Combining instrumental prowess with tight vocal harmonies, they curate an authentic blend of genres to reflect the nature of their lives, evoking images from Appalachia to the Andes. Their most recent album, "Rearrange My Heart", is produced by banjo legend Béla Fleck.
The four-man string band is based in Buenos Aires with members from Argentina, Mexico and the United States. The group’s founder is Joe Troop (fiddle), a North Carolinian multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and composer who moved to Argentina in 2010. While patiently carving out a niche in the local music scene, Joe taught bluegrass and old-time for a living. That’s how he met Pau Barjau (banjo), Franco Martino (guitar) and Martin Bobrik (mandolin), his most dedicated students. They quickly became picking buddies and in 2013 decided to hit the stage.
They began as a bluegrass band, but eventually incorporated Latin American styles into their repertoire. They affectionately titled their debut album “Latingrass”, a testament to a powerful cultural and musical exchange. The band has been featured on NPR's "Weekend Edition" and have performed at the Kennedy Center.
Tickets are $15.00 for this Black Box performance and are available through the Dogwood Center Box Office, NCCA-Artsplace in downtown Fremont, or on-line at www.dogwoodcenter.com. For information, phone 231.924.8885. The Dogwood Center is located one mile east of downtown Fremont.
Local tunes, karaoke, TV and a smidge of theater
Friday night is the Halloween Shindig at NC Sportsmans Club with a costume contest starting at 730pm. We include this because we now there are costume enthusiasts among you who are always looking for an opportunity to alter your identity and channel some serious imagination.
Besides there’s Karaoke as well.
Doors open 530pm and if you come as a clown you are not our friend.
The RStop Saloon in downtown Newaygo promises “You’ve never experienced a show like this” whan Emma Loo & Sam take to the stage starting at 8pm. We know nothing about this but who can resist a come on like that?
Adam Labeaux is taking to the stage at Newaygo Brewing Co. for their Acoustic Lunch Noon to 4pm Saturday.
Yay Community Theater!
Stage Door Players in White Cloud presents ‘Anne Frank and Me’ Friday and Saturday starting at 7pm. Downtown in the Cloud.
The cool thing about community theater is the whole community thing. The chance to see folks you know giving it their all on stage.
And Mama Mia is about to descend on the Grant Fine Arts Center. The LionHeart musicals have yet to disappoint so grab your tickets while you can.
TV Notes: If you haven’t been a fan of “This is Us” the compelling and well written series that has delivered shows ranging from really good to incredible you either haven’t taken the time to watch it or feel confused because you didn’t see it from the start or prefer your TV time to be occupied by the standard crime, hospital, law firm etc. dramas that churn out formula driven scripts that always seem to substitute long meaningful looks for dialogue.
It’s in season 4 but I’m speaking to the folks who have already entered the world of binge watching and are well acquainted with the advantages of On Demand.
Pay attention if you will to the writing because it is some of the most well crafted work I have witnessed on the tube since the days of West Wing.
And Netflix releases season two of The Kaminsky Method Friday featuring Michael Douglas and the incomparable Alan Arkin. You’re either going to like this or not. If you’re around say, 50-55 years old you will likely find it entertaining.
It will be hilarious.
Got some inside knowlege about things happening in the area like live music, fun events, and such? Send us a little info about it and we'll pass it on to our readers at the next Around The Town-N3.
Halloween Night On Monster Island: A Local Author’s Book
It’s that time of year where people subject themselves to creepy, scary, frightening haunted houses and terrifying movies. While some prefer to go the route of pumpkins and beautiful fall decor, there is no denying the gory and petrifying scenes are most popular!
Clark Roberts, a resident of Newaygo County, authored a book titled Halloween Night on Monster Island. In this holiday themed book, a group of kids tour a Halloween theme park, and things turn terrifying quickly.
The story is aimed at 3rd through 8th grade students, but in reality, older students and adults alike would enjoy this spooky tale.
Roberts answered some questions for N3 about his book and the experience of writing and publishing the story.
You can purchase the book at this Amazon link: Halloween Night On Monster Island
What is the publisher of your story?
Junior Deadman's Tome
How much does the book cost?
$9.99 for the paperback
$2.99 on kindle
Free if you have the kindle unlimited membership
How long did it take you to complete?
Each night I committed to writing 1,000 words. After the first draft I did 3 major revisions and then edited my final manuscript to send off to publishers. All in all, it took roughly two months from start to finish.
What inspired the theme of this book?
The first year my daughter participated in Halloween she wore a Gecko costume (Gecko is a character from the cartoon P.J. Masks). Even after Halloween had long passed she enjoyed dressing up in that costume from time to time. This led to me writing a horror short story about a family whose daughter turned into her Halloween costume ( a Komodo Dragon in that story). Eventually an offer was made for me to write a kid's book, and I thought the idea of kids turning into their costumes could be a really fun concept to explore. The idea needed a bit more for an actual book (a slim one), so I coupled it with an amusement park being shut down to the public for a group of cousins to enjoy on Halloween. I remember loathing waiting in line for rides when I was younger, and I think a lot of kids fantasize about having an entire theme park for their very own amusement.
Take the readers through a bit of your process as a writer.
I've learned, at least for me, the most important thing to do is to finish the story! Sometimes a story just naturally flows and comes together as easily as a dream; however, other times it's like I'm trying to turn the wrong key in the wrong keyhole. For me, it's very important to just finish the first draft. Some of my stories are ready to be published after one or two quick revisions. Others are lacking that little something and will sit for months before a decent idea strikes me seemingly out of the blue, and then I can work on the revision.
There is also great debate amongst writers about whether one should outline or just wing-it. My rough outline is almost always done in my head. Rarely do I start writing fiction with the answer of how to conclude the story. Even as the writer, I thoroughly get a jolt when I "discover" the ending to a story I'm writing. Being a very small-time freelance writer I don't have hard deadlines to meet. If I had deadlines, it's more than likely I'd draw up outlines and for the most part stick to them.
What made you decide to donate a portion of the proceeds to Newaygo and Coleman basketball? (In the first few months of his sales, Roberts, who is also an educator, donated to his favorite basketball teams.)
I enjoy sports. I enjoy watching sports, I've enjoyed coaching, and certainly I enjoyed participating in sports during my high school athletic career. The Newaygo and Coleman basketball programs are important to me. I played ball at Coleman and have some very fond memories of games, coaches, teammates, and just general competition. At Newaygo I coached in the basketball program at the middle school level and am truly thankful for that experience. I follow and root for both schools' basketball programs.
Who are your favorite authors?
Gary Paulsen (only when I'm wrinkled and can't remember my own name will the experience of Hatchet fade from memory), Stephen King, and Peter Straub.
Do you have any plans for future books?
Yes. If everything goes well with Halloween Night on Monster Island I have the idea for at least one follow-up novella if not two. I'll also continue to write short stories from time to time and send them out to get published.
What advice can you give to local writers who are looking to get published?
If you haven't already, learn to accept rejection. What I consider my best short story was rejected by over 30 magazines and/or anthologies. At least half of those publishers responded by emailing me the story ranged from very well-done to even great, but it didn't "fit" what they publish and therefore was being rejected. Eventually it landed, and I am very pleased with the anthology in which that story appears. So, if you do send something out and it gets rejected by a couple publishers, don't necessarily give up on it. If the editor is kind enough to offer advice that is a very good sign. In my experience, editors don't offer advice unless they think a story is at least solid, but keep in mind the story is still your creation and you don't have to follow their advice. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.
If writing is something you really want to do, don't quit. Obviously you need income, so that means a job or a career or whatever, but if you truly enjoy writing then get after it with your free-time. Mr. Stephen King suggests writing basically every... single... day. Well, I don't love writing as much as Stephen King. Writing is a very passionate HOBBY for me, and I'm absolutely comfortable with it remaining a hobby.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
In some capacity, yes.
What is one memory you have from the whole process that you look back on fondly?
Earlier I stated a significant portion of the inspiration for Halloween Night on Monster Island was my daughter's first trick-or-treat experience. That's the best memory. Could it be anything else? No.
Marathon Miles: One Year Later
By Alexis Mercer
One year ago this weekend I was nervously crossing the start line at the Grand Rapids Marathon; my first attempt at the 26.2 distance. The race went well, my training carried me through and I could add the marathon to my list of completed distances.
In the weeks and months that followed I backed off on distance but continued to put in miles. I completed a run streak (running a minimum of 1 mile a day) from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Some coworkers then wanted to run the Kent City Ridge Run in March, so I built in enough training to compete that race. But in the last mile as I hauled myself down the final hill, my hip was stabbing with pain, radiating down my leg.
The time had come for a break.
I took 5 weeks off from running to heal. When I came back from the break, I only put a 5k on my calendar as a goal, not wanting to overdo it.
Mile by mile I built my base back up - often laughing at my weekly mileage compared to the previous spring and summer. But I was feeling great and happy to be pounding the pavement again.
Two of my friends, Allison and Candy, were interested in training over the summer for a 5k. They had both run in the past, but it had been a long time since it was anything consistent, or even had run a mile without stopping. I jumped at the chance to “coach” my friends. I was all in.
I set up their run schedules 3 weeks at a time, leaving room for changes and goal setting and reevaluation. We texted daily to report on their progress. The start was slow. The goal: to build a habit. Make running a lifestyle, not just a short term goal.
Every week they surprised themselves. A mile quickly became something they didn’t dread. Their confidence grew. Their families were joining in! All the while their success became my inspiration. I watched them push their limits and break barriers. I had been sending them my own run selfies and reports to encourage them, but it rapidly turned from me encouraging them to all of us as equals, pushing each other.
Then in August my friend Aaron came home to visit his family. We were in the weight room, just having completed a circuit that left me sore for a few days, when he mentioned that he wasn’t going to be able to compete in the Army 10 Miler in October because of a change in deployment. Would I be interested in taking his spot? The fact that it fell on the one Saturday I had free during my cross season seemed like a sign I needed to jump in and take advantage of the opportunity.
My own training schedule, I decided, would stay focused on the Oktoberfest 5k with my friends, but I would up my long runs to see if I could build enough for the 10 miler. I booked a flight to DC and it was a done deal.
My husband questioned my sanity in planning such a spur of the moment trip for 3 days. I couldn’t necessarily justify it completely - other than I had a deep desire for a grand adventure that this would satiate.
The buildup went well. I made time for myself again. I forced the time to work in my favor by prioritizing. I had started another run streak back on Memorial Day and found myself in August with no desire for it to stop. All the while my friends were running long runs of 6 miles - SIX WHOLE MILES WITHOUT STOPPING - from 0 just weeks before - providing me with joy, inspiration and daily doses of pride.
September 21 was the Oktoberfest in Spring Lake. I rode with Candy and Allison to the race. It was an emotional morning for all of us. My pride for their accomplishments to have trained the entire summer, to have altered their lifestyles in such a positive way, was overwhelming. The race was just icing on the cake. Their accomplishments propelled me to my best 5k time since high school followed by tears of joy as they sprinted across the finish line.
Homecoming was the next week at NHS. As in the busiest time for me as a teacher, yearbook adviser and coach. While I was able to maintain daily running, my mileage goal was hard to hit. Even 35 miles was rough to make happen with everything else going on.
The following week was supposed to be a 40 mile week but life was catching up to me quickly. Despite my best effort, I only halved that goal. The last week before the race was taper week, which was identical to the week before, hitting 20 miles. That left me nervous for the race in DC. I knew I could run 10 miles but would my fitness carry me through with a respectable pace?
Race weekend arrived. Trepidation about my pace turned into pure joy and gratefulness for being healthy enough to run and enjoy a weekend with my family in our nation’s capital. We spent all of Saturday walking around the city, enjoying the zoo and exploring.
Sunday morning my mom and I boarded the metro to the Pentagon where the race started and finished. The metro had a delay, so thousands of runners packed in the late cars for a very cozy ride to a rushed start. When I walked out of the metro to stand next to the Pentagon, I was all adrenaline and joy.
Most races contain an abnormal number of fit people in relation to the general population. The Army 10 Miler? ALL fit people. Race organizers cap entries at 35,000. The first two miles I felt all 35,000 of the fit people around me. Those were my slowest miles due to not being able to pass people.
The race course took us over the Potomac twice, right next to the Washington monument, and by countless historical locations. I smiled the entire race. I just kept thinking how ridiculously grateful I was for this opportunity and for the blessing of running in my life.
Everything came together on race day despite the first two slower miles. I was able to beat my goal time of 1:30, finishing in 1:27:22. Even better, I was left with enough in me to survive walking an additional 10 miles touring the monuments, war memorials and chowing down at Bobby Flay’s burger joint with my family.
Today, exactly one year from the marathon, I laced up my Mizunos and headed out solo on the North Country Trail. I didn’t have a planned distance ahead of time. I just wanted to run and enjoy the beauty of the day and my ability to run to think and calm my mind. I reflected on the past year and the growth that has come through my running adventures.
I have run more than a thousand miles this year. I have overcome an injury. I have crossed finish lines for a 5k, 15k, and 10 miler. I have run in snow, rain, sleet, humidity, and sunshine. I have run in Michigan, Florida, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. I have been streaking for 146 days and counting.
I have continued to repeat my mantra #runwithvalor and I have had a smile on my face and true gratitude in my heart for each and every mile.
Photos below: I try to take a run selfie each day if I remember. Here is a collection from the past 365 days since last year's marathon. Snow, humidity and everything in between, but all smiles every time I lace up.
If you’re wandering around Newaygo Saturday there’s an entire afternoon and early evening of music within walking distance as The Newaygo Brewing C. brings in St Joe Jack from Noon-4pm and the RiverStop Saloon welcomes Backwoods Ltd. Around 60% of the Backwoods Express (hence the Ltd.) will kick it up at the comfy downtown watering hole from 5-8pm.
And later on if you still haven't had your musical fill head over to Forager in Howard City because starting at 9pm the Andrews String Band will be laying down some tunes and we hear they have a rather eclectic play list.
NCCA-Artsplace in downtown Fremont has this very cool thing called Saturday Drop-in Art for Children.
This week’s theme is Autumn Leaves and the one hour class begins promptly at 11:00am so it does not pay to dawdle when there is art to create, right?
It’s a “make and take” kind of thing with all ages welcome and children under the age of 5 would need to have an accompanying adult.
A bargain at $3 and like we said you get to bring home a piece of creative expression from a budding artist. What’s not to like?
Prefer your artistic endeavors combined with vegetables? Then head over to the Croton Township Library for the 5th annual Pumpkin Painting from 10:30am-12:30pm Saturday.
If you live in the Holton area and you want to meet the folks who are there when they are most needed to save lives and literally put out fires, come to the Holton Township Fire Department 6590 Holton Whitehall Road Saturday between 5-8pm and get yourself acquainted. While there think about your smoke detectors, fire plan etc. and ask any questions you might occasionally think of from time to time.
Aside: I’ve often wondered how a firefighter feels when some guy in a suit who works in an office talks about ‘putting out fires’.
Muskegon Farm Market is hosting having some Halloween fun Saturday with many activities beginning around 11am. Hitting the Muskegon Market on a Saturday is an exceedingly splendid experience that has never disappointed... mainly because close by is the remarkable Carmen’s.
This, folks, is a breakfast emporium extraordinaire and not just due to the truly righteous food but also for the opportunity to witness the most efficiently seamless eatery I have ever been privileged to experience. It’s hard to explain but one visit there and you will get it.
Tip well because from the hostess to the servers to the bussers and the cooks these folks have it down.
Mango Rash by Nan Sanders Pokerwinski hits the shelves next week
By Ken DeLaat with an appreciated assist from Donna Kipp
When I received a copy of Mango Rash I was knee deep in a bottleneck of work that needed to be done as well as in the midst of a reading list that rivaled that of a first year law student.
Thus, I asked Donna Kipp, a friend who is known to be an avid reader if she might be willing to give it a read and write up a few notes on the offering by Ms. Pokerwinski
She sent me this:
The title intrigued me from the start and I really wanted to know where it came from...but you need to read the book to find out that little tidbit.
This memoir tells a charming story of the author as a young girl moving toward adulthood and the challenges she faces along the way.
At the age of 16 and living in an Oklahoma college town, Nancy is excited when she and her parents have the opportunity to spend two years in American Samoa where her father will practice medicine.This is the young girl’s chance of a lifetime to adventure in a tropical climate and get away from the small town life she finds boring.
Once the family arrives and begins to settle in things are not quite what she had pictured in her mind and her early experiences toss her a few curves, yet as Nancy begins to find her way she discovers fa’a Samoa, the Samoan Way, is something she wishes to never leave.
The people, the culture and the beauty of the island changes her life. With many ordeals along the way including Hurricanes, a health crisis and (of course) boys, Nancy learns to appreciate not only the people she meets during her time in Samoa but also finds a new perspective toward her parents’ relationship and the way they face their own challenges... always together.
Donna spoke highly enough of the book that a decision was made to forego the aforementioned reading list and dive headfirst into Mango Rash.
Generally I am a notoriously slow reader. Nearly an entire Michigan winter was once lost to a Kurt Vonnegut novel and he can hardly be described as circumlocutory in his writings.
Mango Rash on the other hand got some immediate traction and I was soon delivered into the world of the author as a young person.
A young person who was uprooted from her Oklahoma home and transported across the globe to maneuver the nuances of life in Samoa. The storyline was compelling and the writer possesses an obviously strong set of wordsmithing skills.
I had scheduled a meeting with Ms. Pokerwinski and despite my efforts at finishing the book beforehand the last couple of chapters remained unread the morning of our get together.
We met at HTRJ discovering we both held Croton’s epicurean oasis in high esteem. Nan is a consummate storyteller with a gift for taking you along on her journeys and I found her company to be as agreeable in person as it was when accompanying her to Samoa during evening reads.
Being fairly forgetful (a rather chronic condition I can finally blame on age) I asked permission to tape our conversation. What I had not expected was the generally subdued (and eternally congenial) atmosphere in one of my favorite local haunts somehow seemed to draw a series of reunions among friends who greeted each other enthusiastically and engaged in multi table conversations that my device picked up on with more vitality than our rather low key chat.
Not willing to rely on my less than rapier-like memory, I emailed some of the same questions I previously presented but with some added awareness.
You see it wasn’t until after we met that I finished Mango Rash.
And it altered my thinking about the work.
Mango Rash transformed from a highly entertaining read with a healthy helping of charm to something a bit more.
Quite a bit more.
And here is our interview:
As a veteran of the print media field both on staff and freelance you are no stranger to writing.
Was this book always on the back burner?
When did you begin working on it and what led up to your decision to do so?
This book actually was not on the back burner. I had several other ideas for nonfiction books floating around before this one, but I was always too busy with my newspaper and magazine work to pursue them. Then, after attending my first writers' conference in 2004, I joined a writers' group in which we exchanged pages and critiqued one another's work. Just to have something to exchange, I started writing about my Samoa experiences. I'd always struggled to explain to anyone who hadn't been there what it was like to live on a tropical island as a teenager. The early drafts of the book were an attempt to do that and, in the process, understand why the experience had affected me so deeply.
You returned to Samoa. Tell us what that was like.
Did it help with writing the story or did it change the course of it in any way?
I returned in 1986, twenty years after I'd left. Coming back fulfilled a dream I'd had for all those years. It felt like a homecoming, because Samoa had come to feel so much like home during the time we lived there, and having to leave and move back to the States was heartbreaking. Fortunately, the 1986 homecoming was a joyful one—I was reunited with many old friends, and we took in the old sights, as well as new places that hadn't been there in 1966. Some of the changes were sad—a beautiful, palm-lined walkway along Pago Pago Bay where I’d spent happy times had been destroyed and turned into a storage area for shipping containers—but some places were unchanged, and the people were as warm as ever.
I’m sure that return visit informed the story, seeing how some things (and people) had turned out. I think it also reminded me how much a part of me the Samoa experience would always be.
It was a year that seemed to profoundly influence your life but the aftermath of your time there seems inundated with changes. Did your time in Samoa help you through this? Were you able to channel fa’a Samoa to help you cope?
That's very true—lots of changes and challenges were to come, and my time in Samoa most definitely helped me through all of those. In the Samoan people, I witnessed strength and steadiness in the face of adversity. There was no “why me?” attitude, but a kind of acceptance that was not resignation but grace. All part of fa’a Samoa--the Samoan Way. I tried to follow their example (and that of my mother, who possessed that same sort of grace) as I navigated my own difficult times.
Among other accolades you won 1st place at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in 2018. This led to being contacted by a publisher. What led you to the PNWA?
I entered the PNWA literary contest because every entry receives two manuscript critiques, and I thought the input would be valuable. When I found out I was a finalist and that winners would be announced at the annual meeting in Seattle, I mentioned it to my husband and said, "Too bad Seattle is so far away—too far to go." He said, "You should go! Maybe you'll win the contest, and you'll get a publisher." To which my response was, "Yeah, right." But we went, and I won, and the judge who selected my entry was Lynn Price of Behler Publications, who offered me a contract.
What surprised you most while writing the book?
What surprised me most was that even after thirty years of writing for a living, there was still so much I could learn about writing.
Next challenge? Currently working on?
My next challenge is surviving all the readings and signings I have scheduled over the next month or so and then, if I make it through all those, lining up some more. Another trip to Samoa has been in the works for some time, and we're hoping 2020 will be the year for that.
In terms of writing challenges, just getting back into regular writing after concentrating so much on publishing and promotion will be a challenge! Right now all I'm writing is my blog, HeartWood (nanpokerwinski.com/blog), and my monthly newsletter, Mango Meanderings. When things settle down, I'd like to unearth some projects I've started but put on hold: a novel about outsider art, creativity and madness; a childhood memoir with themes of inclusion, exclusion, and individuality; and a project that combines autobiographical collages with micro-memoirs. Also, my husband, Ray, and I have kicked around the idea of writing children's books based on the fairy stories he made up to accompany the fairy houses he created for Camp Newaygo's Enchanted Forest event.
And there are lots of non-writing-related things I'm looking forward to getting back into: more photography, hiking, native plant gardening, and travels with Ray.
What are you reading right now?
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, one of a big load of books I picked up at the last Croton Township Library used book sale
What book should everyone read?
I'm terrible at this kind of question. I can usually only think of the last good book I read. In this case, it's Educated, by Tara Westover.
There will be a celebration for the publishing of the book on Friday, October 25, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the NCCA-Artsplace, 13 E. Main, Fremont. It will be a chance to socialize a bit with some cool folks, perhaps hear the author do a reading and, of course, get a signed copy of Mango Rash: Coming Of Age In The Land Of Frangipani And Fanta.
Because it is a worthwhile read.
A very worthwhile read.
Busy that day? Well Nan and her book will be at Artworks in downtown Big Rapids October 29th, the wonderful Croton Township Library November 2nd, epilogue books in Rockford November 9th, and Newaygo’s Flying Bear Books November 30. Full details are in the events section of her website, nanpokerwinski.com.
Iconic folk singer-songwriter John Gorka will perform at the Dogwood Center on Saturday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m. The guitarist and songwriter’s wit and honesty has made him one of the most respected, beloved songwriters currently carrying on the folk tradition.
The award-winning, Minnesota-based folk singer tells real stories about real people. Rolling Stone magazine called him “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of what has been dubbed the New Folk Movement.”
After 14 critically acclaimed albums, countless national and international tours, and collaborations, Gorka released his album "True in Time" in 2018, a 12 song collection he put together with long time producer, Rob Genadek.
Many well-known artists have recorded or performed John Gorka songs, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, Mary Black and Maura O’Connell. John has graced the stage of Austin City Limits, Mountain Stage, eTown Hall and has appeared on CNN. His song “Where No Monuments Stand” is featured in the upcoming documentary Every War Has Two Losers, about activist Poet Laureate William Stafford.
Tickets are $22.50 for this Black Box performance and are available through the Dogwood Center Box Office, NCCA-Artsplace in downtown Fremont, or on-line at www.dogwoodcenter.com. For information, phone 231.924.8885. The Dogwood Center is located one mile east of downtown Fremont.
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