Pages: 232 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 3 black-and-white images
Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction comes to us from twenty-three of Michigan’s most well-known essayists. A celebration of the elements, this collection is both the storm and the shelter. In her introduction, editor Anne-Marie Oomen recalls the "ritual dousing" of her storytelling group’s bonfire: "wind, earth, fire, water—all of it simultaneous in that one gesture. . . . In that moment we are bound together with these elements and with this place, the circle around the fire on the shores of a Great Lake closes, complete."
The essays approach Michigan at the atomic level. This is a place where weather patterns and ecology matter. Farmers, miners, shippers, and loggers have built (or lost) their livelihood on Michigan’s nature—what could and could not be made out of our elements. From freshwater lakes that have shaped the ground beneath our feet to the industrial ebb and flow of iron ore and wind power—ours is a state of survival and transformation. In the first section of the book, "Earth," Jerry Dennis remembers working construction in northern Michigan. "Water" includes a piece from Jessica Mesman, who writes of the appearance of snow in different iterations throughout her life. The section "Wind" houses essays about the ungraspable nature of death from Toi Dericotte and Keith Taylor. "Fire" includes a piece by Mardi Jo Link, who recollects the unfortunate series of circumstances surrounding one of her family members.
Elemental’s strength lies in its ability to learn from the past in the hope of defining a wiser future. A lot of literature can make this claim, but not all of it comes together so organically. Fans of nonfiction that reads as beautifully as fiction will love this collection.
Michigan’s population surpasses Jamaica and Ireland combined, and Anne-Marie Oomen showcases the Marlon Jameses and James Joyces of this land by gifting readers with stunning pieces by the likes of Ari L. Mokdad and Rochelle Riley—two names that should be household and heart-held, just like this collection. In the anthology, Michigan is described as two gloves, but unmentioned is what those two gloves are holding: the answer is literary talent.
– Ron Riekki, editor of The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (Wayne State University Press, 2013)
This collection is not a love letter to Michigan. The writers are not sparing in their complaints of the brutal winters, the bad deeds of their neighbors, or the potential isolation of deeply rural living, but they also warmly and generously sing the praises of Michigan’s natural beauty, its striving toward diversity, and its residents’ tenacity and goodness. Oftentimes, Michigan is a backdrop to these essays, and its presence—like the slant of autumn light over the woods—throws light and shadow through the leaves.
– Patricia Ann McNair, author of And These Are the Good Times
I found this collection to be stunning and broadly illustrative of what I believe is the great theme of Midwestern literature: namely the drama one feels between believing you are in the heart of the country while feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere. This book collects the suppressed angst of the lake effect and the subtle sublime ecstasy of the island of the inland sea.
– Michael Martone, author of Brooding and The Moon Over Wapakoneta
The magic of this anthology—aside from the quality of each essay—is the way in which these distinct and individual voices coalesce, montage-like, into a single defining declaration of what it means to fully embrace and celebrate a place and its inhabitants—human and nonhuman—in such a reckless and troubled time. The spirit of this book resonated days later, like pure song.
– Jack Driscoll, author of The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot (Wayne State University Press, 2017) and The World of a Few Minutes Ago (Wayne State University Press, 2012)
The essays in Elemental—full of the form’s associative genius—are rooted in the ways of Michigan, the physical and emotional geography, approached from a remarkable array of angles. The reader comes to see Michigan as an unrepentant gateway to all manner of universes—ecological, personal, political, and geological, among others. All the writing sparkles and engages; all the writing evokes actualities that, as the title indicates, emanate from the dearly prized earth.
– Baron Wormser, author of The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet’s Memoir of Living Off the Grid
Loren Eisley was surely right when he said, ‘If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water’—and ditto for the magic that inheres in these pages of Elemental that explores, contemplates, and celebrates the great freshwater state of Michigan that is utterly like no other place on earth. In a time of drought and mayhem, what a gift and reminder that this beautiful place surrounded by water gives voice to such powerful writers.
– Robert Vivian, author of Cold Snap as Yearning, The Mover of Bones, and Immortal Soft-Spoken