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Power of the word

By Mary DeYoe

Now in its third full semester at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, a goal for  the Zell Visiting Writers Series is to increase awareness of the program across southeastern Michigan. The series is funded in part by a gift made by Helen Zell (UM ’64).

Each semester two Creative Writing faculty members—one poet and one fiction writer—select three authors to present in the series. In November the series will present the poet (see left) Marilyn Hacker (November 4) and fiction writer Robert Boswell (November 11). Hacker is the author of twelve books of poetry and a past recipient of the National Book Award.

Boswell is a novelist, short story writer, and playwright. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In December, a reading by ZZ Packer will conclude the events for the Fall  semester. Packer is the author of the short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, and was recently named one of  America’s Young Innovators by Smithsonian Magazine.

In addition, poet Stephanie Douglass (see right below) and fiction writer Jennifer Tomscha will read 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5.

Douglass grew up in Texas, on the Llano Estacado. She studied psychology at Texas Tech University, and after earning her bachelor’s, worked in a children’s residential treatment center. Her poems speak to place and anxiety, but not children. She currently lives and teaches in Ann Arbor.

Tomscha was born and raised in the Great Plains.  She was educated in English and philosophy at Luther College, and has a master of theology from Harvard Divinity School.  Her work is forthcoming in Glimmer Train and Altered States (Main Street Rag Press).  She loves the slow-motion wave at the Big House, especially with her cohort by her side.

The readings are held in UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium.

Since its beginning in the early 1990s the Zell Series has grown significantly, however, it was not until UMMA’s reopening and reincarnation as a “meeting place for the arts” in March 2009, that the Series finally found a permanent home, said Megan Levad, Assistant Director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program and a 2008 graduate of the MFA program in poetry.

“Without the consistency of a home [in previous years the readings hopped between venues on campus) the [Zell] Series could not always fulfill its great potential for bringing the best in contemporary literature to our community members,” she said. “Our partnership with UMMA allows not only for consistency, but also for greater presence in the Ann Arbor community because UMMA is an inviting, public space.”

The series also features a reading and lecture by the Program’s Writers-in-Residence. These distinguished authors spend a week on campus, and in addition to their public appearances they attend classes and meet with creative writing students. This year’s Writers-in-Residence include Yusef Komunyakaa, who read in October, and Jonathan Lethem, who will read in March.

“Authors in the [Zell Series] are addressing our most pressing concerns in this moment — global instability and war, collapse of the financial markets, environmental devastation,” said Levad.

For a complete schedule of upcoming readings please visit or

Mary DeYoe is education program coordinator at University of Michigan Museum of Art.