The National Writers Series brings literary superstars to TC

Writers Jodie Picoult and Paula McClain onstage during the 2011 NWS Season

Doug Stanton remembers the first time he stood up in front of an audience in Traverse City’s opulent 19th century Opera House to talk about writing.

It felt surprisingly good.

“We talked, we had food, we had a few drinks,’” says Stanton, a Traverse City resident whose two nonfiction books (Horse Soldiers, In Harm’s Way) were New York Times best-sellers. “I think I said, ‘Let’s do this again sometime” — and a month later we were back again with Elmore Leonard.”

That evening in the spring of 2009 was the beginning of the National Writers Series, which brings a steady stream of celebrity authors to this tiny Michigan resort town for “up close and personal” readings and discussions. At least once each month, a prominent writer is brought to Traverse City to present and discuss his or her work in an intimate and relaxed setting with plenty of audience interaction.

“The aim is to have people lean in around the fire of a great narrative, to connect with them,” says Stanton. “And that means having conversation.”

Over the three years since it began, the series has featured more than 50 writers like Mario Batali, Roy Blount Jr., Tom Brokaw, Philip Caputo, Peter Mathiessen, Vince Gilligan, Jodi Picoult, Anna Quindlen, James Bradley, Geraldine Brooks and Natalie Bakopoulos. And it has boosted Traverse City’s reputation as an unusually bookish town: Livability.com has listed it among its Top 10 Cities for Book Lovers, and Publishers Weekly ran a full-page feature entitled “Traverse City is For Book Lovers.”

Doug Stanton (at left) and Tom Brokaw chat during an early NWS session.

Such salon-style encounters are expected at venues like New York’s 92nd Street Y, but the publishing industry is fascinated by the success of the Traverse City venture. During the past year, the National Writers Series has been featured in stories in several leading industry publications, including a piece in Publishers Weekly entitled “Traverse City is for Book Lovers,” and a Publishing Perspectives article that called it “one of the nation’s leading literary series.”

“When you put together a community that cares deeply about reading and a staff that cares deeply about writers, magic happens, said Picoult, author of My Sister’s Keeper. “The National Writers Series was one of the highlights of my last book tour.”

The NWS organization provides scholarships to area high school students, and has just inaugurated a program called Front Street Writers, that provides a full year of advanced creative writing workshops (for credit) to qualified students.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the Series translates directly into bigger book sales, so the supply of available authors doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Neither is the supply of audience members; most events are sold out fairly quickly, and it’s usually a good idea to reserve tickets four weeks ahead of a scheduled appearance.

Susan Casey (left) and Anna Quindlen at a session of the 2012 NWS series.

Tickets for the monthly events are $15 in advance or $20 at the door, but  Stanton and his crew haven’t jacked ticket prices through the roof to take advantage of their success. They offer discounts for book clubs and students (who get in for only $5) – and there’s a great program called “Whatta Book Deal,” where patrons can get a premium seat, a signed book copy and admission to a pre-show author reception for $38.

Announcements of coming writer appearances are made twice a year, in June and in February, and the most recent slate is already causing excitement. The big event of the 2012 summer season will be a July 9 benefit appearance by Janet Evanovich, author of the New York Times best-selling Stephanie Plum and Lizzy and Diesel series, including her most recent book, Wicked Business. The program, offered during Traverse City’s annual National Cherry Festival, is a fundraiser for the NWS’s annual summer scholarship program.

Other writers for the rest of 2012 include thriller writer Lee Child (Sept. 18), young adult fiction author Maggie Stiefvater of Shiver, Linger and Forever (Sept. 27), Somalian human-rights memoirist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Oct. 11), actor-author Benjamin Busch (Nov. 8), and mystery novelist Michael Connelly (Nov. 29).

To learn more about the National Writer Series, and for ticket information, check out the group’s website at http://nationalwritersseries.org/.

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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2 Responses to The National Writers Series brings literary superstars to TC

  1. This Lee Child event will be great fun. I’m looking forward to having him here in our town!

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