TRAVERSE CITY — It was at a surprise book party celebrating Doug Stanton’s completion of a national book tour for “Horse Soldiers” that the idea sparked to life.
“It was a really fascinating night of conversation about a complex global situation that is 9/11 and Afghanistan,” Doug Stanton said.
“From that moment, I grew the idea of starting to do book events that weren’t lectures, that were not just writers reading from their books at a podium followed by a book signing,” he said. “I wanted to create a moment on the City Opera House stage in which the audience felt moved or changed in the best way you can in a good interview.”
And thus was born the National Writers Series.
Approaching its 10-year anniversary, the National Writers Series is a nonprofit that draws world-renowned authors — and beckons those just emerging — to the stage for discussions that aim to bridge the gap between reader and writer.
“The reason it succeeded is because the community is so behind us,” said Anne Stanton, National Writers Series co-founder and executive director.
The 2020 spring season kicks off Jan. 31 with Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times op-ed columnist, and Sheryl WuDunn talking about their book “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.” They’ll be joined by guest host Nathan Payne, executive editor of the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Kristof examines his hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, and why nearly a quarter of his classmates have died young or are struggling, Anne Stanton said.
“It’s an intense read,” Anne Stanton said. “The stories are really representative of rural America, and Traverse City in our own backyard.”
On Feb. 6, author Steve Luxenberg will take a step back in time with his book “Separate: The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation.”
U.S. Supreme Court cases provide a window to America and how the country is dealing with national conversations, Luxenberg said. The U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the 1896 ruling for Plessy v. Ferguson spent much of his life as a Michigan resident, he said.
There’s a racial divide more than 130 years later that still exists in America and it’s something people either are talking about or avoiding discussing, Luxenberg said. It’s a conversation about the past, present and future he hopes to have during his appearance.
“I’m hoping that the evening will be one that people go home thinking about things more deeply than when they came or differently than they had before,” he said.
Pam Houston leads readers outdoors with her book “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country” when she takes part in the National Writers Series on April 22. It will be Houston’s first time attending the series.
Houston said she grew up in an abusive and alcoholic household without any sense of home or safety. She found them on a homestead in Creede, Colorado, that she bought on impulse, Houston said.
“It’s a place of almost inexpressible beauty and goodness and I found it,” she said. “It’s kind of a miracle I found it, given how I grew up.”
The book focuses on how caring for the animals and land helped her grow up and become an adult, Houston said. The homestead gave her back a sense of place, safety and groundedness.
“One thing I’m really noticing (during book talks), people are going, ‘Oh, it really is OK to allow the beauty of my home, my land I’m attached to, it really is OK to let that make me feel better,’” Houston said. “It’s like the legitimization of this relationship we all have with the land.”
Houston’s talk is sponsored by the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, Anne Stanton said. Houston will be doing a fundraiser with the organization the night before her National Writers Series appearance, she said.
“We really believe strongly in trying to match an author with a local organization working in our community to make things better,” Doug Stanton said. “It’s a multiplying effect.”
All events are held at the City Opera House with doors opening at 6 p.m. for music and morsels, and authors taking the stage at 7 p.m.
Tickets go on sale for Friends of the National Writers Series on Dec. 27 and public sales begin Jan. 3.