The relaxed atmosphere of a coffee break open-mic night is sorely missed by those who run Café Shapiro, an annual showcase of creative writing by University of Michigan undergraduates. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that nothing slows down creativity, and the creativity of U-M undergrads shows no signs of stopping.
A Zoom webinar for the event took place across the span of four nights over the last two weeks, with its opening night on March 1. I attended my first Café Shapiro last Tuesday, March 2; for any aspiring writers, a pandemic is no excuse for not checking this one out.
This year, in an effort to take advantage of the Zoom format, the event was hosted by University alumni and other esteemed guests who ask questions of the student writers and give insight into writing and media production. On Tuesday, the event was hosted by Mike Farah and Joe Farrell of the production company Funny Or Die, with guest appearances from University alumni Chris Farah and Bridget Bodnar, who work in writing and podcasting respectively. Bodnar gave her insight into a career in content production and specifically into the world of podcasts, while Farrell was generally excited about the burgeoning talent of our undergraduate writers.
The writers featured on the event’s second night were truly fantastic. LSA senior Hayley Yu was up first, and with the excerpt from her intimate novel about numbing, indecisive grief was a powerful start to the night. Up next was LSA sophomore Nayiri Sagherian’s otherworldly short story about the weavers of fate. It was transportive, insightful and mystical like an exurb1a video.
The poets took up the middle of the lineup. Poetry has never been my preferred medium, but even I could tell that these poets were exceptional. I loved the rhythmic prose of LSA junior Jee-In Kwon, the thoughtful musings into the secret life of bugs by LSA junior Harper Klotz and the metaphors of glass and love used in LSA freshman Tess Klygis’s first poem made me feel things — yeah, that last one hit.
LSA sophomore Sabrina Nash wrote a stunningly observant love letter to the Midwest (which says a lot coming from an East Coast imposter), and LSA freshman Lily Price’s short New Year’s love story went beyond the superficial “When Harry Met Sally” tropes. LSA senior Ellie Katz’s creative nonfiction essay about the California wildfires was a refreshing take on climate change. Music, Theatre & Dance senior Kellie Beck’s excerpt from her thought-provoking novel about domestic drama refreshed my love for quiet, moody protagonists, and Music, Theatre & Dance senior Carly Cooper’s short play about mental illness was poignant and exciting for its insight and imaginative use of a minimal set.
It is clear that the Shapiro librarians have a great love for this event. They love the coffee shop aesthetic but are more than willing to adapt Café Shapiro during the COVID-19 pandemic for the benefit of the talented University creatives. They executed the technical elements perfectly; the night went smoother than most of my Zoom classes.
Creative writing is difficult and painful, but these students made it look like a breeze, and frankly, I’m jealous. I’ll surely keep a lookout for what future projects these writers take on.
Daily Arts Contributor Micah Golan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.