Midwest Literary Walk brings big names to small town Michigan

Friday, April 29, 2016 - 11:33pm

Every spring, a group congregates in little, picturesque Chelsea, MI. They spend the afternoon strolling through the town from quaint spot to quaint spot, chatting and perhaps taking a picture or two. To an onlooker, they look like any foodie tour or church group on an afternoon outing. The difference is that they are joined by some of the country's most talented writers.

The Midwest Literary Walk, which began eight years ago, has grown into one of the region's most unique and anticipated arts events, both for those who attend and for the authors themselves. The walk is sponsored by the Chelsea Public Library and partners with local media, including WDET and Detroit Public Television.

Over the past few years in particular, the walk has attracted big names and talent, including appearances last year by National Book Award finalist Angela Flournoy and lauded poet Edward Hirsch.

“We raised the bar a little bit last year,” Rich Fahle, the walk's organizer, said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

This year's lineup is as impressive as ever. The University's own Claire Vaye Watkins, a much buzzed-about novelist, will participate alongside such diverse voices as National Book Award-winning poet Robin Coste Lewis, Detroit poet Jamaal May, National Book Award finalist Christopher Sorrentino, and bestselling historical fiction novelist Paula McLain, a book club stalwart.

But perhaps the most appealing aspect of the walk is its casual, friendly tone. Despite the event's popularity, it's easy to feel like you have a famous author all to yourself.

“It's really interactive,” Fahle said. “You're right there with them.”

Literati, Ann Arbor's beloved independent bookstore, even sets up shop for customers looking to support local business and buy brand-new books signed by new friends at the same time. The intimate setting is enhanced even more after the day's official events are over, when fans and authors alike retire to the Chelsea Alehouse for some literary conversation over craft beer. 

The walk attracts such talented authors by providing them with not only press and publicity, essential in the modern literary world, but also with a unique experience to interact with readers in a beautiful setting. Many of the authors are from Michigan, have connections to the state or university or have used Michigan as a source of inspiration for their work. This makes Chelsea the perfect setting to explore their writing.

It's an opportunity like no other, a sunny Saturday where you can “go on a road trip, see some amazing writers in this small Midwestern town,” Fahle said. “Our reputation as a fun event is starting to grow.”