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MAY 2011
Michigan Humanities Council Newsletter
  Great Michigan Read Kicks Off for Partners

Arc of Justice“It has all the elements of a great story. I mean, really fascinating figures. … I’m from Michigan, from Detroit, and it’s a place I care an enormous amount about. It was a chance to write about a place I love. It’s not the most flattering picture of Detroit, but I tried to give the most honest one.”
Author Kevin Boyle, on his book Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in Jazz Age.

The Michigan Humanities Council is proud to announce the 2011-12 Great Michigan Read, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age. The Council’s early announcement allows statewide educators ample time to review and prepare for fall curriculum.

Written by Detroit native Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice tells the story of African American Dr. Ossian Sweet and the chain of events that occurred after he purchased a home for his family in an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. The book won the 2004 National Book Award for nonfiction, was named a 2005 Michigan Notable Book, and was selected for the Great Michigan Read by a group of nearly 50 librarians, teachers, students, professors, authors and more from across the state.

Sweet“I’m absolutely thrilled and caught off guard,” Boyle said. “There’s nothing more exciting than imagining people in my home state reading my book.”

The Great Michigan Read is a free statewide humanities initiative inviting Michiganians to read and participate in book discussions and events in their hometowns. Intended for young adults to senior citizens, the Great Michigan Read aims to make literature more accessible and appealing, while also encouraging residents to learn more about their state. In the fall the Council will host an author tour, where Boyle will visit selected communities to discuss the book.

“It’s a chance to engage in a statewide conversation on some of our most-pressing issues – things like equality and justice,” said Greg Parker, program officer for the Michigan Humanities Council.

By telling the story of Dr. Ossian Sweet, Boyle illuminates other historical issues, including the building blocks of the civil rights movement, the Great Migration of African Americans to the North, the social and political climate of the 1920s, and the boomtown years of Detroit.

 “When you think about civil rights and race relations, you automatically think about Alabama and Mississippi,” Boyle said. “So I was really trying to talk about race issues in the northern front.”

Become a Partner

The Council invites libraries, schools, colleges, museums, book clubs and other organizations to register and work with the Council over the next few months to implement supporting programs in their community. In September, the Council will begin a major public relations initiative that will push these programs into the public. “We recognize that this is a challenging time, which is why we provide all program resources free of charge,” Parker said. “We’re preparing reader guides, teacher guides and free discussion kits that will include copies of the book. For communities that want to take on bigger programs, we can provide financial support as well as opportunities to host the author.”

Supporting programs can include book discussions, classroom exercises, exhibitions, lectures, oral history projects and more.

“Partners can register online, and there will be a streamlined application process for those applying for book discussion kits. We want to make participation as easy as possible,” Parker said.

In addition, partners can indicate if they would like to partner with the Council to host the author or engage in larger community initiatives.

“We’re going to unveil a request for proposal process for major initiatives and the author tour,” added Parker.

Past Great Michigan Read Books Still Generatibng Buzz

Last year’s book selection, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen, inspired cross-curricular activities and is still used in some high schools.

At Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, 10th grade teachers from the science, math, social studies, music and art departments got together and created activities based on Nguyen’s book that could be used in each department.

 “We ended with all the sophomores attending a video conference with Bich, where students asked questions and were charmed by her candor and intellect,” said Kathy Kopitz, an English teacher at Lahser.

Kopitz said the Michigan connection and video contact with the author helped connect the curriculum with the “real life” application of skills practiced in the classroom.

Partnering with the Council allowed Kopitz to purchase the selected book at a discounted rate, kept her informed of news articles and appearances, and introduced her to others who supported efforts in expanding curriculum while engaging all levels of students.

Swan Valley High School in Saginaw, also a previous partner, continues to use Nguyen’s book in their composition classes.

“We always appreciate the books you’ve selected,” said Kay Wejrowski, library media specialist at the high school. “It’s something we may not have run across or selected.”

Mike Federspiel, a professor of history at Central Michigan University, was heavily involved in the 2007-08 Great Michigan Read, featuring Ernest Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories. As president of the Michigan Hemingway Society, the Council asked him and the Society to help in publicizing Hemingway’s connections to our state.

“The Great Michigan Read has allowed me to network with individuals and organizations all over the state,” Federspiel said. “As an institution, the Michigan Hemingway Society has also benefited from its involvement. Our membership has grown and the heightened visibility has increased inquires; about and attention paid to Hemingway in Michigan.”

For more information on how you can join the Great Michigan Read, please email, call 517-372-7770, or visit


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