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Interview with 2015 BookFest Speaker Mary Doria Russell

Kerrytown BookFest Vice President Sharon Gambin recently caught up with Mary Doria Russell to ask about her background, her influences, and what’s next for her.

We would love to know what inspired you to begin writing novels.

Unemployment! I was teaching anatomy at the Case Western University School of Dentistry, but before long, the entire Basic Sciences Department was eliminated and all the courses were folded into the med school. So I didn’t actually lose my job. I know right where it is. It’s in the med school and someone else is doing it now.

Photo: Jeff Rooks

Photo: Jeff Rooks

I left academe at that point. I worked as a freelance technical writer for five years, but my contracts dried up during the big recession at the end of the Bush Administration (Bush I, not Bush II). By then my kid was in school full time and I had an idea for what I thought might be a short story. Kind of got away from me… That short story turned into The Sparrow (1996) and Children of God (1998).

Please tell us something about the challenges and pleasures of your research and writing process?

Well, I do enjoy research. Each of the novels has been the equivalent of a Ph.D. thesis — but with dialog. The challenge is, I can do a lot of research only to find out that I can’t make a story out of it.

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Kerrytown BookFest Speaker Lineup Finalized

Ann Arbor’s Oldest Continuous Book Festival Enters 13th Consecutive Year

The Kerrytown Bookfest is pleased to announce that we have finalized our speaker lineup for our 13th season, and it’s a doozy! This year’s event, which takes place on September 13th, 2015, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, is centered on “Old Friends,” and the Kerrytown Bookfest has invited back some very popular speakers from our past to anchor the program.

Noted Michigan writers Bonnie Jo Campbell and Thomas Lynch will kick off the day with a special ticketed breakfast beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Zingerman’s Events on 4th space at the Kerrytown Market & Shops.

Our featured speaker of the day is Mary Doria Russell, award winning author of The Sparrow, Doc, Epitaph and A Thread of Grace. Russell is known for conducting exhaustive research for her novels, so it won’t come as a surprise that she holds a Ph.D in Biological Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Science Fiction Encyclopedia chief editor John Clute describes Russell as an “author who established a strong reputation for cognitive subtlety and narrative power…” Kirkus reviews called her first novel, The Sparrow, “A brilliant first novel,” and she’s been nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize, as well as an IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize. Ms. Russell will discuss “From Mayhem to the Movies: How the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Became Folklore,” as well as her new novel, Epitaph.

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The Edible Book Contest

The Kerrytown Edible Book Contest is a fun, family-friendly event that takes place as a part of the Kerrytown BookFest. This event invites participants to create edible (and not so edible) creations based on books. The entries are exhibited, judged, documented and eaten (if you dare!).

The Kerrytown Edible Book Contest will take place on Sunday September 13th, 2015 from 11am to  5pm, with judging at 4 p.m.

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The Kerrytown BookFest Book Cover Design Contest is Open!

8th Annual Contest Open to all Michigan High School Students

The Kerrytown Bookfest is pleased to announce that the 2015 Book Cover Design Contest is open and accepting submissions. The contest, in which students are asked to redesign an existing book cover, is now in its 8th year, says Kerrytown BookFest President, Robin Agnew. “The contest is open to all Michigan High School students, and it’s always such a thrill to see their very creative designs.”

This year students are asked to create a new cover for My Last Kiss by author Bethany Neal, and free copies of the book are available to any interested students. Ms. Neal’s novel, her first, is a tale of supernatural romantic suspense.

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Ed Surovell Named 2015 Kerrytown BookFest Community Book Award Winner

The Kerrytown BookFest has named Ann Arbor Realtor Edward Surovell as the 2015 Community Book Award Winner. Each year, the BookFest selects one person to recognize for their ongoing commitment to the book community in Ann Arbor said Robin Agnew president of the Kerrytown BookFest.

“Edward Surovell was chosen for his invaluable commitment to Ann Arbor’s book community; especially his avid support for the Ann Arbor District Library,” she said.

Ed Surovell speaks at the 2007 BookFest while Josie Parker looks on.

Josie Parker and Ed Surovell at the 2007 BookFest

He has generously offered his time on numerous state and local boards including the Michigan History Foundation, the Library of Michigan Foundation, The Historical Society of Michigan and was president of the Michigan Historical Commission. He is also the current vice president of the governing board of the Ann Arbor District Library and its longest serving member (1996). He is also a member of the prestigious Grolier’s Club which limits its membership to 800 and promotes books worldwide.

Surovell is considered one of the state’s premier collectors of books on early Michigan history, books on books, and Indian language bibles and other Indian language religious publications. He also specializes in books produced by Michigan publishers including those from Father Gabriel Richard’s Press of Detroit, King Jesse James Strang’s Press of Beaver Island and Dr. Chase’ Steam Printing Press of Ann Arbor. He has one of the most complete collections of books published by Dr. Chase.

Previous winners of the Community Book Award include Jay Platt of Westside Books, Tom and Cindy Hollander, and Nicola Rooney, former owner of Nicola’s Books, author Loren Estleman and Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Surovell. A graduate of Columbia University, moved to Ann Arbor in 1968 and quickly became one of its leading realtors, selling his business in 2012, he is a consultant to the current owner.

He attributes his love of books to his mother who he says “Loved books deeply.”

“I grew up in a house with a substantial library,” he said. Before moving to Ann Arbor he worked at several New York Publishers including Harcourt Brace & World as an editor of grammar and spelling books.

Surovell said it was during this time that he began collecting books related to his career including books on type design, the history of publishing, booksellers and collectors and books on editorial style.

He said, “I root for all libraries and libraries are central to democracy and the struggle to improve one’s self.”

Former award winner Josie Parker said Surovell is deserving of the award for his support of the book community.

“Words are very important to Ed,” she said. She also said that he was very supportive of her career.

Parker said, “When I look back on R. Surovell’s years of public service his vision for the Library has been very important with a view forward that has been steadfast and steady.”

“He has been my mentor for my entire professional career as a librarian and his support of the Library is unparalleled,” she said.

The Award will be presented to Surovell, 74, at the Kerrytown BookFest Sunday, September 13 at the Farmers Market in Ann Arbor. The BookFest is in its 13th year. For more information on the BookFest go to