Beyond the well-known National Cherry Festival, Traverse City is showing up on travelers’ radar these days for its postcard scenery, outdoor fun and boutique wineries, not to mention the annual film festival founded by Michael Moore.
Another event that’s gaining traction is the National Writers Series, which has welcomed dozens of big-name – even Pulitzer Prize-winning — authors, journalists and storytellers to Traverse City since 2009. Tom Brokaw, Elmore Leonard, David Sedaris, Jodi Picoult, Anna Quindlen and Janet Evanovich are among past headliners, along with the writers and producers of such TV hits as “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland.”
While it may not sound particularly sexy, the year-round literary event regularly draws crowds of 600 or more to Traverse City’s restored 19th-century City Opera House. Amid its frescoed walls and gold leaf trim, book buffs spend several hours with the types of high-profile authors whose book tours typically land in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. And word is getting out: Publishers Weekly last year hailed Traverse City’s “growing reputation as a city of book lovers.”
What the local audience gets is not a traditional lecture or book reading but, rather, an engaging conversation between the author and a guest host. The sessions, billed as “An evening with,” are designed to inspire the author to open up and “come alive” onstage, says NWS founder, Doug Stanton, a Traverse City native who is a best-selling author himself.
“We like to think these evenings are like fun dinner parties where around 8 o’ clock the conversation turns entertaining and full of surprises,” he says.
Having read Stanton’s two books this month, I was blown-away by his painstaking research and riveting tales drawn from incidents in U.S. military history. “In Harm’s Way” explores the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the excruciating ordeal of its water-logged, shark-terrorized survivors. And “Horse Soldiers,” as its subtitle says, tells “The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan” in the months immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
I highly recommend both of them. And I only wish I could get back to Traverse City next week, March 5, when my colleague, Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin, takes a turn on stage as guest host. He’ll spend “An evening with” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger, whose books include the best-selling “Friday Night Lights” and his latest, “Father’s Day.”
Having sat next to Rubin for 12 years — and listened in on countless telephone interviews — I know that the audience will experience a great conversation and a memorable evening.
Tickets, $20 in advance, $25 at the door, are available at www.nationalwritersseries.org or (231) 577-6971. Ask about combination packages such as the “Book Lovers Getaway” featuring a night at the Park Place Hotel and two event tickets, plus book and meal credits in downtown Traverse City.
This spring, as the National Writers Series celebrates its fourth year, more top authors are headed to town, including Blaine Harden (“Escape from Camp 14”), Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”), Nathaniel Philbrick (“Bunker Hill”) and Temple Grandin, the acclaimed autism expert and animal welfare advocate.
Many of the authors will take time to meet with local high school students in an innovative new writing workshop program. It complements a college scholarship fund also administered by the non-profit, community-supported National Writers Series.