After 20 years of Literary Picnics in a Poet’s Backyard, Roethke House Goes Virtual

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   By: Robert E Martin

01st August, 2020     0

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, The Friends of Theodore Roethke have reinvented themselves and will be kicking off their 'In a Poet's Backyard' Literary Picnic Series on Tuesday, August 4th with a virtual presentation by Saginaw music historian Fred Reif that will begin at 7 PM

Even though the format is changed and limited, Roethke’s Summer Speaker Series 2020 continues it’s quality offerings with a series of Tuesday evening book talks. The opening event features Fred Reif (Tell ‘em ‘bout the blues) on August 4; Ken Meisel (Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit,) and Jeff Vande Zande (The Neighborhood Division,) for a dual presentation on August 11th; and Sherrin Frances (Libraries amid Protest) on August 18th.

Then on Tuesday, September 8, Michael Kolleth, Executive Director of the Temple Theatre and Saginaw Art Museum, presents a talk on Roethke’s Written Word consisting of rare books and manuscripts related to the poet, zoomed from the Saginaw Art Museum. 

And lastly on September 15, Simone Vaughn Miss Saginaw County will also speak on children’s self confidence and mental health with an introduction by Wardene B. Talley, Wraparound Supervisor for Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority.

All events are online and begin at 7:00 pm. 

"We are grateful for emergency grant funding assistance for operational costs and contracted seasonal presenters funded in part by a H.O.P.E. grant, through the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and funded in part through the C.A.R.E.S. ACT by the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Arts, states Friends of Theodore Roethke director Anne Ransford.  "Both grants enable Roethke House to add to the quality of life in the Saginaw community during the Corona virus outbreak 2020."

"Please register beforehand. A $5 donation to FOTR is requested, as we continue to raise money to Save the Stone House. However, we recognize that finances are tight these days for many reasons, so the donation is not required."

"If you do not have a Paypal account, or if the $5 is a hardship right now, please email us directly at, and we will manually register you. A Zoom link will be provided to all registrants before the start of the event," adds Ransford.

Summer Speaker Series Lineup

Tuesday, August 4, 7:00pm – Fred Reif, Tell ‘em ‘bout the blues 

Fred Reif was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan. He is a musician, manager, writer, researcher, publisher and collector of American roots music. He has re-discovered many American blues musicians and written for a number of Blues publications, world-wide. He is also a world-renowned washboard player. 

This is a very readable book, written first hand by one of the 1970s pioneers of blues research, marking fifty years of interviewing, traveling, touring and recording blues artists - a labor of love. Long may it continue! Blues & Rhythm - The Gospel Truth magazine. (UK) 

Tuesday, August 11, 7:00pm – Ken Meisel and Jeff Vande Zande 

Ken Meisel will read from his most recent book, Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit. He is a poet and psychotherapist, a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, a Pushcart Prize nominee and author of eight books of poetry. He has been published in over 100 different magazines, and he was a featured artist in the 2019 film, Detroit: Tough Luck Stories

Jeff Vande Zande will read from his new collection of short stories called The Neighborhood Division. Author Laura Hulthen Thomas had this to say: "Two shots realism, one shot speculative, a dash of horror-- the genre-bending stories in Jeff Vande Zande’s The Neighborhood Division and Other Stories shows us what happens when suburbia takes on a rebellious, sometimes eerie and always dangerous, life of its own. Vande Zande’s earnest, well-meaning characters are fated to discover that the seemingly benevolent perks of privilege they’ve come to rely upon are in fact the greatest threat to their security. From a family trapped in their own basement by an aggressive home renovation to a tenant’s crusade to save his building from collapsing under the load of his neighbors’ excessive possessions, these stories reveal the unexpected joys and perils of taking a closer look at our most familiar neighborhoods." 

A short promotional video is available here, 

Tuesday, August 18, 7:00 pm – Sherrin Frances 

Libraries amid Protest is written by Sherrin Frances, an associate professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University. Her research “unpacks how protest libraries – labor intensive, temporary installations in parks and city squares, poorly protected from the weather, at odds with the security forces – continue to arise. In telling the stories of these surprising and inspiring spaces through interviews and other research, Sherrin Frances confronts the complex history of American public libraries. She argues that protest libraries function as the spaces of opportunity and resistance promised, but not delivered, by American public libraries.” 

Tuesday, September 8, 7:00 pm – Michael Kolleth 

ROETHKE’S WRITTEN WORLD: Using rare books and manuscripts related to the poet, former FOTR vice president, Mike Kolleth, brings Theodore Roethke to life in an audience-participation presentation. The rare books unite Roethke to Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, WH Auden, William Carlos Williams and other great poets and writers of 20th Century while also providing insight into Roethke’s personal life and creative process. Always an audience favorite, the presentation has been updated with new material for 2020. Kolleth is the executive director of the Temple Theatre and Saginaw Art Museum. 

Rare Books and Collections Magazine is featuring Kolleth’s Roethke Collection in their August issue. 

Tuesday, September 15, 7:00 pm – Simone Vaughn 

Simone Vaughn Miss Saginaw County will speak about children’s self confidence and mental health with an introduction by Wardene B. Talley, Wraparound Supervisor for Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority. Simone became the second black woman in 65 years to win the Miss Saginaw County Scholarship Program and Pageant, a preliminary to the Miss America organization. A communications major at Saginaw Valley State University and a motivational speaker, Simone wants to become more involved with her community and welcomes opportunities to talk with students.

RSVP by clicking this link.


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