Hobnobbing with the shakers and movers

Margaret and I just returned from a weekend publisher’s conference in Shaker Village, KY.

I can sum it up in one word: Exhausting.

I can sum it up in another word: Invigorating.

I can toss in a third word: Inspiring.

Let’s add a fourth word: Encouraging.

The event was hosted by Read The Spirit Books (full disclosure: I’m one of the company’s book editors) and brought together an assortment of writers, publishers, media gurus, business executives.

It was awesome to rub shoulders with Rabbi Bob Alper of Vermont, who’s also a professional standup comedian in demand across the country. (I just finished editing his latest book.) His comedy shows are unique in that at times he shares the spotlight with a Baptist woman pastor and a Muslim, a successful arrangement that was conceived by his publicist.

We had the chance to talk with Eide (it’s pronounced Eed) Alawan, a Muslim who’s one of the kindest, most gentlemanly people I’ve come across in a long time.

We had a conversation with the Rev. Dan Buttry, an international peacemaker and the only non-Burmese representative in a major reconciliation effort in that country, author of three books with Read The Spirit as well as a handful of books with other publishers.

Another of the attendees was Joe Grimm, the MSU journalism professor who pushed his advanced journalism class to produce a book on how bullying has expanded from name-calling and playground shoving matches. Starting from scratch, the class came up with The New Bullying in just 101 days. He’s now looking at having his classes turn out books of questions and answers explaining how to handle cultural differences as the country becomes more globalized.

We heard Benjamin Pratt, who’s written about caregiving and has documented the theology that runs through Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, analyze the science of baseball. (That wasn’t one of the formal presentations; it was overheard at the dinner table.)

The Rev. Ed McNulty, a retired Presbyterian pastor and an active long-time movie critic, was there with a handful of films for viewing and discussion.

We heard Stuart Matlins, a book publisher from Vermont, say that it’s the little things that make a difference. A family member of one of his close friends had died. Matlins sent his friend a book on grieving. Later that friend told him that Matlins was the only one who “did” anything. There were countless cards and expressions of sympathy, which were appreciated, but only Matlins’ gift really helped him through the tough times.

We watched and heard a special performance by Donna Phillips, telling us about the Shaker background and presenting some authentic Shaker music.

There were opportunities to wander the hundreds of acres of Shaker Village, utilizing a portion of the 40-some miles of trails winding through the landscape.

Of course there was time for the obligatory gift shop visit where we could pick up authentic-looking Shaker home décor only to discover that the label read “Made in China.” (To be fair, there also were authentic Shaker gifts crafted in the community’s gift shop.)

We ate several meals with Jack Kresnak, a former Detroit Free Press reporter who’s writing a biography of the late Father William Cunningham, organizer of Detroit’s Focus H.O.P.E. program. He was bemoaning the problems he was having with undated and sloppy documentation in the program’s archives.

The Kresnaks had their granddaughter Maya with them. Maya had just finished kindergarten and was caught up in trying to keep tabs on all the resident farm animals. She was especially excited to point out to me that she had met a big tom turkey at the barn. “His name was Henry,” she said, looking shyly at my nametag.

On another topic, rest assured that spring is indeed on the way. The redbuds were in full bloom, the trees were loaded with leaves and the grass was lush.

Trivia tidbit from mental_floss magazine: Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique kept sliding off the New York Times bestseller list because the printers couldn’t keep up with demand.

Quips ‘n’ Quotes: The late T.S. Eliot said, “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”

Henry Passenger’s column appears each Wednesday in the Tuscola County Advertiser. He can be reached at hbp35@sbcglobal.net.

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