For those who are not familiar with ArtPrize, here’s a quick run-down of what the contest is about and how it comes together (grossly oversimplified here; visit for fuller information).

1. Venues

Any space that’s within the 3-square-mile area of downtown Grand Rapids that makes up the ArtPrize district can register to be a venue for a fee of $100. Once registered, venues use the ArtPrize website to connect with artists whose work they’d like to show. Those who want to work on spaces but do not have their own can consider curating others’ spaces. ArtPrize offers more than $40,000 in grants to qualified venues to help them set up their exhibit. There is also an award for best venue.

2. Artists 

Any artist, from anywhere in the world, who is at least 18 years old can enter a work in the contest, unless they won a public vote or juried award in the previous year’s contest. First, artists must register (2015 fee was $50). Then artists use the ArtPrize website to connect with venues and come to an agreement with one of them. Once an artist has found a venue, they are “accepted” into ArtPrize.

Artists can offer their work for sale on their profile on the ArtPrize website, but all negotiations and payment are between the artist and the buyer; ArtPrize doesn’t process payments or take a commission on sales.

3. The Artworks 

ArtPrize accepts entries in four categories: 2D, 3D, Time-Based, and Installation. Images of many 2015 entries are listed on the ArtPrize website–just click “Find Art” at the top of the ArtPrize site’s front page to start looking!

4. The Votes

Members of the public who attend ArtPrize can vote for the works of art that they find most deserving of prizes. The easiest way to vote seems to be to download the ArtPrize app. You can register as a voter via the app or the ArtPrize website. The first round of voting opens on Wednesday, September 23 at noon. Each artwork will include an Artist Vote Code. Voters can use this code to vote for an artwork via the app, by texting the Artist Vote Code to 808080, or by visiting a voting site in Grand Rapids.

5. The Prizes 

The prize total has varied somewhat from year to year. Last year, a total of $540,000 in prizes was awarded. This year, the total will be $500,000. If you include all the grants that are available for venues and artists, you get over $700,000. There are potentially two winners in each art category (see #3, above). The public vote winner and the juried award winner in each category win a prize of $12,500. Then there are two grand prizes–one public vote and one juried–each of which is a $200,000 prize. Another award of $12,500 is given to an outstanding venue.

So, that’s how ArtPrize works, in a nutshell. The reality is an amazing three-week event that takes hundreds of thousands of hours of work from thousands of people to bring to a reality. Here’s the 2013 video for a glimpse of what all that work creates.


Do you know ArtPrize? It is ONLY the world’s largest art contest. This year, more than 1,500 artists are competing for $500k in cash prizes. That’s right. Five hundred thousand dollars. It’s huge.  

My photo of last year's winner, Intersections.

For 19 days every fall, ArtPrize transforms 3 square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan (GR) into a giant art gallery with more than 160 venues. Every big hotel, art museum, hometown brewery, abandoned building, and shiny bank lobby becomes a venue. I attended ArtPrize for the first time last year, and I loved it so much that I’m going again this year. I said then, and I say now, “It’s the SXSW of art!” (except there’s no free BBQ or beer). ArtPrize7 begins next week on September 23, but I’ll be there from September 30 through October 6. To prepare, I’ve been following all things ArtPrize-related on Twitter, I downloaded the ArtPrize app, and I’ve been checking out the artists and their works. I’m prioritizing, friends, because ArtPrize is FREE to attend, and you know that means there will be some lines!

There are actually some cool events before ArtPrize even begins. The Grand Rapids Art Museum opens its ArtPrize7 exhibition Nature/Nurture on September 17. That’s tomorrow! If you’re in GR you can see the exhibit before the contest even begins (a good idea because the line is always long there during ArtPrize).

Tons of new things have been added this year, too. I’m excited about the new evening programming (nearly all art venues close around dinner time), which include comedy, music, and some films with participation from the Waterfront Film Festival. It turns out I’ll miss the films, which are scheduled for Sept. 25 through 27, but I’m looking forward to digging in to the rest of the ArtPrize Tonight schedule.

I’ll write several more posts about ArtPrize in the next few weeks, but before I close this one: It’s  not too late if you want to go! If you live near enough to drive to Grand Rapids for a day visit, take a look at The Rapids’s (GR’s bus system) tips for attending ArtPrize. You can park your car at Park & Rides in various spots around town and then take a bus downtown to see the venues. Those coming from farther afield: book a flight to GRR (Gerald R. Ford International Airport) for any time between September 23 and October 11. Book a hotel in Grand Rapids. I read that hotels have sold a record number of rooms, but you can probably still find one. A number of hotels near the airport provide shuttles to and from downtown GR for the duration of ArtPrize.

So, what do you think? Are you doing ArtPrize7?

101 Books

You’re familiar with clickbait titles, right? Upworthy is famous for them. BuzzFeed uses them, and they’re pretty much all over the internet.

So what if classic novels were renamed with clickbait titles? Yeah, I know, that’s a terrible idea, but I’m going to have a little fun with it anyway.

Here’s how I might rename these classic novels using clickbait: (HT to The Millions for this idea)

View original post 176 more words

Station Eleven CoverThere is something very lovely about this book, a National Book Award finalist. The author, Emily St. John Mandel, delivers a complex tale of the collapse of the modern world and of the interconnectedness of its inhabitants. Not just another post-apocalyptic tale, this novel spans decades and follows five characters whose lives intersect. It is a reflection on the resilience (and fragility) of humanity and on the restorative power of the arts. But these themes emerge slowly over the course of the book, so shame on me for leading with them.

The tale begins in a theater in Toronto, where a famous Hollywood actor is playing King Lear in a stage production. He suffers a medical crisis on stage, and the play cannot be finished. As the other actors linger in the theater’s bar that night, we glimpse their future: “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.” (Now that’s a hook.)

The same night, Jeevan, an audience member and EMT in training who treated the fallen actor, gets a call from a friend who is a doctor at a Toronto hospital. There’s a flu—the Georgia Flu—and the hospital is filling with patients. He tells Jeevan that the flu is spreading like wildfire (my words, the author is much cleverer) and that it’s a full-fledged epidemic. He warns Jeevan to leave the city. The reader accompanies Jeevan as he buys cartloads of household supplies and holes up in his brother’s high-rise apartment. But soon enough, the story leaps 20 years into the future, and it’s clear that very few survived the Georgia Flu: society as it was at the novel’s beginning has gone.

The story jumps smoothly between past and future. The characters’ lives are interwoven in various ways, and it’s easy to appreciate each unveiling of connection as it appears. There is the usual sense of foreboding that dwells in a post-apocalyptic novel: will this person survive the Flu? will bandits kill them on the road? will they find food? how will they survive? Yet, there is a sense of wonder at the meaningfulness of these lives and of community.

I admit to a bit of bias, because much of the novel is set in Michigan, my home state. But this was the first real page-turner that I’ve read in a long while. And I have to admire St. John Mandel’s work—the novel is well crafted. I would even read this again, and I can’t say that about many books.

What are you reading?


Here we are again at the end of December! I’ve been bookmarking 2014 best-of book lists for weeks now. I still love the sources that I mentioned last year, but you’ll also see some new ones amongst the links below.

NPR’s Book Concierge offers 250 titles that you can browse by genre. While great if you’re stumped for your next read, I find that number overwhelming. To make it bite size, I filter for the Staff Picks. That’s a nice list.

This year I loved Ron Charles’s piece “2014: A Good Year for Book Lovers” in the Washington Post. Instead of listing favorite titles (WP did that elsewhere), Charles gives a chronology of literary milestones for the year, from the award of the Newbery Medal to Kate DiCamillo on January 27 to Ursula LeGuin’s receipt of the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on November 19 (not all of the news was about awards, though!).

I’ve also gathered lists from various genres this year. It seems some of the more controversial titles were nonfiction (Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, for example), but of course the most highly praised titles were fiction (although maybe it just seemed that way to me because I’m more plugged into the literary world). Titles I saw most often were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (actually published in 2013), The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, and of course, Redeployment by Phil Klay. Various lists are linked below, in no particular order.

Christopher Atamian, in the Huffington Post. Six Books of the Year for 2014

Brad Stulberg, in the Huffington Post. The 10 Best Health Books in 2014

Leigh Buchanan, in Inc. 10 Books That Will Make You Smarter in 2015

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings. The Definitive Reading List of the 14 Best Books of 2014 Overall

Tracy Sherlock, in the Vancouver Sun. Ten Great Novels of 2014

The Editors, Atlantic Monthly. The Best Book I Read This Year

the New York Times. The 10 Best Books of 2014

the New York Times. 100 Notable Books of 2014

the Guardian. Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014: Part One

the Guardian. Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014: Part Two

the Telegraph. The 45 best young adult books of 2014

School Library Journal. Best Books 2014: Young Adult


Via Twitter, I learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is offering 150 children’s titles for $1.99! It’s to celebrate the company’s 150 years in children’s publishing. To take advantage of the offers, visit Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals site on December 26.

Full disclosure: I have no affiliation with Amazon, but I am an employee of the educational division of

Sometimes I wonder why I enjoy memoir so much. Why should a stranger’s life–or some particular occurrence in it–be so compelling? It seems curious, even voyeuristic. But the memoirs I’ve liked most have a strong narrative arc, like fiction. It’s the narrative that’s compelling, regardless of whether it’s a true story or an imagined one. This memoir reinforced that realization for me.

David MacLean was a Fulbright scholar working in Hyderabad, India when he awoke on a train platform without any knowledge of where he was, why he was there, or even who he was. As he stood, not knowing where to begin, a kindly tourism officer offered assistance. As the officer helps him discover his identity and contact his parents, MacLean flits in and out of lucidity. The reader follows along through hallucination after hallucination, through cycles of waking and dreaming or maybe not even dreaming, maybe more hallucinating, and all the while the reader is thinking, “Whoa! This is CRAZY! What is going on??”

The memoir does a great job of showing readers what this confusing, traumatic experience must have been like. Through lucid moments and hallucinations, the readers piece things together in the order that MacLean must have done, though certainly with better cognition than he was experiencing. He is hospitalized, strapped down, and medicated, and aside from descriptions of visitors and doctors and the continuing hallucinations, we don’t learn much about why he’s in this state until his parents come to take him home.

The mystery of the story keeps readers going, at least in the early part of the book. In the beginning there are all the questions: who, and what, and where, and why. But as we journey further into the story, we’re asking how: how will he get his memory back? Will he get his memory back?

We travel with MacLean as he returns from India to Ohio, United States, to recover at his parents’ home. As he pieces together his identity and his past, we learn that the psychosis had been caused by an anti-malarial drug, that it has happened to others, and that doctors aren’t sure whether he’ll ever fully recover. For a time, David pretends a lot. He plays the role that it seems he should be playing, pretending to remember the people he sees in photos, hiding some of the aftereffects of the hallucinations. As memories begin to return, piecemeal, he struggles to put his life story together even as he returns to India to finish his Fulbright and then returns to graduate school to complete his studies.

I appreciate that MacLean has shared this terrifying experience, because its cause–the drug mefloquine (brand name Lariam)–is still in use today, and people need to be aware of its dangerous neuropsychiatric effects. (MacLean does mention that a doctor told him years after the incident in India that the cause was not Lariam, so maybe the jury is out on this point?) Information about this drug is woven into the narrative and a chart detailing its many adverse effects is included in the postlude. Disturbingly, MacLean reports that the drug was widely prescribed by the U.S. military for soldiers up until 2009 and was still used in “special situations” as late as 2012.

MacLean’s story is disturbing, painful even, because the trauma described is intense and his struggle is profound. But it’s also an encouraging account of human resilience and an exploration of enduring questions about identity and memory.

Challenge yourself this spring! Friends of TED in Austin, TX offers a great class for those who enjoy reading classics. It’s led by an English professor of UT-Austin, and he often invites guest speakers (scholars, most!) to speak about a particular aspect of the book, its historical context, or its author. The literature is always wonderful and the discussion is lively. I learn something new every time.

This spring the class will cover several titles by George Eliot. If you’re in the Austin, TX area, read up and come on out!


Happy coincidence: I discovered that there’s a Symposium for African Writers in my town this week, just when I’ve finished the first African novel I’ve read in a long while. I love when an accidental theme develops in life! I’ll be able to attend at least the first session.

If you’re in Austin, you should try to go! Follow the link below for details.