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2013 State of the Book Presenter: Ellen Airgood

Meet State of the Book presenter Ellen Airgood, author of South of Superior.

Editor’s Note: For the next two weeks we’ll be posting micro-portraits and/or interesting news about this year’s 2013 presenters at The State of the Book Literary Symposium, which will take place in Ann Arbor on Saturday, September 28, in Rackham Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public. For a complete schedule or list of presenters, please check out the State of the Book Website. Thank you!

Ellen Airgood. Photo by Nina Subin.

Ellen Airgood (c) Nina Subin

2013 State of the Book presenter Ellen Airgood’s debut novel, South of Superior, tells how Madeline Stone, a woman from Chicago, ends up in a small town on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Airgood describes on her website how her own journey to Grand Marais, where she has spent the last twenty years working in a diner, has also been her route to writing:

My husband Rick and I run a diner together, a job which is always consuming, often punishing, and hugely fulfilling. Most of what I know about maturity and compassion, not to mention story, I’ve learned from waiting tables. We work eighty to a hundred hours a week together almost year around, and one way or another we’ve faced the constant barrage of setbacks and frustrations and equipment failures that restaurant work is, the high stress and long hours. There is so much satisfaction in it, though: the goodness of hard work, the joy of feeding people a meal they love, the delight of long friendships, the pride in a job well done. All kinds of people come here from all kinds of places, and we get to meet them, to hear their stories, and pretty often we get to make them happy for the time that they are here.

This is the route I took to becoming a writer. I didn’t get an MFA or study writing in school. I could have learned about life anywhere, but fate brought me here, to the end of the earth and a tiny town that time forgot. My customers have given me good practice as a storyteller, too. It’s a matter of survival. If I can entertain people, draw them over to my side, they won’t murder me when I’m the only waitress of the floor and the cook is swamped and the wait is long and we’re out of silverware and I didn’t know the fish was gone when I took their order.”

Check out an NPR interview with Airgood here, or read the first chapter of her young adult novel, Prairie Evers.

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