Glendon Swarthout: from Ink Trails II

Glendon Swarthout April 8, 1918-September 23, 1992 Born near Pinckney, obtained degrees at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and taught at both. The signature work of most popular authors corresponds to a genre – biography, history, detective novel, romance. Those who craft cowboy sagas rarely stray beyond arid prairies and craggy buttes. Despite scoring his biggest successes with Westerns, Glendon Swarthout resisted categorization. He even made famous – and infamous – a ritual of modern American youth. Home in Swarthout’s early life was the countryside near Pinckney and then the small city of Lowell. He remembered his childhood, a little tongue-in-cheek, as “unremarkable. I tipped over a high chair and broke my nose. I required the average number of diapers. World War I ended. At age four I suggested to a friend that we steal a loaf of warm bread from the bakery wagon that peddled our street, and eat the entire loaf. This we did. We had bellyaches of epic proportions, we learned a lesson, and I lost a friend because his parents told him that if he ever played with me again I would kill him, and if I didn’t, they would.” A successful student in all but math, he was a scrawny high school string bean, dropped from the football team after a week, weighing 99 pounds. Books and music were his playing fields. His talent on the accordion led to engagements with dance orchestras, which provided a modest income and, like many of his experiences, fodder for later fiction. Between his junior and senior years, he played with Jerry Schroeder and the...

The Freshwater Sea

Watching two freighters pass each other on the chilly waters of Lake Huron today, I was reminded of one of the Michigan authors profiled in Ink Trails II. Mary Frances Doner set several of her novels in the area where I now live, near Port Huron. As one brief literary listing says, these works  “focus on the people who sailed the freight and passenger ships on the Lakes, their ambitions and joy in their work, and the drama of storms and accidents; and on the wives, girlfriends, and children who awaited them in the cities and small towns on the shores.” i suppose it’s just a reminder to me that these mammoth freshwater seas have every bit of the romance of the saltwater version....

A Remarkable Woman

Sunday would have been the 94th birthday of Helen Milliken, the First Lady of Michigan from 1969 to 1982. Helen was more than that:  she was a supporter of the arts, a committed environmentalist, and perhaps most significantly, the embodiment of the emergence of women from domesticity to an equal footing in public life with men. While her husband occupied the governor’s office, Helen participated in Capitol protests against legislation limiting reproductive choice.  She became a champion of protecting the Pigeon River country in northern Michigan and sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. She took heat from critics who thought a First Lady should be seen and not heard.  And she remained ever gracious.  I am fortunate to have met her. More about Helen is...