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June 24th, 2014 • Posted in Detroit

City of Detroit now has a literary tour of its Own


By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer

(Detroit) – Looking to go on a trip that will affect you in some profound way this summer? Then you may want to give literary tourism a try. This is a type of cultural tourism that deals with places and events from fictional texts, as well as the life and times of the book’s author.

For years tourists have been flocking to places like the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West and Mark Twain’s childhood home along the Mississippi. Literary tourists also like to visit Henry David Thoreau’s cabin and the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden in Massachusetts. And now thanks to a partnership between indie publisher Ten 21 Press and indie bookstore and American Booksellers Association (ABA) member Source Booksellers on Cass Avenue, the city of Detroit has a new literary tour of its own.

“Book Marked on Cass Avenue: Talk + Walk,” first held in May 2014, is a tribute to Charles Novacek, author of the award-winning book, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance (Ten 21 Press, Oct. 2012, $18). Novacek, who died in 2007, made his home along Cass Avenue.

The inaugural tour was held as part of Lit in the Mitt Month, a celebration of the literary arts in Detroit. Charles’ widow, Sandra, first talked about her husband’s life, read an excerpt from the book, then led attendees on a walk down historic Cass Avenue. She and the tour guide who accompanied her talked about the history of the street and its many landmarks, including Novacek’s home, the historic Venn Manor, where between the years 2000 and 2007 he wrote his book. The tour also stopped at Old Main, the Wayne State University building where the Czechoslovakian immigrant learned to speak English.

“Independent publishers and independent bookstore are both looking for ways to market to their local audiences. This is one way to reach out and provide them with an opportunity to learn more about their store and books. It was fun and it really did work out,” said Sandra Novacek.

Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance is Charles Novacek’s first person story of survival amid the Nazi and Communist occupations of his Czechoslovakian homeland during World War II and the Cold War. Since the book’s release in 2012, it has been a winner or finalist in 14 national and international book awards. The book won a gold medal in the memoir/autobiography category of the Midwest Book Awards and a bronze medal in the world history category of the Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards.

In addition to being well liked by readers, the book has also served as a good example of a lot of the things authors and small publishers can do to promote their books. 

Getting the Word Out

With so many titles on bookstore shelves and available online, the only way to move books is for authors and publishers to inform their target audience(s) of their availability. In addition to participating in Lit in the Mitt Month, Novacek has also hired a publicist who has secured numerous stories in the news media. She has reached out to Czech and Slovak organizations, and she has used her connections with public libraries to arrange illustrated talks on the book and public exhibits of her husband’s artwork.

This summer, Novacek will be an exhibitor at the Ann Arbor Book Festival and Detroit Eastern Market’s new Sunday Street Market. Another Cass Avenue tour is set for July 24, the city of Detroit’s birthday.

Novacek has also partnered with her local bookstore, Source Booksellers on Cass Avenue, in multiple ways. In addition to putting together the literary walking tour, she has also worked with storeowner Janet Webster Jones to develop panel discussions for university students and the general public. Last year Novacek and Jones collaborated to create the bookstore’s first “Local Author Round About,” a special event held on Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving,.

“The event’s purpose was to encourage members of the community to come in and support local authors by mingling and talking about their books. It was a really big event. We had nonstop traffic through the store the entire day,” said Novacek.

Over the years Source Booksellers has earned a reputation in the community for regularly participating in events like “Book Marked on Cass Avenue.” Owner Janet Webster Jones says it’s extremely important for the literary arts to support the community. “We also sponsor an annual poetry workshop, we invite students at the local college to use the store for programs and we also partner regularly with the group, Literary Detroit,” she said.

Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance has been endorsed by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, who calls the book, “the well-told and dramatic story of a young man whose comfortable life is abruptly transformed by the savagery of World War II.”

For more information about the book, visit

June 3rd, 2013 • Posted in Detroit, Windsor

First Copies of Joyce’s Ulysses smuggled into U.S. via Windsor, Ontario

The SS Lansdowne was a railroad car ferry built in 1884 by the Wyandotte Shipyard of the Detroit Dry Dock Company. It was used from 1884 until 1956 between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario across the Detroit River,

The first copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses to enter the U.S. came via Windsor, Ontario.

The books were printed in Paris and mailed by Ernest Hemingway to a friend in Windsor who worked for the Curtis Publishing in Detroit.
The friend, a reporter named Barney Braverman whom Hemingway had met during his days either in Toronto or Chicago (found references citing both),commuted from Detroit to Windsor each day on the ferry. Braverman apparently lived on Chatham Street in a house kitty-corner to the back of what is today The Windsor Star building. Once the smuggling plan was devised, 40 copies of the novel, published by Sylvia Beach owner of the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, were sent over from Paris.

Every morning Braverman set off with a package under his arm containing copies (I’m guessing no more than one or two at a time) of Joyce’s novel, strolled downtown past the border guards and onto the ferry. This was the only way to cross the river back then. At the time construction of the Ambassador Bridge had only just begun.

These were in fact interesting times.  Prohibition was in full swing. All sorts of people used to smuggle bottles of fine Canadian whisky across the border tucking them away in their trouser pants and underwear. Booze wasn’t the only thing banned.  The authorities were also pretty uptight about ‘immoral’ ‘pornographic’ literature.  Though this really wasn’t what the guards were on the lookout for.

Each day for what must have been several weeks on-end, this innocent looking publishing salesman crossed the river, went to the Detroit Post Office and fired off first editions of what is now considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th Century, to friends and contacts, including Alfred Knopf and Sherwood Anderson, throughout the U.S.

Today a copy fetches $65,000.

January 26th, 2013 • Posted in Detroit

Morning Smile

Cadillac Assembly Plant, 1910 Detroit: wikipedia

Courtesy of Paul Smith’s post on Journey to the End of the Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine:

“We are all heading to the end of the night; it is only a matter of time before we reach our destination. People will betray you and leave you, and if, by some small miracle, they don’t, they’ll die on you anyway. Your youth will desert you, leaving you old and infirm, and then you’ll really be in the shit. When it is all that remains, you’ll love your misery, cradle it close like some phantom lover, convince yourself it is more special than all the other misery that surrounds you. Like Ferdinand says, “that’s what we look for all our lives, the worst possible grief, to make us truly ourselves before we die.” In the end, as somnambulists sleepwalking through our lives with nothing but misery and our regrets, we are ultimately an “old lamppost with memories on a street that hardly anyone passes anymore”. That is the pathetic truth of existence; you either face up to it or lie to yourself like everybody else.”

Literary Tourist angle: the novel’s protagonist Ferdinand Bradamu, in his search for personal fulfillment visits the auto factories in Detroit.