Courtesy: Lake Superior State University
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – An Upper Peninsula writer whose work is inspired by her small town and Michigan upbringing is the recipient of Lake Superior State University’s “Writing the U.P. Award.”
Ellen Airgood, who draws upon her life in Grand Marais, where she has operated a restaurant with her husband for about 20 years, was selected from nominations that included LSSU alumnus Joseph D. Haske, L.E. Kimball, Steve Hamilton, Jim Harrison and Ron Riekki. The award will be announced officially during a program from 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 18 in the LSSU Walker Cisler Center Crow’s Nest, which will feature readings from LSSU faculty, staff and students. The public is welcome, and refreshments will be served.
“After much discussion and counting of votes, we are happy to announce that Ellen Airgood is this year’s recipient of the Writing the U.P. Award,” said LSSU English Prof. Jillena Rose. “We chose her for her vivid portrayal of the strong bonds of friendship and community that are the hallmark of small town life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Ellen’s first full-length novel, South of Superior, released by Riverhead Penguin in 2011, is populated with characters so familiar to resident readers in the U.P. that it is not uncommon to stop and wonder if one hasn’t visited the towns in which they live, or walked the streets and stopped to visit in a diner with at least one or two of them.”
Rose said LSSU is working to bring Airgood to Sault Ste. Marie at a future date.
Airgood has written several books, including South of Superior, Prairie Evers and, her latest, The Education of Ivy Blake. In South of Superior, her debut novel, she shows what many U.P. communities know — that there is a deep reward in caring for others, that one who is poor in pocket can be rich in many other ways, and that happiness often comes from the smallest gestures.
Airgood grew up on a small farm, the youngest of four children. She has lived in Grand Marais for about 20 years.
“I was 25 when I came to this tiny, Lake Superior town on a camping trip with my sister, and fell in love with the man who made my cheese sandwich and chocolate malt at the local diner,” Airgood says on her website, ellenairgood.com.
Airgood said she’s never been sorry for moving to the U.P.
“My husband Rick and I run a diner together — a job which is always consuming, often punishing, and hugely fulfilling. 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.”
Airgood may not have studied writing in school, but she did graduate summa cum laude from University of Michigan.
The purpose of the LSSU Writing the U.P. Award is to honor an author of fiction who has portrayed, through vivid description and believable characters, the essence of life in Michigan’s U.P. Nominations from this year’s award came from many U.P. residents, librarians, and the academic community in the region. Six were selected as finalists for the important and significant contribution they have made to the literature of the region.
“We thank Ellen for her rich and graceful rendering of this place and its priceless people, and look forward to her reading in the area at a time and date to be announced soon,” said Rose.