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Fiction novel "Station Eleven" set in Northern Michigan is the 2015-16 Great Michigan Read winner

Feb 12, 2015

"Station Eleven" author Emily St John Mandel in studio.
Credit Michigan Radio

One title, one state and thousands of readers getting caught up in literary discussion. That's the Great Michigan Read, a biennial program of the Michigan Humanities Council.

The 2015-16 winning book is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

It was a 2014 National Book Award Finalist along with being named one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by the Washington Post, Time Magazine and Amazon. Michigan Radio program director Tamar Charney reviewed it earlier this year.

Station Eleven follows a traveling Shakespearean theater company troupe that survived a pandemic flu took out 99% of the population. The group performs at settlements around Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and post-apocalyptic Northern Michigan as they try to endure.

But Mandel says it's about much more than that. She describes it as a love letter to our current world. An appreciation of the modern conveniences we take for granted and a look at what would remain if they were taken away.

The troupe's motto is 'Survival is Insufficient' and Mandel says this serves as the thesis for the book.

"Survival is never enough for us and that was something I was really interested exploring in this book. One of the things that would remain, I think, would be our culture, or some remnants of our culture," Mandel says.

"I think there's something in art that reminds us about what it means to be human and it reminds us of civilization."

Mandel's choice to set the novel in Northern Michigan came out of both narrative necessity and a love for the area. Mandel needed a location with lots of fresh water where the new society could settle. She discovered Northern Michigan when a 2010 book tour brought her to Petoskey and Traverse City and decided it would be the perfect backdrop. 

"I just really fell in love with that whole area along the lake shore," Mandel says.

Partners of the Great Michigan Read program can receive free reader’s guides, teacher’s guides, bookmarks, and other supplemental materials for the novel.  Schools, libraries, and select nonprofits will be eligible for free copies of Station Eleven.