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Kenosha’s own Michael Schumacher has compiled an impressive body of work since he published his first book, a revealing biography of the beat poet Allen Ginsberg Dharma Lion in 1991. The prolific local author’s titles include biographies of musicians Eric Clapton and folksinger Phil Ochs, cartoonists Will Eisner and Al Capp, as well as filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. In recent years, he has turned his talents to historical accounts of storms and shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, in Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald; Wreck of the Carl D.: A True Story of Loss, Survival and Rescue at Sea; and November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913.
Schumacher has made a special study of eccentric counterculture icon Allen Ginsberg. After meeting the poet at a UWM reading in the early 80s, he began exhaustive work on the biography, which was published before Ginsberg died in 1997. Since then, Schumacher has edited a collection of the poet’s essays and poems in The Essential Ginsberg, plus a volume of letters between Ginsberg and his father. Exhaustively researched, Dharma Lion traces Ginsberg’s life, work, and influence from a New Jersey youth dealing with homosexuality in the 1930s and 40s, through his development as an artist during his years at Columbia University, his extensive travels and spiritual quests, and his success as the essential Beat poet. Using Ginsberg as the intellectual link between 50s beatniks and 60s hippies, Schumacher makes the case for this colorful poet’s critical importance in modern culture and politics.
In The Mighty Fitz, Schumacher relates the harrowing details of the mysterious November 1975 sinking of the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald. Apparently the ship held its own, as Captain Ernest McSorley reported to the mate of its companion ship, the Anderson, until she began to take on water, sinking quickly just 17 miles from harbor at Whitefish Point, Michigan. All 29 crewmen drowned. Schumacher paints a vivid picture of the wreck and subsequent debates over its causes, as well as the subsequent tributes to the lives lost.
In 1958, the S.S. Carl D. Bradley sank in Lake Michigan in another violent November storm. As with the Edmund Fitzgerald, the heavy limestone carrier capsized quickly, and only two men survived. The Wreck of the Carl D. powerfully recreates the dramatic maritime disaster and its poignant aftermath. Schumacher’s description of the small town of Rogers, Michigan, whose economic welfare depended upon the ship’s cargo and whose stunned residents mourned the dead crew members, adds personal meaning and depth to the stirring tale of the shipwreck.
As you can see, Schumacher’s literary output is rich and varied—his biographies are entertaining and informative, and his historical research is always spot on. Come on in to Kenosha Public Library and check out the work of this important local author. Cathy Polovina