Exploring the Northwoods with Andrew Graff

Graff’s debut novel, Raft of Stars, selected for big read

If Andrew Graff had followed the other professions he’d tried, no one would be reading his debut novel, Raft of Stars. But he didn’t, to the benefit of all who have read and will read his book. That includes readers up and down the peninsula who will participate in the 2023 edition of Door County Reads, which has selected Graff’s book as its focus.

The path leading to the publication of Raft of Stars may be atypical. The Wisconsin-born Graff enlisted in the Air Force as a jet mechanic, did a tour of duty in Afghanistan and studied to become a paramedic after he left the military. But instead of completing that training, he applied to Lawrence University, where he studied creative writing. 

His undergrad thesis, which he took to his MFA program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was a book about his time in Afghanistan. When the title didn’t sell, Graff left the project behind and took a break from writing. But then a return to Wisconsin and its Northwoods inspired him to write again.

“After writing about Afghanistan for seven years, which was not a happy sort of feel-good novel, looking out at the river and being home in the Northwoods again, knowing that I had a story about these two boys, and they would run through the forest that I ran through when I was a kid, and travel down the rivers that I traveled down when I was a kid – that was a nice space to spend time,” Graff said.

Raft of Stars follows those two 10-year-old boys in northern Wisconsin during the summer of 1994. Having both grown up to that point in less-than-ideal homes, one of the boys has had enough of seeing how his friend’s father treats him and takes things into his own hands. The two flee into the woods, thinking they’re in trouble. While the two boys battle nature, four adults track them down, everyone on a journey of their own.

Graff created that sense of place from his childhood recollections, naming the fictional town Claypot, Wisconsin, but the fictional elements have counterpoints in the real world. Ironsforge Gorge, for example, was pulled directly from Piers Gorge, a place where Graff spent time hiking, fishing and exploring as a kid, and returning as an adult to lead whitewater-rafting tours.

“For the landscape, the memories of barns and the smell of clover and what a cedar forest feels like underfoot – that was all just sort of baked in,” he said. “It was fun to write in a world where people could still get lost in the woods.”

The environment in Graff’s novel is more than a setting, however: It serves as a kind of character in its own right. He said he wanted to demonstrate the power of nature as an equalizer: that when people go out into the wild, they learn who they really are.

Graff was introduced to Door County during the Washington Island Literary Festival in September, and he will return to the peninsula in February as part of Door County Reads. 

“I’m really excited to come back to Door County again,” he said. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity and can’t wait to meet more people and more readers and say thank you.”

Learn More About Raft of Stars

This year the Door County Library will feature Raft of Stars by Andrew Graff as its Door County Reads pick.

It’s the summer of 1994 in Claypot, Wisconsin, and the lives of 10-year-old Fischer “Fish” Branson and Dale “Bread” Breadwin are shaped by the two fathers they don’t talk about.

One night, tired of seeing his best friend bruised and terrorized by his no-good dad, Fish takes action. A gunshot rings out, and the two boys flee the scene, believing themselves murderers. They head for the woods, where they find their way onto a raft, but the natural terrors of Ironsforge Gorge threaten to overwhelm them. Four adults track them into the forest, each one on a journey of his or her own. This is a story of loss, hope and adventure.

The book is available in regular print format and in audiobook and e-book formats on OverDrive, Libby and hoopla.

Physical copies of the books will be available starting Friday, Nov. 25, at all Door County Library branches. Those who need help finding or accessing the titles in the digital formats may contact their library branch.
“Piers Gorge – More” by Tatiana12 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
2023 Door County Reads Events

Door County Reads events are free, open to the public and sponsored by the Door County Library Foundation. Some events are available both in person and virtually. Events are subject to change, so confirm the most up-to-date information at

Nov. 25, 2022
Book Distribution
All day
Stop by any Door County Library branch during regular hours to pick up a free copy of this year’s featured book.

Jan. 26, 2023
Book Discussion
10:30 am, Egg Harbor Library, 7845 Church St.
Branch Manager Jeanine Brennan leads the discussion of this year’s Door County Reads pick.
Movie: Moonrise Kingdom
2 pm, Sturgeon Bay Library, 107 S. 4th Ave.
Head to the Jane Greene Room to watch the 2012 American coming-of-age comedy-drama about an orphan boy who escapes from a scouting camp to unite with his pen pal and love interest. Feeling alienated from their guardians and shunned by their peers, the young lovers run away to an isolated beach. (PG-13)

Jan. 29
Kickoff Event
2-4 pm, Egg Harbor Library, 7845 Church St.
Door County Reads is officially underway, and it all begins with speaker Ron Lang at this in-person event, which will also be available virtually via a streaming platform (TBD). Music, snacks and nonalcoholic beverages will be provided. 

Jan. 30
Movie: Stand by Me
2 pm, Fish Creek Library, 4097 Hwy 42
Attend the 1986 American coming-of-age film about four boys who, after hearing about a local boy who’s missing, set out to find the body, solve the case and become local heroes. (R)

Jan. 31
Book Discussion
10:30 am, Write On, Door County, 4210 Juddville Road in Fish Creek
Join Jerod Santek for a discussion of Raft of Stars. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided.

Feb. 1
Book Discussion
1 pm, location TBD
Virtual participation TBD.
Book Discussion
7 pm, Baileys Harbor Library, 2392 Cty F
Participate in person or via Zoom.

Feb. 2
Book Discussion
1 pm, Ephraim Library, 9996 Water St. (Hwy 42)
Held in person.
Reflections of Trauma and Resilience
9-10:30 am, County Government Center Board Room, 421 Nebraska St. in Sturgeon Bay
Join Jodi Rose Gonzales, Milly Gonzales, Dori Goddard, Rebecca Nicholson and Sarah Perzycki as they discuss the impact and prevalence of trauma as related to the book Raft of Stars and as seen in our community. (Virtual participation TBD.)

Feb. 3
Theater Performance
7 pm, Third Avenue PlayWorks, 239 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay
Third Avenue PlayWorks joins Door County Reads for a performance reflecting this year’s book choice. Performance title TBA. 

Feb. 4
Author Keynote
1 pm, Sturgeon Bay High School Auditorium, 1230 Michigan St.
Join this year’s Door County Reads author, Andrew J. Graff, and award-winning short-story writer Rebecca Meacham in person or via livestream.

Feb. 5
Survival Outdoors with Corey Batson
1 pm, Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay
Join Cory Batson for a walk and outdoor survival talk along the Crossroads trails. Dress for the weather.

Feb. 6
Kayak of Stars – Kayaking for All Seasons
1:30 pm, Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library, 2323 Mill Road
Meet a seasoned, ACA Level 3 coastal sea kayaker, Justin Pahnturat, who will talk about the best ways to stay safe while kayaking in any season.
Theater Performance
7 pm, Peninsula Players Theatre, location TBA
Peninsula Players Theatre joins Door County Reads for a performance reflecting this year’s book choice. Performance title TBA.

Feb. 7
Book Discussion
1 pm, Sturgeon Bay Library, 107 S. 4th Ave.
Join in person or via Zoom.

Feb. 8
Book Discussion
11 am, Washington Island Library, 910 Main Road
Join in person or via Zoom.
Movie: The Peanut Butter Falcon
4 pm, Egg Harbor Library, 7845 Church St.
Head to the Great Hall Theater to watch a film about a man who runs away from his care home to make his dream of becoming a wrestler come true. (PG-13)

Feb. 9
Beginning Poetry Workshop
10-11:30 am, Write On, Door County, 4210 Juddville Road in Fish Creek 
Join Jerod Santek and Mike Orlock for this in-person poetry workshop. 

Feb. 10
Movie: Leave No Trace
10:30 am, Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library, 2323 Mill Road
Immerse yourself in a film adapted from the book My Abandonment by Peter Rock. A father and his 13-year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast, urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever. (PG)

Feb. 11
Writing Hometown Stories
10-11:30 am, Write On, Door County, 4210 Juddville Road in Fish Creek
Join Jerod Santek for this in-person writing event.

Feb. 13
Theater Performance
Door Shakespeare, location and time TBA
Door Shakespeare joins Door County Reads for a performance reflecting this year’s book choice. Performance title TBA.

Feb. 14
Book Discussion
2:30 pm, Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library, 2323 Mill Road
Join in person or via Zoom.