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A Detroit Anthology

A Detroit Anthology

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A Detroit Anthology

374 Seiten
4 Stunden
Jul 13, 2016


A unique perspective of the Motor City, this anthology combines stories told by both longtime residents and newcomers from activists to teachers to artists to students. While Detroit has always been rich in stories, too often those stories are told back to the city by outsiders looking in, believing they can explain Detroit back to itself. As editor, Anna Clark writes in the introduction, "These are the stories we tell each other over late nights at the pub and long afternoons on the porch. We share them in coffee shops, at church social hours, in living rooms, and while waiting for the bus. These are stories full of nodding asides and knowing laughs. These are stories addressed to the rhetorical "you"—with the ratcheted up language that comes with it—and these are stories that took real legwork to investigate . . . You will not find 'positive' stories about Detroit in this collection, or 'negative' ones. But you will find true stories." Featuring essays, photographs, art, and poetry by Grace Lee Boggs, John Carlisle, Desiree Cooper, Dream Hampton, Steve Hughes, Jamaal May, Tracie McMillan, Marsha Music, Shaka Senghor, Thomas J. Sugrue, and many others.
Jul 13, 2016

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A Detroit Anthology - Belt Publishing

Edited by

Anna Clark

A Detroit Anthology

Rust Belt Chic Press

Selection and Introduction copyright © 2014 by Anna Clark

All individual pieces copyright the author; reprint permissions on page 232

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, 2014

Cover and interiors designed by Haley Stone

Cover photograph by Amy Sacka

Print edition: 978-0-9859441-4-8

E-book edition: 978-0-9859441-5-5


Anna Clark

We Love Detroit, Even If You Don’t

Aaron Foley


Thomas J. Sugrue

I’m From Detroit

Shannon Shelton Miller

Turner Ronald Carter the Third

Kat Harrison

Gas Station on Second Street

Matthew Olzmann

Hommage à l’avenir: Desire Lines

Michael Eugene Burdick and Francis Grunow

Things I Lost in the Fire

dream hampton

Letter from Detroit

Ingrid Norton


Tyehimba Jess

Greektown 1983

John Counts

Coming Soon

Nichole Christian

what you’d find buried in the dirt under charles f. kettering sr. high school (detroit, michigan)

francine j. harris

Fort Gratiot

Steven Pomerantz

Sketches of Eastern Market

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak

When the Trees Stop Giving Fruit

Shaka Senghor

Hungry Days in Detroit

Tracie McMillan

There Are Birds Here

Jamaal May

Per Fumum

Jamaal May

Desolation Angel

John Carlisle

Detroit: A City of Superheroes

Ingrid LaFleur

Hommage à l’avenir: Streetcar Tracks

Michael Eugene Burdick and Francis Grunow

Legally Blind In The Motor City: A Pedestrian’s Lament

Pamela Sabaugh

On the Automobile

Rachel Reed


John G. Rodwan Jr.

The Line

Maisha Hyman Sumbry

January in Detroit

Ken Mikolowski

Trembling in the Temple of Tears at the Feet of Buddha

M. L. Liebler

For the Long Haul

Desiree Cooper

still of it

adrienne maree brown

In the House Where Poetry Lives

Peter Markus

Belle Isle Song

Nandi Comer

The Imam I Knew

Omar Syed Mahmood

The Fixer

John Carlisle

The Next Move

Ryan Healy

Hommage à l’avenir: Ghost Shops

Michael Eugene Burdick and Francis Grunow

The Fauxtopias of Detroit’s Suburbs

James D. Griffioen

My Detroit

Joseph Lichterman

By the Time This Reaches You

Deonte Osayande

Music as the Missing Link

Keith A. Owens


Maisha Hyman Sumbry

Game Not Over

Veronica Grandison

Misguided Faith

Karen Minard

Leaning To Roll Our Tongues, Detroit 1986

Nandi Comer

Up in the Morning & Off to School in Detroit

Tracey Morris

Hommage à l’avenir: Apartments v. Houses

Michael Eugene Burdick and Francis Grunow


Steve Hughes

SOBs and Dummies

Karen Minard

Down in Detroit

Terry Blackhawk

Playing Ball

J. M. Leija

Night, Briggs Stadium, 1960

Gail Griffin

Lost in Hockeytown

Matthew Lewis and Aaron Mondry

Hommage à l’avenir: Streetlights

Michael Eugene Burdick and Francis Grunow

Lily-Livered New Yorker Seeks Lion-Hearted Detroiters

Jaclyn Trop

Motown Atlantis

Chantay Legacy Leonard

Strange City

Chantay Legacy Leonard

The Detroit Virus

Shaun S. Nethercott

Detroit’s Good-Food Cure

Larry Gabriel

Planting Seeds of Hope

Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige

The Kidnapped Children of Detroit

Marsha Music

Grand River and Book Tower / Megan Snow

Aaron Waterman


Detroit is a city of stories . In this way, we are rich. We begin with abundance.

But while much is written about our city these hard days, it is typically oriented to those who are not from here. Even local writers often pen stories that are meant to explain Detroit to those who live elsewhere. Much of this writing is brilliant, but our anthology, this anthology, is different: It is a collection of Detroit stories for Detroiters. These are the stories we tell each other over late nights at the pub and long afternoons on the porch. We share them in coffee shops, at church social hours, in living rooms, and while waiting for the bus. These are stories full of nodding asides and knowing laughs. These are stories addressed to the rhetorical you—with the ratcheted-up language that comes with it. Many of these pieces took real legwork to investigate. We may be lifelong residents, newcomers, or former Detroiters; we may be activists, workers, teachers, artists, healers, or students. But a common undercurrent alights the work that is collected here: These stories are for us.

This is a city made of many voices, and so, too, is this book. Here, you will find reportage and confessionals, comic anecdotes and sweeping analyses. Again and again, Detroit writers turn to the heated lyricism of poetry; some stories of this place can be translated no other way. Readers will hear the language of a living city in the multiplicity of style and tone—though it is true that this might create some sharp edges and woozy gaps between the pieces. And in substance, some writers patently disagree with other writers. Nothing is in unison. But it is music all the same, an ensemble of parts that contribute to a whole.

Also audible: the absences. This book is not intended to be a comprehensive anthology of the city. For all the breaking news coming out of bankrupt Detroit, for all the attention the city attracts from artists, ruin explorers, and urbanophiles, our untold stories are legion, and this book only fills a small bit of the void. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse to cease listening for more.

I don’t expect you to read this book straight through, any more than I expect you to explore the city by walking straight up Woodward, notching each essay and poem as if it were a mile marker. But if you do move page by page through this book, you will see a collective narrative emerge. This is a story of leaving, and of being left. It is a story of not having enough money, and of having much more than your neighbors. It is a story of fires. Of inventing music. Of trying to get from one part of town to another—by bike, car, bus, foot, or sheer force of will. A story of sports, play, and the heart-thrust of fandom. Of shame and wonder. Of laughter and self-deprecation. Of remembering and misremembering history. Of fear. Of skyscrapers and gardens. Of suburbs—little towns in their own right. It is a story of having more power than we know.

This anthology is loosely arranged like a stage play (overture, two acts, and an intermission) not because there is anything false or costumed about the writing here, but because theater is a uniquely collaborative art form; so, too, are cities. Theater stitches together prose and poetry, music and oratory; so do cities. Comedy and tragedy are the two archetypal forms of theater; likewise, I’ll venture to say that no place stages comedy and tragedy better than Detroit. And while it’s hard to shake the feeling sometimes that the spectacle of this city is defined more by the distant audience—watching us from their safe seats in the dark as we improvise our way through an epic drama—in the end, it is thrilling to realize that we are all players here, each with the power to impact our shared story. On this stage, each choice we make matters.

However you navigate this book, you will find the dissonant chorus of people so often tasked with justifying themselves because of where they live, no matter which side of 8 Mile they are on. A watchfulness comes forth that I have rarely seen in other places I have lived or visited. Detroiters notice the details. As a result, you will not find positive stories about Detroit in this collection, or negative ones. But you will find true stories.

My hope is that the pieces in this Detroit anthology will ignite recognition: not (just) for our similarities, but for our differences. Our experiences are not the same, after all. Sometimes our search for connection leads to the washing away of our distinctive shapes, as if difference equals conflict and futility. But it needn’t be so. Friction creates energy, and it is our choice how we use it.

We are a city moving through the fire of transformation. We are afire. There is no place I would rather be.

Anna Clark

Detroit, Michigan

Aaron Waterman

Aaron Waterman

We Love Detroit,

Even If You Don’t

Aaron Foley

Detroit is bankrupt. Does it hurt to write those words? Honestly, it doesn’t. It hurts as much as ripping a Band-Aid off. Detroit is bankrupt. Detroit is bankrupt. Detroit is bankrupt. I can say it a million times, but the emotional effects are minimal. Call it being jaded, or maybe just putting my head in the sand. But after we’ve withstood so much, can it really get any worse?

Detroit is broke. Detroit has been broke. Detroit has been broke all of my twenty-nine, years. I am not a lifelong resident. I have spent the majority of my life here. My parents’ parents’ parents—one side from North Carolina, the other from Alabama—have been here longer than I have. And during all that time, Detroit has been broke.

It is a reality we have come to accept and, for many of us, a reality we were born into. It doesn’t mean that the love is lost.

Detroit is a lot of things. It is not the small town you grew up in, where you went to a crappy high school in the country and dreamed daily of flying the coop to New York City or Hollywood. It is, by and large, still a city where people migrate, or maintain.

Detroit didn’t need a bankruptcy filing to tell us we were broke because we already knew. It’s an enigmatic tangled web in the darkest abyss that takes more than a Slate piece here or a CNN panel there to explain. Still, I’ll attempt a TL;DR: A crowded city full of a rising middle class that reached its peak when freeways provided access to spacious land beyond city limits. A crowded city that also faced rising tensions between black residents and white residents. Redlining. Access. Police brutality. Draining economic resources. Unequal pay. Riots. Rising costs. Dwindling tax base. Legacy costs incurred by pensions, unions, city services. Inflation. Industry collapse. Taxes. Corruption. Crime. Schools. Jobs, and the lack of them. All against the backdrop of a shitty American economy in general.

A twisted Rube Goldberg machine running on a never-ending cycle is what Detroit is. And we know this. But here’s the thing: We’ve been trying and trying and trying to stop the cycle.

But did you think that it would happen overnight?

Did you think that your tax dollars going to Chrysler and General Motors—private corporations, one of which is not even headquartered in the city limits, that have somehow been conflated with city government in the last few years—would just fix everything? That Chrysler and GM were the only two employers in Detroit, and that solving their problems would solve our decades-long issues with racism, finances, corruption, and the rest?

Did you really think that Detroit was the new Silicon Valley, the new Brooklyn, or the new Pittsburgh? Or that startup-savvy college grads with pie-in-the-sky ideas would keep the fires from burning every Halloween, or kids from walking past abandoned homes on their way to school each morning?

Yeah, we need Chrysler and GM. Ford, too. And every hipstapreneur that’s willing to register to vote here as well. But they’re not the only ones here.

I live in Detroit. It’s hot as hell right now, and we’re having biblical rainstorms. Grass is growing like crazy. But you know, I see people cutting the grass on lots that aren’t theirs. Everyday when I pass through my neighborhood on my way to work.

I see little old ladies tending to their annuals, kids—black and white—playing football in the street (even though they can be annoying because they block the street sometimes). I see a bunch of regular-ass people doing regular-ass shit because Detroit is a regular-ass city with regular-ass problems just like everyone else.

Which is why I wholeheartedly believe that Detroit will be just fine.

Bankruptcy is a scary term, exacerbated by Wheel of Fortune losses, that has more bark than bite. Society discourages individuals from talking about finances; we don’t talk about salaries outside of job interviews, we withhold the cost of the new house we just bought, we don’t mention the raise we just got. So to find out someone declared—gasp!—bankruptcy provokes gossip, feigned concern, funny stares, distrust, and, most notably, shame.

Detroit is already the butt of jokes and the target of pity, so the nonstop flow of jokes and tsk-tsking was just as inevitable as the bankruptcy filing. I was dreading the former long after having accepted the latter.

Please tell me another Les Gold joke. Please post your OCP logos. Can you remind me again what Romney said in that NYT opinion that one time, I forgot just that quick. And my goodness, please spout another It’s So Cold in the D lyric. But whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for Detroit.

A headline like Detroit Is Bankrupt underneath a photo, another fucking photo, of a rundown house in the shadow of the city skyline tells half the story. The devil in the details is this: Detroit’s biggest issue is dealing with pensions for retirees. It’s a $3.5 billion open wound and no one knows how the city will deal with it. (You know who else has that problem? Chicago.) We don’t know exactly what will happen in the course of bankruptcy, but we’re fully aware that we’ll all have to share in some painful cuts.

It does not mean we’re selling our art, or turning off all the lights, or selling our land to Canada or China, or fencing off the city from the rest of America. It simply means we fucked up (we know, we know!) and we have no money to pay our bills. That’s it. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr also has promised—and we’re all holding him to this—to steer as many funds as possible to restoring city services and improving emergency response, a process in place before the papers were filed.

(It doesn’t mean we’re the next Stockton, California, or the next Vallejo, California, or the next San Bernadino, California, either. Really, guys? Stop comparing us to these random places in California. I have nothing but love for the West Coast, and it is undeniable there are issues in those cities. But none of these coffee shop artists are waking up and saying, Hmm, where can I live cheap and network with a bunch of young minds to make a real difference in the world? Oh, I know—STOCKTON! OK, they’ve gone through municipal bankruptcies, but the cultures of those towns are far different than Detroit’s, and the way these stories unfold will take varied paths.)

I could go on and on about how the car you’re driving was possibly designed here and how we’re the home of Motown and stuff like that, but fuck it. You know that already. At least you should.

I don’t want to say Detroit will rise again. We built a whole mantra around the idea of rebirth in the ’70s with the Renaissance Center, Renaissance High School, Renaissance everything pretty much. Fact is, Detroit is still on the uphill climb it has been on for more than forty years. We didn’t rise then, and saying Speramus Meliora, Resurget Cineribus a bunch of times isn’t going to make it happen any sooner.

I’m just going to say that for as much shit as you talk about Detroit, where you live is probably just as fucked up somehow.

Are you black? Good luck in Florida, or pretty much all of America at this point. Are you gay? You must have a peachy time getting your state to legally recognize your marriage. Are you a woman? Don’t be knocked up in the wrong state at the wrong time. Are you a recent college graduate? How do you even afford to live anywhere?

Sounds petty? Then hell yeah, I’m being petty. Just as petty as your tired RoboCop jokes. But guess what? We all live somewhere that’s fucked up to some degree, and even if you move somewhere else, your life still won’t be Instagram perfection.

Despite all of its fucked-uppedness, I still love Detroit. And there are a lot of people here who love this city and want to reduce that fucked-uppedness to a minimum. You love your fucked-up city, too.

A bid last summer to bring the X Games here to Detroit got a lot of national press, and we were appropriately disheartened when ESPN chose Austin over us. It’s fine, because the masterminds behind that bid have put the wheels in motion to come up with an alternative. It sounds cheesy as all hell to say this, but Detroit never says die.

On the other end of the spectrum, hundreds of volunteers are planning a mass cleanup of the city’s North End neighborhood, an event that won’t get nearly as much attention as the X Games bid. I’m not complaining about the coverage at all, don’t get me wrong. But the point here is, people mobilize for causes here—be it skateboarding in abandoned lots or boarding up abandoned homes.

Those are just two examples, I know. And that won’t convince you, I know. I can’t yell about the good parts of Detroit or complain about the national media coverage anymore, so just go ahead and click through that slideshow of black-and-white photos of Motown stars and assembly-line workers, and tell us again how Obama and the Democrats killed Detroit or whatever. At this point, sticks and fucking stones.

I love Detroit, I know a ton of people who love Detroit. It’s a twisted love that runs the gamut of emotions: joy, disappointment, hurt, anger, fear, elation, delight, apprehension, courage, resentment, cynicism, stubbornness, optimism, and confusion. Then again, maybe that’s something we all have in common. Have you ever loved? You mean to tell me that everything you’ve loved was just cut and clear? There was never any condition or obstacle?

When it’s love, you know it’s real. And love conquers all, even the stigma of Chapter 9 bankruptcy and the national headshaking that’s come with it. So yeah, Detroit will be just fine. Even if you don’t think so.


Thomas J. Sugrue

Editor’s note: What follows is Thomas J. Sugrue’s response to the book Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli. It first appeared, in slightly different form, in the journal Democracy.

N o one lives there anymore. I have heard those five words uttered again and again over the four decades since my parents joined the Great Boer Trek from city to suburb. Detroit has lost a lot of people—about 1.3 million—since its population peak of nearly two million in the early 1950s. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, Detroit lost a remarkable 25 percent of its population, as massive long-term disinvestment, the collapse of the public infrastructure, and the near-death of the American auto industry devastated the city. Today, more than 40 of the city’s 139 square miles are empty, at least 90,000 houses stand abandoned, and neighborhood shopping districts are scarce. Once-grand factories are gutted and crumbling. A few years ago, The Onion ran a headline Detroit Sold for Scrap. Funny because it’s true: One of the city’s few growth industries is scrapping. Inept scavengers pulled down a substantial part of a pedestrian bridge at the defunct Packard Plant (a mile-long complex that stopped making cars in 1957) in an effort to retrieve its steel support beams. When I visited shortly afterward, an electrical crew was replacing copper wire that had been stripped out of nearby live power lines. Drivers learn to veer around sewer openings in the streets because every time iron prices rise, sewer lids disappear, leaving car-eating holes in their place.

For most of the colorful characters in Mark Binelli’s gripping, tragicomic account of Detroit, the city’s emptiness is its future. Newcomers to Detroit describe the city as the Wild West and themselves as pioneers staking claim to new land. For them, the Motor City is a tabula rasa, a place to undo, remake, rebuild, reinvent. Among them is wealthy investor John Hantz, who won approval for his plan to convert part of Detroit’s East Side urban prairie into a commercial tree farm—a striking turnabout for a neighborhood that was once the city’s densest. A short distance from Hantz Farms, artist Tyree Guyton has turned a few mostly abandoned blocks into a post-apocalyptic art installation, using abandoned houses as canvases, urban detritus as statuary, and half-dead trees, covered doll heads, and old shoes as totems. Detroit’s most famous radical, Grace Lee Boggs, now 98, who is still on a journey that began with Trotskyite factionalism, moved through Black Power, and shifted to neighborhood and anti-violence organizing, leads a devoted band of utopians who envision Detroit as a collective of communal farms, the world’s largest wholly self-sustaining city. That vision is more than a little far-fetched, but with at least 875 urban farms and community gardens in Detroit today, it’s no more unreal than long-dashed dreams of somehow restoring the city’s mid-century industrial might.

Detroit represents, in extremis, the realities of urban America today. American cities have long embodied the paradoxes of poverty amidst progress. They attract migrants in search of opportunity or outcasts in search of liberty, but they also repel those discomfited by insecurity, anonymity, and anomie. Detroit offers one version of this story: The Motor City was the nation’s Arsenal of Democracy and the engine of its massive postwar consumer economy, then the epitome of deindustrialization, racial conflict, and decay.

Binelli offers a brief overview of the city’s sometimes glorious and often troubled history, but primarily turns his attention to the future: How does a city reinvent itself? Is it possible for a place left for dead to come back to life? Can we save the city? Who is that elusive we? On each of these questions, Binelli is a pessimist of the intellect but an optimist of the will. He offers an unflinching analysis of the city’s problems but an intimate portrayal of those longtime Detroiters and newcomers alike who are trapped in the city’s present while reimagining its possible (and impossible) futures.

A contributing editor at Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, Binelli is a former suburban Detroiter turned New

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