Rust Belt Chic Press is beyond proud to publish A Detroit Anthology, edited by Anna Clark,. This is an uncommon book for uncommon times, as the Motor City navigates bankruptcy, emergency management, and post-industrial economics. Both notable residents and emerging voices are brought together on these pages. On one end of the spectrum, there is lifelong civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs, urban theorist Thomas J. Sugrue, filmmaker dream hampton, and Shaka Senghor, a former inmate, celebrated writer, and TED speaker. On the other end, A Detroit Anthology is the first to publish writer Kat Harrison and photographer Gabriela Santiago-Romero, among others. The age range of contributors spans more than eight decades. You can order A Detroit Anthology here.
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 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. Nothing is in unison. But it is music all the same, an ensemble of parts that contribute to a whole.
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.
Detroit skyline photo by Bernt Rostad, used under a Creative Commons license.