June 9, 2014

Putting Detroit on the (Literary) Map. ~ Kim Haas

Photo: Bernt Rostad

What generally comes to mind when Detroit is mentioned?



Auto bailout.


Abandoned houses.



Wait, what? Literature?

Yes, literature.

Among various efforts designed to revive and revitalize Detroit, two projects stand out to me for their literary nature.

The first is a project started by English Professor, Frank Rashid, of Marygrove College. Wanting to challenge the theory that the blame for Detroit’s troubles can be traced simply to one cause such as corruption or crime, Rashid set out to create a literary map of Detroit, allowing us a glimpse of the city through the eyes of writers. His passion for cartography and literature intersect in this inventive project designed to cast a new light on an old city.

The second project is a unique writer’s residency program.  According to the website for Write A House, their mission is “to leverage Detroit’s available housing in creative ways to bolster an emerging literary community to benefit the City of Detroit and its neighborhoods.”

Detroit youth are recruited to help renovate houses, providing them with useful and marketable carpentry skills. The houses are then awarded to writers who will lease them from Write A House to cover the taxes and insurance. If they stay for two years, the writer will then be given the deed to the house.

Growing up outside of Detroit, we only went there for special events like the Ice Capades.

Living here once again, as an adult, I feel that same sense of furtively ducking into the city for a concert or baseball game before swiftly exiting the (real and perceived) sketchiness of the city.

I actually love cities. I lived in Center City Philadelphia in my 20s. I loved how I could walk outside and be surrounded by people. I loved that there was always something to do—art museums, clubs, parks, Reading Terminal Market, China town, shopping, theaters—all within walking distance. Even after I moved out to the suburbs, I still looked forward to taking the train back into the city to just meander through the many streets. It never occurs to me to just meander through Detroit.

Cities need a thriving, diverse population of people who live there.

Right there, in the thick of things. Currently there seems to be a stigma attached to those who are unlucky enough to find themselves living in Detroit. Perhaps that can change. Perhaps these projects can help bring about that change and put Detroit in a new light.

As a writer who lives outside of the city, I am thrilled to see such creative (and literary) ideas being implemented. Often people are  so quick to play the blame game with Detroit—writing it off instead of trying to make a difference. But these two projects are unique in their common use of literature to not only look at this complex city in innovative ways but to actually try and make a difference.

One house at a time.

One word at a time.

One writer at a time.


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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Bernt Rostad via Flickr

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Kim Haas  |  Contribution: 4,245