Literary Map Introduction


Metropolitan Detroit is a place of extremes: One of the nation’s wealthiest counties borders one of its poorest; the city is over 80% African-American, while most of its surrounding suburbs are over 90% Caucasian. For the first fifty years of the twentieth century, Detroit was the engine that propelled American prosperity; in the next fifty years, it became the visible reminder that things could go very wrong in America. Detroit is where American industrial capitalism ran into trouble and where its wounds are exposed for all to see, where we came to understand very clearly that racial injustice is not restricted to the American South. Detroit is also where generations from all over the world have come to fulfill their hopes and aspirations. In many ways, Detroit is, as Philip Levine observes, “the exact center of the modern world.”

Mystery_Shot2As Detroit’s industrial production has declined, its artistic production has risen. The last half century has witnessed unprecedented industrial and corporate disinvestment in Detroit, but at the same time, writers, artists, and musicians have invested the city with language, vision, and sound. This is the era of Motown, the Broadside Press, the Cass Corridor artists, the Heidelberg Project, and Techno; this is when Robert Hayden, Dudley Randall, Philip Levine, Naomi Long Madgett, and Joyce Carol Oates, among many others, put Detroit on the literary map.

The poets and storytellers who have written about Detroit understand that something important has happened here, and they share an urge to reveal it. It’s difficult to live in this city, to care about it, without feeling the need to capture the experience, to define it properly, to let the outside world know about what has happened here. The popular images of Detroit are so lacking in appreciation of its complexity, its power, its seemingly irreversible decay and sometimes startling beauty—that if, as Lawrence Joseph says, “you’ve been here long enough,” you can feel a responsibility to capture the experience, to get it right. It is a fascinating experience, full of compelling images and powerful stories. That’s why writers who grew up in and around Detroit have continued to write about the city long after they have moved away.

Mystery_Shot4As much as the writers of any other city, Detroit authors and poets are specific about the times and places of their works. References to places and dates are frequent enough that this is one distinguishing characteristic of Detroit literature. In a city that has changed so rapidly, it’s helpful to identify sites and years. Yesterday’s thriving institution becomes today’s ruin. Titles and texts often include the names of streets, parks, landmarks, and dates.

This Website identifies and analyzes the places that are important in Detroit literature. Contributors include faculty, students, alumni, and friends of the Marygrove College Department of English and Modern Languages. In selecting contributors, I have made an effort to find local scholars and writers who have some connection with the specific place under discussion. Many more sites are in preparation and will be added as they are completed.

Mystery_Shot3I wish to express my deep gratitude to Andrew Koper, the Marygrove College Webmaster, whose knowledge, initiative, and constructive suggestions have moved this project along; to Anna Fedor for her wonderful photographs; to my student and research assistant, Cassie Atkinson, for her resourcefulness and persistence; to David Deis of Dreamline Cartography for his cooperation in map design; to Elizabeth Clemens of the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University; to Lowell Boileau, whose Fabulous Ruins of Detroit (, is a constant inspiration; and to Jamie Babcock, Katherine Blanchard, , Pao-yu Ching, Forrest Johnson, and Jacklene Johnson all of Marygrove College. For their consistent support of this and other Institute for Detroit Studies projects, I thank Glenda Price, the President of Marygrove College; Joan Connell, Interim Provost; Judith Heinen, Dean of the Arts and Sciences Division; Rose DeSloover, Dean of the Visual and Performing Arts Division; and Thomas Klug, Director of the Institute for Detroit Studies. I acknowledge with thanks the assistance and support of my faculty colleagues in the Department of English and Modern Languages and the Institute for Detroit Studies. I am especially grateful to Kim Stroud for her partnership and wise counsel.

The Literary Map of Detroit is sponsored by the Marygrove College Institute for Detroit Studies and the Department of English and Modern Languages and made possible with the generous support of a SBC Ameritech Partnership Award and the Michigan Colleges Foundation.

Through the Literary Map, we hope to highlight Detroit’s importance to literature and to emphasize literature’s importance to Detroit. This is an ongoing project. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Frank D. Rashid

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