This site identifies and describes locations with literary significance in and around Detroit and provides bibliographies of works by and about Detroit writers. Select from the list below. The editor is Frank D. Rashid: [email protected].
…what do literary maps allow us to see? Two things, basically. First, they highlight the ortgebunden, place-bound nature of literary forms: each of them with its peculiar geometry, its boundaries, its spatial taboos and favorite routes. And then, maps bring to light the internal logic of narrative: the semiotic domain around which a plot coalesces and self-organizes. Literary form appears thus as the result of two conflicting, and equally significant forces: one working from the outside, and one from the inside. It is the usual, and at bottom the only real issue of literary history: society, rhetoric, and their interaction. –Franco Moretti (5)
I pore over maps for much the same reason almost that I read and re-read texts. Both satisfy my “rage for order”; both require insight and artifice. Geographers and creative writers seek to organize space and time, the world and our experience in it. Maps—like works of poetry, fiction, and drama—rarely reveal all of their meanings during one examination. When I read closely a place’s literature and its maps—those produced at different times by different authors and cartographers—my comprehension of life in that locality intensifies, even if it is the one I inhabit. And these charts and narratives have not only a resemblance, but, as Franco Moretti asserts, an interrelationship, influencing one another, working together to complicate our understanding of each, revealing the “real issue of literary history”: the interaction between a place, its language, and its forms (5). Authors sometimes provide a map of a work’s setting, even when, as in the case of William Faulkner, the locale is imaginary. And, conversely, a work of imaginative literature intensifies our experience of real places and their representations.
Up through September 27, 1999 Tiger Stadium hosted crowds for major league baseball games, serving as home field for the Detroit Tigers. Located at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, this classic ballpark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has long stood as a symbol of stability in a city that felt so keenly the major social, political, and economic upheavals of twentieth century life.
Located at the foot of West Grand Boulevard, Riverside Park is a narrow green rectangle along an industrial southwest Detroit waterfront. Michael Lauchlan uses it as the name of one poem, and it is the unnamed setting for Mary Minock' s poem "Down by the Boulevard Dock."
Nestled between Gratiot, Mack, and the I-75 Interchange, Detroit’s Eastern Market has been a tradition for the past 160 years. Buyers from miles around gather to buy produce, meat, spices, spring flowers, Halloween pumpkins, and Christmas trees. Farmers holler out prices, chiming in chorus at times with street musicians who settle under the shelters. It is a place alive with a diverse crowd of people, from recent immigrants to longtime Detroiters.
The largest solid waste incinerator in the United States, the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility incinerator burns an estimated 2800 tons of commercial and household waste each day. Built in 1986 during Mayor Coleman A. Young's tenure, it has had a troubled financial and political history which is captured in Ron Allen's poem, "Incinerator."
Lawrence Joseph has written of his "fascination with place" and of the "limitless-and extraordinary" material he finds for his poetry in Detroit, a place, he says, that insists that he examine his own life in the context of larger historical, cultural, and economic forces ("Our Lives" 297). In his poetry, the family grocery store, run first by his grandfather and then by his father and uncle, often functions as a focal point for this examination.
Durfee Middle School Situated on the curve of Collingwood at LaSalle on Detroit’s west side, Durfee Intermediate School (now Durfee K-8) was built in 1927 and originally served a working class population, including the children of European immigrants and a sizable number of Jewish students.
Second Baptist Church of Detroit, the oldest African-American church in Michigan, was organized in 1836. It is located at 441 Monroe Street, east of the intersection of Gratiot and Woodward Avenues, within the Greektown Historic District, which encompasses part of what was once called Paradise Valley or Blackbottom, the home, until the 1940s, of most of Detroit's black population.
Long-time Detroiters refer to the old African-American districts of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom as if they were interchangeable, but the terms actually refer to two different inner east-side areas sharing the border of Gratiot Avenue. Black Bottom, proceeding south from Gratiot as far as the Detroit River, was the older of the two.
State Street and Woodward Avenue in Downtown Detroit in the nineteen-twenties was one of the busiest intersections in the nation ("Exhibits"). Situated at that crossroads, the J.L. Hudson's Department Store, the grand old dame of Detroit retail, reigned over the heart of the city. According to the Detroit Historical Museums and Society website, in 1881, Joseph Lowthian Hudson opened a haberdashery in the Detroit Opera House, and the business grew with the city, eventually occupying the twenty-five story building on Woodward, employing twelve thousand people, serving over one hundred thousand shoppers daily, and frequently doing over $1 million worth of business in a single day ("Exhibits").
The impact of industry on the psyche of Detroit writers has yielded vivid images of factory life. The Chevy Gear and Axle plant contributed to this phenomenon. Built in 1919, the factory was located at 1840 Holbrook, in Hamtramck. Over the century, the factory evolved, remaining a General Motors property until its sale in 1994 to American Axle and Manufacturing.
At the corner of Michigan Avenue and 18th Street stands a structure that attests to rise and ruin in Detroit. Michigan Central Station, built in 1913, was the vision of architects Whitney Warren and Charles Whetmore. Once a flourishing hub, the station stands abandoned to elements of nature and humanity.
Since its construction, the Ford Motor Company's Rouge River complex in Dearborn has been seen as a sign of changing economic and social conditions in the city, region, and nation. Whether regarded as a powerful sign of American industrial growth, as the battleground between labor and management, as a symbol of U.S. wartime strength, or as a reminder of Rust Belt decline, the Rouge always stands for something larger even than itself. In the twenties and thirties, the Rouge was a self-contained mid-sized city, employing over 100,000 people. Today, it employs roughly 6,000 ("History"). The decentralization beginning after World War II resulted in a drastic reduction in automobile production at the Rouge, but in that time it has generated plenty of poetry, fiction, art, photography, and film.
After the fire of 1805, Augustus Breevort Woodward, for whom Woodward Avenue is named, developed a plan to rebuild and restore Detroit. According to Perry L. Norton, Woodward's plan for Detroit grew out of previous designs for Washington, the Nation's capital, and Versailles, a "geometric design based on equilateral triangles culminating in the intersection of 12 streets, a confluence which Woodward called the Grand Circus" (160). Norton says that Woodward's plan eventually "closed in on itself, limited in dynamics by an unending series of Grand Circuses indistinguishable from the other" (165).
With a sprawling urban campus of more than 200 acres currently hosting over 30,000 students, Wayne State University is one of the country's largest and most diverse universities, claiming roots dating to 1868. Situated amid museums, the Detroit Public Library, and other cultural and social spots, Wayne State is also the heart of Detroit's University Cultural Center and the academic home of many of Detroit's writers.
First established in 1877 on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Detroit, the University of Detroit added the campus on West McNichols in 1927. In 1990, the University merged with Detroit's Mercy College, founded in 1941 on Southfield Road at Outer Drive.
Located at the corner of McNichols Road and Wyoming, Marygrove College has been the setting for literary works as well as host to and educator of creative writers. The College was founded by the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters, and the Detroit campus officially opened in 1927 for the education and development of young women into socially conscious participants in a complex society; in 1971 the College went coed.
Sacred Heart Seminary has dominated the intersection of Linwood Avenue and West Chicago Boulevard since 1924. The "collegiate Gothic" seminary and its campus of athletic fields and secluded walkways was centerpiece of the building boom occurring in the Catholic Diocese of Detroit under Bishop Michael Gallagher in the 1920s (Tentler 306). Until 1988, Sacred Heart was a "minor" seminary, consisting of a high school--which closed in 1970--and a liberal arts college. Candidates for the priesthood underwent four more years of preparation at a "major" seminary, usually St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth. When St. John's closed in 1988, Sacred Heart took on the complete higher education of aspiring priests, deacons, and lay ministers.
In his novel The Heroes of Henley’s Woods, Mike Worden recalls one memorable Warren summer filled with sandlot baseball, adolescent camaraderie, and idealized mid-century innocence. Worden’s portrayal of Warren – Michigan’s third largest city – as a respectable community where people raise families and live quietly, cleanly, and safely would probably resonate with most Warren residents.
The Highland Park I remember from my childhood had safe, tree-lined streets, wonderful stores, movie theatres, clean playgrounds, and a bustling downtown. The school system was considered one of the nation’s best. This thriving living environment depended almost entirely on the auto industry. Once there were nearly 20,000 manufacturing jobs in Highland Park (Wilson & Gilchrist A1). Now almost all of them have disappeared. What factors led this once prosperous city into receivership and state control? Highland Park, like Detroit, is a victim of suburban sprawl and the auto manufacturers’ decision to decentralize production. Both cities were devastated by the decentralization of the auto plants and the loss of revenue that followed.
From the dawn of the Twentieth Century, the fate of Detroit’s schools and the fate of Detroit’s automobile factories have been inextricably intertwined. Nowhere is this more apparent than on East Grand Boulevard at Concord Avenue, where the shabby hulks of Emma Thomas School and the Packard Motor Car Company factory stand like monuments to the boom and bust cycle of the city’s industrial history. An April, 1906 Detroit Free Press article that touted the opening of seven new schools — including Emma Thomas School — drew a clear connection between schools and Detroit’s economic future. A secondary headline for the article declared: “Detroit’s Splendid Schools Attract Factories that Bring With Them Hundreds of Families With Children” (“Detroit’s Educational Facilities” 2).
One of the most imposing ghosts of Detroit’s east side is Dodge Main, the burly auto factory that once brooded over the border between Detroit and Hamtramck and whose emotional influence lingers more than twenty-five years after it was demolished. So central was Dodge Main to the industrial experience of Detroit’s east-side neighborhoods that its name has become a kind of literary shorthand, an emotional touchstone, a talisman that conjures up all that it meant to be of the working class in Detroit in the Twentieth Century.
US-24 is a highway with its tail in the Colorado Rockies and its nose in Southeastern Lower Michigan. Telegraph Road, Michigan’s section of US-24, runs from Monroe to someplace north of Pontiac. No one is really sure where it ends; even the road signs are of no help. Signs at two different locations read “US-24 ENDS.”
One of the nation's wealthiest suburbs, Bloomfield Hills—home to famous entertainers and athletes, board chairpersons, automobile company presidents, and other high-level corporate executives, as well as attorneys, physicians, judges, and political leaders—lies fifteen miles due north of downtown Detroit.
In the beginning—before Cadillac and Pontiac, Dodge Main and Compuware, Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick—the river flowed. As riots erupted on the Belle Isle Bridge above it in 1943, the river flowed. For decades it has continued to flow as industry has pumped pollution into its waters. As Detroit’s economy has been threatened by corporate disinvestment and unprecedented decline, the river goes on flowing, absorbing evidence, both physical and intangible, of the city’s rich and varied history.