Originally featured in Detroit's Cityview Newsmagazine, October 28, 1999
he citys new slogan announcing, "Its a great time to be in Detroit!" focuses primarily on economic targets. However, a growing literary community is creating its own context in Detroits revival. Poets and writers of fiction and non-fiction are tracing the steps of authors like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes who helped define the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. As we head into the Millenium, a varied stream of voices from the Detroit community are emerging as the new interpreters of African American life.
The Motor City has always been a hotbed of creativity among African Americans and has a worldwide reputation as a symbol of the jazz, soul, and rhythm and blues eras. So, its not an accident that there are so many people who are writing, performing as poets and publishing today. However, this new cooperative is documenting its creativity and know-how through the push of technological advances and the pull of a community that feels alienated from existing literary offerings.
As we head into the Millenium, a varied stream of voices from the Detroit community are emerging as the new interpreters of African American life.
"Performance poetry is a very hot art form right now," says Herbert Metoyer, executive director of the Detroit Black Writers Guild. "And there are more self-published books in bookstores than ever before. The desire to publish is growing despite the fact that theres very little money in it. Immortality is the driving force."
Every night of the week, an area coffeehouse, library or theater comes alive with verses that recite personal relationships, political realities, and the most honest intentions. Reading from little pieces of paper, dog-eared journals, computer printouts, and the heart, men and woman hint, jab and exclaim, wowing their audience with thoughtful, provocative expressions. Café Aroma, 736 Java, Coffee & Cream, and the YMCAs Writers Voice are familiar stomping grounds for poets like Wardell Montgomery, Jr., Patricia Harris Johnson, Da Boogie Man, Marc Maurus and Ulysses Newkirk II who drop little bits of reality into every heart they touch.
"Detroit plays a huge role in the poetry performance corridor that runs from Saginaw, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois," says Liberty Daniels, poet and co-host of The Grand Café’s Poetry in Motion series. "Reputable poets from around the country come here and like me, get recharged by our peers who do poetry as theatre, therapy, or both."
Also seated at Detroits literary roundtable are a few hometown authors whove broken through a mountain of obstacles to get published. In 1995, Angela Patrick-Wynn started writing, Everything She Wants, and credits former neighbor, Rosalyn McMillan, with encouraging her to keep working at her dream of becoming a novelist. Patrick-Wynn found a national audience for her novel, which was recently featured in Essence Magazine. Whenever possible, she does a booksigning/workshop called, "Writing Fantastic Love Scenes."
"The people who come to my workshop have been kicking around ideas for years," she says. "Just like I did, theyre looking for someone to say it can be done because writing a novel is such a big commitment."
Lee Meadows, author of Silent Conspiracy has been building an audience of readers who look beyond the bestseller lists for their enjoyment. He started writing his book four years ago and decided to self-publish after the major publishing houses kept turning him down.
"I wrote a story that I had to tell," Meadows says. "Thank goodness theres a community of readers who are willing to invest their money in new African American writers."
S.I.S.T.E.R Book Club (Sisters Inviting Sisters To Enjoy Reading) recently hosted Meadows as a guest speaker.
"We like to break outside of the usual commercial fiction and we particularly like to support local talent," says Karlyn Singleton, president. The club has also met with local authors Beverly Jenkins, Through the Storm, Elizabeth Atkins Bowman, White Chocolate, and Renee Prewitt Killingsworth, Morning Drive to Midnight.
With so many writers and venues influencing the push and pull of the literary marketplace, it is a common practice for many to think that a writing career requires little effort.
"Not so," says Denise Stinson, literary agent, whose clients include Pearl Cleage, T.D.Jakes and locally, Marilyn Hubbard. "Writing is 75% craft and 25% talent. A writer should be familiar with every best seller on the market and should read it before they attempt to write it."
While there are many writing classes available, what Detroit is missing, says Stinson, are critical writing groups and summer programs that will nurture the talent of aspiring writers. Her concerns were echoed by a number of people who attended a recent writers conference here. According to Metoyer, the Guilds next stage is the development of such programs.
As the local writing community continues to gain momentum, more people are dusting off old manuscripts and putting pen to paper to enter its ranks. The reasons for doing so are as varied as the personalities behind the written page. But this one thing is certain. Whatever the objective: money, fame or fun, it is conceivable to shape your legacy by the intellectual contribution you make today.
Renee Prewitt Killingsworth
is a public relations consultant and
author of Morning Drive to Midnight