A Detroit reading list

I recently wrote a story about great summer reads for Freshwater Cleveland, and Anna Clark, the editor of A Detroit Anthology, sent me this great Detroit reading list:

Literary Detroit has a running “Reading Detroit” list that I both keep up and consult. And of course, I’m a believer in every writer included in the anthology: you could count the table of contents as my endorsement list, alongside other favorites like the terrifically talented Vievee Francis and Tarfia Faizullah. And Bridgett M. Davis has an interesting new novel coming out set in the 1980s in both Detroit and Lagos, Nigeria.

But specifically:

“them” by Joyce Carol Oates is a National Book Award-winning novel set in Detroit between the 1930s and 1960s. Better than just about anything I’ve ever read, it articulates how poverty threatens to make you vicious. I took a long time for me to read it, because I had to take breaks when it cut too close.

“Arc of Justice” by Kevin Boyle is a Pulitzer-winning nonfiction saga of race, civil rights, and murder in Jazz Age Detroit, centering on the famous Ossian Sweet case that Clarance Darrow defended.

“Hidden History of Detroit” by Amy Elliott Bragg is full of smart true stories about the city that remind us of the richness of the living past.

“The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit” by Thomas J. Sugrue (a contributor to the Detroit anthology) is a classic history of the systematic forces that created today’s troubles. It’s now out with a new introduction about the city’s bankruptcy.

“allegiance” by francine j. harris (another anthology contributor) is a scathing and gorgeous collection of poems about the city: spaces occupied and empty, full of found people and found objects.

“Hum” by Jamaal May is a poetry collection full of of the sounds of Detroit. It’s all brassy language and beating heart.

“Detroit: A Play” by Lisa D’Amour is a darkly comic play that was Pulitzer finalist. It portrays the precarity of the lived experience in an inner-ring suburb in the 1960s.

“Stitches” by David Small is a riveting nonfiction graphic novel (graphic memoir?) about growing up in a desperately repressed household in Detroit. Small gets cancer as a young teenager, but nobody tell him about it: he wakes up one morning in the hospital with a vocal chord ripped out, robbing the burgeoning artist of his voice.

“Broken Monsters” by Lauren Beukes is coming out in September, but I had the chance to read it early. It’s a reality-bending thriller set in Detroit with an uncommonly fresh take. Beukes’ ear for the voices of the city — especially teenagers — is second to none.


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