Detroit Ink: New Books About the City, Its People, and Relevant Spaces | Books | Detroit

We all know Detroit is a city of multiple and complex flavors, welcoming both bitter and sweet. We also know that a good story, even if it’s been told a hundred times, gets better every time. With the right storyteller at the helm, the part you thought you knew by heart takes on remarkably different meanings, with brighter cadences and new actors cast in familiar roles. In short: the story takes on new life.

As we say goodbye to 2021 and look into the New Year, now is a great time to build your reading list. If your New Years resolution is to read more books, consider these picks a fun vacation, transporting you to Detroit and back again. Like the joy of hearing a punchline at the right time, there is something magical about revisiting a familiar place and seeing something transformational, nestled in the landscape.

These five books – either based in Detroit or written by authors based in Detroit – help us understand the Motor City better and, in the process, invite deep reflection, celebration, and renewed engagement.

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  • Soupy Sales and the Detroit Experience: Making a TV Personality.

Soupy Sales and Detroit Experience: Making a TV Personality

By Francis Shor

142 pp. Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Nothing says Detroit like Soupy Sales (born Milton Supman). You might not have been there in his heyday (1950s-1960s), but his comedic work has left an indelible mark on Detroit. What is telling for the uninitiated isn’t just Soupy Sales’s WXYZ-TV shows, Lunch with Soupy Sales (a kids’ show) and Soupy’s On (a nighttime show for adults), but its deep connection with the Detroit jazz scene. Jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown, an influential bebop legend, had his last performance (before his fatal car crash in 1956) on the Soupy Sales show. The author’s overview of popular television in Chapter 5 is a great introduction for wheelchair culture scholars interested in the wider cultural influence of Soupy Sales and the world he inhabited.

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The Velvet Bazaar: Sex and Love Sonnets in Detroit.  - COURTESY PHOTO

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  • The Velvet Bazaar: Sex and Love Sonnets in Detroit.

The Velvet Bazaar: Sex and Love Sonnets in Detroit

By Marsalis

50 pp. Independently published $ 10

If you know your Shakespeare or have a superficial relationship with the bard, you may have heard of a sonnet. In short, a sonnet, according to the Poetry Foundation, is a “14-line poem with varying rhyming pattern originating in Italy and brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in the 16th century”. Shakespeare published around 154 sonnets, many of which were about love and longing. Detroit native Marsalis takes inspiration from the master and uses the base form as a springboard for similar ruminations. These evocative encounters in bedrooms, street corners, roundabouts, cul-de-sac and candle-lit corners of the mind, with titles such as “City Without Pity (The Cyborg)”, ” Ghost / Ghosting “and” Whenever You Text Me, comfortably pushes us along with a satisfying melancholy. You’ll want to read them twice for get the full effect.

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Gun / Shy.  - COURTESY PHOTO

Gun / Shy

By Jim Daniels

96 pages. Wayne State University Press $ 16.99

This collection of poetry is intended to get under your skin. Divided into five parts, “Hamburger Surprise”, “Street View”, “Gun / Shy”, “Leaving the Piano Behind” and “The Grand Design”, each poem centers around a larger conversation about the precariousness of life and how the mundane can be full of dramatic possibilities. In “My dad worked 800 hours of overtime,” Daniels writes: “on the line at Ford the year I turned 16 / and had sex with a substitute teacher / and I started drinking seriously / and selling bags of nickel / from basement grain. chair bag. His poems are steeped in the geography of Detroit, where road signs and the smell of food evoke the odd. Be sure to check out “Shout a Sonnet into Detroit’s Dead Microphone” for a sound (and visually) disruptive experience.

100 years of the Detroit Historical Society.  - COURTESY PHOTO

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  • 100 years of the Detroit Historical Society.

100 years of the Detroit Historical Society

By Joel Stone

140 pages. Wayne State University Press $ 24.95

Every home library needs a library-worthy item – 100 Years of the Detroit Historical Society is the type of book you should leave on the coffee table to start the conversation. There are many historical books on Detroit, but this one focuses on the Detroit Historical Society as “a champion standing out from the maelstrom to capture, preserve, and tell the story of the city in all its facets.” You won’t curl up in your bed to read this one, but it does offer a hundred year throwback. Fans of the “Streets of Old Detroit” attraction will find an origin story (1951) and a detailed account of its restoration.

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What they've been through: the African Americans who changed the world.  - COURTESY PHOTO

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  • What They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World.

What They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World

By Rochelle Riley and Cristi Smith-Jones

160 pages. Wayne State University Press $ 16.99

In this case, it would be prudent to judge a book by its cover. What They Lived: The African Americans Who Changed the World is kid-friendly, educational and, yes, playful. This is a book for the whole family, and each entry is short enough to read before bedtime if you’re looking for a non-fictional alternative to the traditional bedtime story. There are of course the usual suspects, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, but also a few surprises, including Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. It is a great mix of various lives, professions and influences on our American consciousness. Here you have accessible biographies of 20 pioneers which, if read daily, can be completed in less than a month. And yes, the photographs of children mimicking black historical figures throughout the book are both adorable and beautifully inspiring.

Cornelius Fortune is a Detroit-based playwright, poet, educator, and scholar.

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