Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Little Love for the D

I found myself feeling a rush of civic pride for the city of Detroit while watching the Super Bowl last weekend. Between bites of chips and cookies, I suddenly saw flashes of Detroit on the big screen TV—the Spirit of Detroit statue, the mighty 24-foot bronze fist of heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, and the magnificent Fox Theatre. I thought I was back home in Michigan watching the local news.

The ad was announcing the new Chrysler 200 but in reality it was a commercial for Detroit—“What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about luxury?” touted the ad. It felt good. Finally, a car commercial that promoted the auto industry's birthplace. Chrysler is not just an American car company—it’s a Detroit car company.

This is the city that’s been in a depression for the last thirty years. It’s the city that was on the cover of Time Magazine last year as part of a year-long series to chronicle “the most challenged large city in America.” It’s the city usually described as crumbling, decaying, shrinking… Detroit is a shell of what it once was, and yet, it’s still there. It’s still the Motor City.

My dad works downtown. My sister chose a historic mansion in the city for her wedding reception. I spent a summer interning at the Detroit Free Press. Many of my relatives are employed by GM. No, I’ve never lived below 8 mile but my ears perk up whenever the city is mentioned. Pride for Detroit never really went away among people from the area, even as its mayor was sentenced to prison for perjury and obstruction of justice. The city’s cultural history is too strong to be forgotten. It’s the home of Motown, after all. But now it seems Detroit has a new kind of pride for enduring hell.

In this spirit of pride, I’d like to point out a few Detroit writers. Jeffrey Eugenides’s 2002 novel, Middlesex, was called “the Detroit novel,” partially set during the 1967 riots. Poets Philip Levine and Robert Hayden were both born in Detroit, and attended Wayne State University. The prolific Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and Out of Sight, still lives in the area. Novelist and essayist Marge Piercy was born in the city during the Great Depression and attended Detroit public schools. There are more Detroit writers out there, but not really enough.

I live in New York now but I’ll never be a New Yorker. And I can’t legitimately call myself a Detroiter but I’ll always be an avid fan. For now, I think I’ll try to read some more Detroit talent.

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