Does a writer make the city or does the city make the writer? At Grantland, Michael Weinreb discusses why Elmore Leonard is the ultimate Motor City writer and discovers Leonard’s Detroit. “Without his books, the city would still have suffered the same hellish decline. But because of him, that suffering was rendered into an art form all its own.” Pair with: Our own Bill Morris writing against Detroit’s ruin porn reputation.
"Only a true Pollyanna would try to minimize Detroit’s staggering problems. But buying into the dreary old ruin-porn narrative is, in its way, as myopic as rosy optimism.”
"Anyone who wants to know what made Motown great and what killed Motown should not go to Broadway. They should turn to books. The body of Motown Lit lays out a tragedy every bit as fascinating, maddening, and depressing as the tragedy of Detroit itself." On the literature of Motor City.
And the city will be saved. Because while the city may shrink, it cannot be allowed to die, either – cities, like books, will always attract those who reject more anodyne pastures. The city is where real problems reside, along with the people who suffer from them — and those who, to borrow from Auden, cannot help but act as “an affirming flame.” Today’s suburbanized literature — a dim light bulb — has largely cast aside the sweeping social concerns that animated, say, The Grapes of Wrath and Native Son. A big social novel is like a great old train station; a nice thought, but impractical in this day and age. Who will go there, anyway? A bus shelter will do.
"Fifty years ago, a wide-eyed kid in Detroit had a religious experience. It was partly a baptism and partly an epiphany, but mostly it was an illusion. It was that rite of initiation that occurs in the life of every sports fan, that moment when he sees something so magical that he comes to believe that anything, absolutely anything is possible."
- Our own Bill Morris recalls The Thanksgiving Day Massacre
'For people of my generation and younger,' Binelli, 42, writes, 'growing up in the Detroit area meant growing up with a constant reminder of the best having ended a long time ago. We held no other concept of Detroit but as a shell of its former self. Our parents could mourn what it used to be and tell us stories about the wonderful downtown department stores and the heyday of Motown and muscle cars. But for us, those stories existed as pure fable.'
…The deeper he went into the story, the more convinced he became that the negative old narrative had played itself out. In its place was emerging a new sense of purpose and possibility. ‘It didn’t make rational sense, I knew, but I found myself edging over to the side of the optimists,’ Binelli writes. ‘I couldn’t say why; it happened gradually, on the level of anecdote: I caught myself noticing and relishing slight indicators that in aggregate (or perhaps viewed through lenses with the proper tinting) couldn’t help but make you feel Detroit’s luck, despite such unimaginable obstacles, might still turn.’