Source Booksellers hosted a panel earlier this month on the literary life of Detroit, Michigan, as part of the World Book Café, a radio program from the BBC/Open Road that looks at countries around the world through a literary lens.
Bookstore owner Janet Webster Jones said she was contacted to participate in the project earlier this year by Nicola Holloway, the producer of the BBC’s World Book Café. The Detroit event is the third in the series, with previous episodes focusing on Beirut and Berlin. Each panel features interviews with local literary figures conducted by another local literary personality to find out what can be learned about a city from its authors, readers, bookstores, libraries, and book clubs.
“Detroit is a place with a rich history, which people living outside the city think they know. There are lots of stories attached to Detroit — Motown, car building, post-industrial economic collapse, bankruptcy — but are they the right stories, or simply clichés? On World Book Café, we wanted to explore the real stories of the city with the people who know them and who write them,” Holloway told Bookselling This Week. “We wanted to get under the skin of Detroit and find out what it is really like to live there and to work there, and uncover the narratives that Detroiters want to share. And also to question the role that writers will place in the city’s renaissance.”
“We were delighted to be at Source, one of Detroit’s oldest bookshops and also — importantly for us — a real presence in the community,” she added. “Janet and her team gave us a fantastic welcome and were great hosts. We had an excellent recording there.”
Moderated by local journalist Nichole Christian in front of an audience of booklovers, the March 9 panel featured four local literary figures: Nandi Comer, a poet who uses techno music in her work; Peter Markus, a novelist who writes about sustainability, ecology, and the environment; Annie Spence, a librarian and memoirist who writes letters to books; and Jessica Care Moore, a spoken word poet.
Jones herself was invited to participate in the conversation and talk about her store, which specializes in nonfiction. Four of Jones’ guests in the audience were also invited to interact with the moderator: Roberta Brown, founder of Detroit Working Writers, a local writers collective; Jean Alicia Elster, an award-winning writer and a member of that group; Amy Haimerl, founder of The Shady Ladies Literary Society; and poet/activist/teacher Deonte Osayande.
“They asked me to invite 20 or so people to be part of the audience, so I was delighted to do that because then I could invite some of our regular customers and people who I knew had an interest in the literary life of Detroit,” Jones said.
Jones said she thinks Detroit was chosen as the city of focus because there is a special energy there that attracts people.
“I get a lot of people coming from overseas to peek at Detroit because they think of it as a kind of revival city. I had one guy who was studying post-industrial cities come into the store and he identified Detroit as one,” she said.
The hour-long panel conversation will air on BBC World Service radio affiliates, with air dates and times to be announced soon. The Berlin program can be heard now online at BBC World Book Café. A podcast of the Detroit program will also be posted along with the broadcast.