Liana and I decided to try a collaborative literary experiment: choose a topic that we would both explore from our different vantage points in Detroit. Although we only live a couple blocks apart, we seem at times to be confronting entirely cities, communities, and cultures—and certainly from different sets of experiences. To further explore these differences, we chose to open our experiment by writing about gardening. If you’d like to participate, we’d love to read links to your thoughts, too.
The largest town nearest to where I am right now is Mynämäki, Finland, which you have certainly never heard of, but which is maybe 30km away from Turku, Finland, which you are slightly more likely to have heard of, but, let’s be honest, still probably haven’t. I am at an artist’s residency program that sits on the former grounds of Saari Manor. It is named for the days when this place was an island surrounded by the Baltic seabed—saari means island—although those days ended over a thousand years ago, when the water receded and the land emerged.
Every city has ghosts, but some have more than others. Detroit is one of those places. When you have a city with such an incredible and tragic past still reeling from issues and challenges that impact a vulnerable population, spirits will linger. The truth is that in order to really appreciate and understand Detroit, you need to go looking for them. They're not hard to find here - every building, park, street and community has a story to tell that goes beyond the surface. If you care enough to listen, the ghosts reveal themselves. Sometimes, they find you instead of the other way around. This is what happened to me on a recent Saturday morning.
Someone (OK, it was me) has fed my cat Bengali food and now, when he smells it cooking, he meows out the window toward the neighbor’s house, running to me if I move or change positions or even glance up from my desk. Anne, someone is cooking my lunch! is what he believes he is communicating. We’d better go see if it is ready, together, here let me get the door!
I now do most of my writing from an upstairs room that overlooks most of my street. The room is stark, with freshly painted white walls (Thanks Write A House crew), a wooden desk and an aluminum folding chair. I've kept it bare to minimize distraction and maximize output. I am easily distracted. I lose focus. I am not one of those writers who can write comfortably anywhere, at any time. To get a place of pure, magical focus and creativity, I have to expend so much energy. But even a minimally decorated, quiet room has not stopped my mind from wandering elsewhere.
The sound of the lawnmower ripping through my street Saturday morning was a sign: winter was officially over in Detroit and people - actual humans - were outside. It was a shocking contrast to my first few weeks in Detroit, when I went days without seeing any neighbors or strangers as I walked around in the snow, trying to get a sense of my new surroundings. My lawn was also in dire need of a cut.
My computer desktop image is of an old stone foundation overtaken by greenery, a former homestead of Washington Irving, which I hiked to a number of summers ago during a residency in the Catskills. The spot wasn’t terribly well marked, and I had to dig for it a bit, so I spent most of the morning seeking out what would have been a former house, next to a stream, before chancing upon the rock Rip Van Winkle was said to have napped on. (Superstitiously, I did not indulge the urge to test it.) The discovery of the homestead felt somehow pivotal, and I knew when I snapped the image on my cameraphone that I would want to look at it every day: flat stone foundations are so sensical, aren’t they?
Write A House, the Detroit nonprofit that awards homes to writers, hosts a conversation between Frances Stroh and Kelly Luce at the Palo Alto Shinola store on May 19 at 7 PM. The event is free and drinks and snacks will be served. Please email RSVP_PA@Shinola.com to attend.
Write A House will visit the Shinola San Francisco store on Tuesday, May 17 at 7 PM to host a conversation between Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and Kim-Mai Cutler, a technology journalist and columnist at TechCrunch. The event is free and open to the public but please RSVP by emailing RSVP_SF@Shinola.com to attend. Drinks and snacks will be served! Help spread the word on facebook too!
Anne Elizabeth Moore receives keys to third house; Detroit local Nandi Comer to receive fourth
Detroit – Write A House is accelerating the awarding of free Detroit homes to new writers-in-residence, handing over the keys today for their third house while simultaneously announcing that local poet Nandi Comer will move into the fourth house upon its completion in the fall. The 501(c)3 nonprofit launched a fundraising campaign for that home yesterday which will run until the end of the month.
Cultural Critic Anne Elizabeth Moore Wins Free House in Detroit FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - April 12, 2016
DETROIT, MI— Write A House is delighted to announce that the next writer to be awarded a Detroit house is Anne Elizabeth Moore, a writer, artist, editor, and cultural critic from Chicago. She was a 2014 nonfiction finalist who submitted a work of comics journalism as her writing sample. “In this smart, informative, and entertaining graphic work, the author deconstructs food, service, garment and waste industry labor and manufacturing practices,” wrote judge Tamara Warren in her citation.
It's been two months since I've moved, and perhaps the most challenging part of it all has been making my living space, well, livable. I've managed without attachment to possessions for a very long time, and in many ways that is an absolute freeing feeling. I've lived in places for the last five years knowing that in two days time, four weeks or three months, that my time in a particular bed, kitchen, shower and living room was temporary, that I would be moving on to somewhere else, a place with different colored walls, a different style of furniture, a different set of keys. It felt good to leave things behind, to know that nothing was mine, that I didn't have to carry that weight.
I am an outsider in Detroit. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m comfortable being an outsider. It’s a space I’ve occupied most of life in varying degrees since I was born. I’ve been part of an ethnic minority, a refugee, an immigrant and more professionally, a freelance journalist functioning independently outside of the newsroom of major news organizations, a journalist who started out without any “connections,” academically or otherwise to the people and places that control our mainstream media machine.
In Detroit, you don’t have to go looking for devastation. It’s around, and chances are, you’ll probably come across it during a walk down the street, or a drive around the city - the abandoned buildings, the boarded up houses, the empty lots where the houses used to be, the cars that look normal until you notice that two of our four tires are deflated, melting endlessly into the concrete they’ve been left on for what you can only guess is a very long time.
“How much for a dozen,” a woman asked, poking her head through the door. “I don’t know, I’m just security!” a man yelled back. Around 30 people had crammed themselves inside a small bakery, responsible for sending the smell of sweet dough down the street as a sort of invisible, olfactory siren call. Spindles of white strung hung across the ceiling, used to tie pastry boxes full of a once-a-year- delicacy that felt holy in more ways than one. The more people were served, the more came in. “I feel like I’m parting the Red Sea,” said a man who had just collected his order from the counter and was now trying to get through the shop to the snow awaiting him outside.
On Oct. 3, I landed in Detroit for a three day out-of-body experience. I walked down the escalator, staring at a banner that welcomed me to “America’s great comeback city,” out through baggage claim and met the founders of Write A House, a unique non-profit aimed at giving writers permanent residencies through rehabbed houses in Detroit to keep forever. Three hours later, I welcomed close to 100 people to my new home - a phrase that still feels strange to write, or even say. The night began and ended in a blur, in beaming smiles and hellos, in a news crew ambush, in the smooth countertops I brushed my hands against, the new wooden floors I walked on carefully in heels, in handshakes and speeches, introductions, congratulations, in conversation and community.
DETROIT, MI—Write A House is thrilled to name journalist Liana Aghajanian as the winner of its second permanent residency in Detroit. Aghajanian will receive a newly renovated home that is hers to keep, forever. She and her partner, the graphic designer and artist Keegam Shamlian, expect to move from Los Angeles to Detroit in January.
One of the most magical nights of my summer was attending Tunde Olaniran’s album release for Transgressor. The word magical is overused to describe things. What I mean specifically is that it felt like an act of magic—the supernatural ineffable that occurs when witnessing someone harness all of their energy with precision and intention. I’ve attended a fair amount of live shows over the course of my life, but rare has been the occasion where a musician has shook me so hard it lingered for weeks afterward. I can count those moments on one hand: Lauryn Hill performing a surprise show with a large band in late 2010; the haunting wail that is Mal Devisa in the basement of the Whitehaus, where I used to live, in Boston earlier this year; watching Erykah Badu play with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra on my birthday two years ago. Add to that number the Transgressor album release.
August 17, 2015 Write A House is delighted to announce ten finalists for the second round our groundbreaking writing residency, in which we renovate a formerly vacant home in Detroit and give it to one talented writer—for keeps. We will celebrate the winner on October 2 at a showcase event featuring the celebrated author Matt Bell, whose new novel, Scrapper, is draws inspiration from Detroit. We will welcome the winning writer into their new house soon afterward.
I left Detroit for a few weeks to go back to Massachusetts. It’s the third time I’ve been outside of Detroit since moving, and in many ways it was the strangest journey, because I was gone longer than before, and I was returning “home” home to where I grew up. For most of the time I was away I was on Cape Cod, and while I was there in part to see family, I was also attending a week-long workshop at the Fine Art Works Center in Provincetown. The workshop leader also happened to be Matthew Olzmann, who is from Detroit, and has lived in Hamtramck for many years.