It’s hard to quantify just how much winning a home has meant to me.
Three years ago this Halloween, I moved from New York to Detroit to accept a two year lease on a house in Detroit. Earlier this year, I was given the deed and became a first-time home owner. I am a poet and teacher; I thought I would always be a renter. Now, I am on the board of Write A House trying to help raise money to help to the newest Write A House winner, a native Detroit poet. To me, the key ingredient of what makes a place your home is how you feel about it when you’re traveling. While I’ve travelled and had amazing experiences elsewhere these past three years, I’m always hungry to come back to Detroit. One of the best parts of the city is Detroiters, the people who live here who make this a magical, vibrant home.
Since moving into my Write A House, (which was also the first time I had ever lived in Detroit) I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredible artists, writers, nonprofits, educators and business owners like Powerhouse Production, Ingrid Lafleur, and Allied Media Projects. For myself, and for all of them there is a shared goal of making Detroit the best city it can be. Detroiters are fiercely loyal to their city and dedicated to one another in a way that I find truly remarkable. I have taught grades K-12 in schools across the city, and while the media may declare otherwise, these are some of the brightest, most genuine students I’ve had the honor of teaching.
Last summer I was a coach for InsideOut’s youth slam poetry team, and we travelled to Washington D.C. for the annual Louder Than a Bomb festival. Hundreds of youth poets from around the world participated in the festival, and out of all of them, one student who I’d been working with for three years, was chosen to go do a television interview promoting the festival. Two others were part of a panel on education and juvenile justice that included Michael Skolnik, Amir Sulaman and two officials from the U.S. Department of Education. Even though they shared a stage with such adult luminaries, these students stunned the audience, particularly Hawa, 18 and newly graduated from high school with a Gates Millenium scholarship, who freestyle rapped an answer to a question posed to her. Regardless of the issues DPS might face, Detroit produces extremely talented students and I am grateful to have taught some of them.
The First Write A House
Casey's home in the Banglatown neighborhood of Detroit.
Beyond teaching, I’ve been immersed in the arts here in Detroit in a way that I don’t think would be possible anywhere else. In the past three years, I’ve worked with other artists to coordinate a track for the 2016 Allied Media Conference, an annual conference for artists and activists based in Detroit, build an archive for the Hinterlands Radicalization Process, a play about 1960s radicals, participate in the Porous Borders Festival, based in my neighborhood on the border of Hamtramck and Detroit, and found the Fortify Writers’ Retreat, a weekend long generative writing workshop for adults in the Charles T. Fisher Mansion. Detroit is unique in the way it brings people together to build creatively, which is true for Write A House and from my personal experience. There’s an atmosphere of collaboration over competition, and at the heart of every project are artists and writers who are dedicated to making space for communities to come together and celebrate the arts. I’ve also been to meetings of the Detroit Culture Council, an organization dedicated to reinstating the city’s arts council, and it laid bare to me the reality that artists and activists have always been at the core of making Detroit thrive, and the literary arts have always played a role in that. And there is still work to be done supporting writers in this city. To whit, when Write A House was founded, there were no other organizations like it. Across the country a spate of programs arose for writers to win houses and bed and breakfasts following WaH’s lead. Even in Detroit, there are new programs like Stephen Henderson’s Tuxedo Project to support writers.
Write A House has inspired others, and now, three years after awarding its first home, we need your support to finish our fourth home. This particular home is significant because it’s being awarded someone who was born and raised here in Detroit, poet Nandi Comer. When I think of all of the artist and activist spaces I’ve encountered in Detroit, Nandi has been a part of most of them. Her work with InsideOut laid the groundwork for my work with them, her involvement with the Allied Media Projects crucially assists other artists in the city, and her work with the Seraphine Collective is nothing short of aspirational. With your help, Nandi will be able to own her own home in Detroit’s North End, giving her space to create new work and build with her various communities, just as I have done for these past three years. She is a powerful poet and a blessing to every space she inhabits. Your donation to Write A House will bring us closer to completing her home and putting keys in the hands of another phenomenal writer, who like me, doesn’t have the resources to buy and renovate homes, because she has committed her life to the arts and building community. Let’s make her a long-term resident of Write A House’s vision for the North End Detroit.
— Casey Rocheteau
The Fourth Write A House
With new windows and new doors, this home has just started renovations. We aim to replace the siding and the electrical in the next two months.