As a long-time Detroiter, one who is further (sometimes uncomfortably) compelled to write about her own life, it’s only natural that various aspects of Detroit seep into a great number of my personal essays/creative nonfiction and poetry. Sometimes Motown serves as a living, breathing background, the canvas upon which my own life stories play out, as is the case with a number of the personal essays that make up my forthcoming memoir-in-essays, Travelers. Other times, Detroit is the primary focus of a poem or essay. Such is the situation in my series, Detroit: Summer of 2017, currently running in The American Scholar’s Daily Scholar.
This series, comprised of six essays (or essaylets, since they’re on the shortish side), was, to my vast delight, my first experience with having my work solicited. It came about in this way: several years ago, before Travelers was even conceived of as a collection, I happened to write an essay I called True which focused closely on some of my personal experiences as a Detroiter—this in the tough years prior to bankruptcy, revitalization, etc. As a matter of course, I sent it to various journals for consideration, and it was picked-up by The American Scholar, a magazine I happen to adore.
However, due to an enormous backlog, The Scholar sat on that essay for near two years, so by the time they wanted to publish it, many aspects of Detroit had changed, and the essay had to undergo a revamping process. Finally, last winter, True (renamedTales of the Motor City by the editors) appeared in The Scholar’s print issue, and was also made available online. And when Managing Editor, Sudip Bose, invited me to send more work his way when it became available, I gladly did so, after allowing a decent few months to pass. That essay (titled Wild by me, but who knows what it will ultimately be called) is set to appear in the fall, 2017 print edition.
Then, at the start of the summer, I received an email from Mr. Bose inviting me to create a six-part series for The Daily Scholar, The American Scholar’s online magazine. He envisioned a sequence of short essays—maybe 600 words per piece—that would appear weekly or biweekly over the course of a couple of months. Other than these brief guidelines, he left the rest up to me, saying I was free to write these “postcards from Detroit” about whichever aspects of the city I chose to illuminate, in whichever way I desired. The field was utterly, totally wide open—and more than a little daunting.
And because this is Detroit, because nothing is simple here, my first essay came in at over 1400 words (eeks!), at which point Sudip gently inquired if I could shorten it a tad. Finally, I managed to shave off near 200 words (close to weeping all the while. I hate having to “kill my darlings,” no matter how often I’ve been enjoined to do so). Sudip was fine with that, and I sighed in relief. I then promised him that all my subsequent pieces would be under 1000 words—a promise I broke again and again, though not nearly so terribly as with the first of those essays.
Bless their hearts, I haven’t heard a peep from The Scholar about these ongoing transgressions. Perhaps they’ve just thrown up their hands in defeat. Or, maybe, just maybe, they’ve come to see what we Detroiters know in our bones—how unbelievably complex our truths are, how they shift depending on who’s naming them, what day it is, who’s our mayor, etc. And in this way,postcards simply cannot tell our whole story. Nor can a mere six essays, though, of course, the project was never intended to be the full and last word on the Motor City.
I’ve finished this series now, even as I’m waiting for the rest of the pieces to run. And though I’ve completed the task The Scholar asked of me, I’ve come to realize that I still have about a hundred more of these essaylets in me. So I guess I’d better get to writing… I’ll worry about what home they’re going to at a later date.