Top Reads: 5 local authors opening our eyes this year

Metro Detroit's literature scene was a rich one this year, with talented local authors taking us into communities and dream worlds that explore equity, friendship, and solidarity with our cities. Here are five writers who are inspiring us. 

John Jeffire: “A Temple for Tomorrows” (Aquarius Press)

John Jeffire is a Detroit Rust Belt writer if there ever was one. Jeffire grew up in Detroit and Dearborn, and his father and grandfather were both assembly line workers. His latest collection of poems “A Temple for Tomorrows” continues his raw and gritty approach as he wrestles with Detroit’s yesteryear and today.  

“It's about survival,” he says. “How to summon the will to push through one more day. We live in a city that shapes hard people, people of all colors and backgrounds who must tap their instincts to journey forward in a world that is often oblivious to their very existence. But, as a result, we’ve got real hearts. As Detroiters, we are all from the same tribe, and the city is our teacher, our parent, and its lessons are often rooted in tough love.”

The poems in “Temple for Tomorrows” are abrasive, but beautiful. They’re stitched tightly with no words wasted. But for Jeffire, the passion that comes with fighting for your own humanity is what he wants you to take away from this collection. “Fight. Always, everywhere. For every inch of your living. Against anyone and anything that tries to make you less than. You will be afraid and hope will often leave you stranded at the station with no fare, but fight anyway. Your life — your living — depends on it,” he says.

Kelsey Ronan: “Chevy in the Hole” (Henry Holt and Co.)

Kelsey Ronan’s novel “Chevy in the Hole” takes place in Flint, Michigan. It delves into the inter-racial romance between Gus, a restaurant worker who’s fighting for sobriety, and his love interest Mone, an urban farmer trying to breathe life into land others have given up on. In between the love story the book explores the Flint water crisis and the political and social landscape changes that have transpired in Flint since the mid-1930s.  

“On a personal level the main character is very much based on my ex, who passed away about 10 years ago, he died of a drug overdose,” says Ronan. “It was like a really long process to work through my grief for him and my frustrations about the water crisis and all the systemic issues that's been going on for a long time in Flint.”

Although “Chevy in the Hole” is a work of fiction, it serves as an ode to Flint and dedication to the residents who love the city and are constantly fighting for its reputation.

“I think Flint is very much like Detroit in that Flint people, including me, are tired of having other people defining Flint for them and always having this outside narrative that is the saddest place on earth. That's been present my whole life,” says Ronan. “There are people, despite their financial circumstances, who really ride-or-die for Flint. I wanted to have this Flint story that was just more complicated and more complex than that, and wasn’t sugar-coating anything about the city but is showing that Flint is a place of joy, healing, and love.”

“Chevy in a Hole” will be released March 15, 2022.

Dexter A. Powell, Jr.: “Young King: Take Your Stand” (Self-published)

Dexter A. Powell's battle-tested life has seen him overcome the challenges of a juvenile detention center, food addiction, substance abuse, depression, a suicide attempt, and stage 3 cancer. He blames many of his obstacles on poor decision-making and he’s using his book “Young King: Take Your Stand” to help young boys who are facing the same kinds of difficulties.    

“The book is about me getting locked up as a 12-year-old from making one decision that derailed many years of my life by getting thrown into the California juvenile system. I was an overweight kid dealing with bullying from a young age. When I was in sixth grade I made one decision, which was to get in trouble to avoid punishment at home from my mother’s boyfriend. I thought the grass would be greener in jail and so when I got thrown into the system at 12 years old, the lessons that I learned at a young age I carried into adulthood with me,” he says.

Powell has given out 10,000 of his books for free and plans on giving out one million in total.
“We all make decisions each and every day that shift our lives for the better or the worse,” he says. “I try to use my life as an example and as a testimony. You can overcome and you can make your life into something.”

Barbara Pietron: “Lost in Nowhere”  (Scribe Publishing)

If you had to come up with one word to describe the personality of Royal Oak author Barbara Pietron; it would be “curious.” The former GM employee has used her natural inquisitiveness of things that don’t make sense to fuel her five books (three of which are part of a series). 

“Mythology and religion and things that other societies believe has always interested me,” Pietron says. “I always wonder how or why they came up with their different stories and why they believe what they believe. What really fascinates me about mythology is the similarities from culture to culture.”

Her young adult series “Legacy in Legend” has grown a cult following. The series’ main character is 15-year-old Jeni, who’s discovered she has spiritual powers when she visits the Mississippi River Headwaters in Minnesota to spread her grandfather's ashes. She then meets Ice, who’s half white and half Native American and he helps her battle an attacking monster. In the third installment, “Lost in Nowhere”, Jenni uses her spiritual powers to save a young lady who has appeared in her dreams.

Pietron hopes readers find inspiration and comfort in her books. “I hope people are inspired by my character's determination to always do the right thing. I also want to give people an escape. Reading has always been sanity to me and the fact that I could be putting something out there that gives people relief from their everyday stress is really what makes it good for me,” she says.

Beth Griffith Manley: “I am Beautiful Inside and Out” (Self-published)

Beth Griffith Manley has made a name for herself as one of Detroit’s most notable songstresses. Her captivating performances in her 2019 appearance on NBC’s “The Voice” catapulted her into national stardom. This year, Manley released her first children’s book, “I am Beautiful Inside and Out.”

“This book is about self-acceptance and self-love, growth and development with a caterpillar turned butterfly named Beth. In this story, Beth learns to handle being teased and bullied and getting away from it,” she says.

Manley admits her compassion for kids is what prompted her to write this book and there are plans for a second book to be released next year. 

“I love kids,” she says. And I always want to help, teach and mentor them. Bullying is a really big subject with kids. They are not always able to handle it and sometimes in the worst case, survive it. I wanted to reach kids at a very elementary level to bring awareness.”

”I believe teaching love and compassion and self-awareness very early in children will make them more confident productive adults.”
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Read more articles by Kahn Davison.