Detroit Writing Room brings an intimate author series to The Whitney

Fellow book lovers, in this month of romance, what could be more enchanting than a reading held at a romanesque revival manor? 

On Feb. 22, the Detroit Writing Room (DWR) will introduce a series of intimate book talks and signings at the historic Whitney mansion. These are the first in-person author events DWR has hosted since the pandemic. Rochelle Riley, Detroit’s Director of Arts and Culture and co-author of “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World,” will kick off the series. Her biographical essays, paired with black-and-white portraits, honor and animate historical figures through the joy of children today.

“We're really bringing the Detroit Writing Room to you now,” says Stephanie Steinberg, DWR founder, and CEO. In 2019, her coworking and event space opened downtown, offering writing workshops, author talks, arts and design coaching, professional services, and more. Last June, after more than two years of hosting mainly virtual events due to COVID-19, Steinberg and her team decided to close the organization’s physical space.  

“We're in a new chapter,” she says. “I am excited by opportunities to partner with Detroit businesses to bring those in-person experiences back again, where people can meet the authors they’re reading, get their book signed, ask questions during Q&As, and do everything we intended when we opened the Detroit Writing Room.”

The Whitney series runs February through June, featuring six high-profile authors with Michigan ties and newly released titles. These include ProPublica investigative reporter Andy Kroll, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and children’s book author Desiree Cooper, and The Honorable Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

The authors tell stories of no-fear parenting, true-crime reporting, bold decision-making, personal endurance, and the celebration of home. Riley, who has participated in DWR’s virtual events during the pandemic, will present an encore reading of her 2021 book. It’s one of three in the series that Wayne State University Press publishes.

“I want to give our Detroit community an opportunity to meet and get to know her because everyone loved that virtual book talk,” says Steinberg. “Also, this story is fantastic for Black History Month and honoring all the people she included in her book.”

Guests will have the chance to meet and mingle with each event’s author over drinks and hors d'oeuvres before settling in for a reading and conversation. The Whitney music room, where evenings are planned, boasts Tiffany stained-glass windows, delicately carved maple wood screens, and a painted silk ceiling depicting cherubs in flight.

“It’s one of the most ornate rooms on the property,” says Tony Muzzi, general manager a The Whitney. “It was the main room for entertaining guests after dinner with music and the like when it was a residence.”

Weather permitting, literary gatherings will convene in the outdoor gardens in May and June. With its Fountain Courtyard and abundant blooms, Muzzi refers to the cultivated space as an “oasis in the middle of Detroit.” Though both settings lean picturesque, he says if guests haven’t been to The Whitney before, this is a great way to see the mansion in a more relaxed setting. 

“We pride ourselves on fine dining, but we also pride ourselves on not being stuffy when it comes to service,” he says. “Everyone is welcome here. People think you have to put on a three-piece suit and spend a paycheck, but that’s not true. You can come here for an event like this, a happy hour, or a garden party […] At the end of the day, my staff and I feel like we’re welcoming you into our home.” 

Regarding literary events, DWR’s book talks are a first for the historic house, which is often associated outside of dining with paranormal activity and ghost tours. Collaborating with the writing and arts community in Detroit, and supporting local authors, is something Muzzi says he's excited to embrace. 

The series events are scheduled for the last Wednesday of every month from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with an additional book talk in April. An evening with M. Roy Wilson, Wayne State University president and the author of “The Plum Tree Blossoms Even in Winter," was rescheduled in January due to a snowstorm. Space is limited to 50 guests for each event.

The DWR has partnered with 27th Letter Books for guests to purchase books in advance and onsite. Single tickets are $60, which includes appetizers and one glass of wine, Champagne, or beer. Folks can purchase a 2023 Author Series Pass to attend all six events for $300 (a $60 discount) and receive 15% off books. Steinberg says she hopes people will also consider this a fun-filled gift to share with a reader in their life.

Each evening, attendees will have the chance to win a copy of the author's book to be signed onsite. Other raffle items include autographed books from authors who have given book talks through the organization over the past few years and a Perspectives Magazine 2022 produced by the organization’s journalism and photography camps with DWR’s nonprofit arm, Coaching Detroit Forward. Steinberg welcomes any authors to donate signed books for the raffle if they're interested in participating.

DWR is partnering with Coaching Detroit Forward to hire a former photography camp student to capture the Whitney evenings. The Cass Tech High School student is mentored by metro Detroit-based photography coach Sylvia Jarrus, a freelance photographer for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, who will also be on-site.

“It's just another way for us to keep offering opportunities for the high school students we work with through our nonprofit arm,” says Steinberg.

Over the past two years, DWR has hosted virtual book clubs that have drawn readers from Detroit and across the country to meet award-winning authors and public figures, including former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Tony Schwartz, Michael Zadoorian, and many others. Yet,  returning to in-person book talks and writing workshops has Steingberg thrilled.

“It's been a roller coaster for a couple of years, as it has been for everybody,” she says. "In 2023, we hope we’ll have a little bit more stability, and can return to all of the events we were starting to plan in early 2020.” 

Featured 2023 authors include:

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Read more articles by Sarah Williams.

Sarah Williams is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in metro Detroit. Her work focuses on individuals and nonprofit organizations investing in their communities through arts and culture, holistic healthcare, education and neighborhood revitalization. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller