Clarification: The headline has been updated to reflect that this is not an exhaustive list of all of the literary arts spaces and organizations within the city.
Nothing says creative writing like the month of November. Since 1999, artists across the nation have spent the month’s 30 days putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) in the name of literary arts. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, inspires writers to exercise their craft, write in community, and for many, author a story from beginning to end. In honor of the month’s creative excitement, we’re taking a look at some of the spaces and programs around the city that foster literary growth year-round.
Book Suey: Situated in the heart of Hamtramck, this cooperatively owned bookstore promotes a safe and inclusive neighborhood locale for readers and writers alike. Open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the shop is housed inside Bank Suey, a volunteer-run community space that focuses on free and affordable walk-up programming with themes of education and exchange. As the name may suggest, the bookstore also collaborates with the overhead organization on intertwined programming.
A display at Book SueyBook Suey was started in 2017 by a group of eight individuals who, according to their website, wanted to “help reimagine the relationship between places, spaces, people, business, and community.” With a shared love of all things literary, the member-owners work together on the store’s operations, contributing time, money, and expertise.
“Everything is built on the foundation of community,” says member-owner Reynaldo Hinojosa. “We want a safe, inclusive space for everybody. If you want to just come in, read a book, hang out, and get coffee, everybody is welcome to do that.” Each member’s unique tastes help to curate a diverse collection of both new and used books, which include poetry, graphic novels, young adult fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and more. The store hosts a monthly book group as well as author talks and free writing workshops taught by Hinojosa, who holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. For $25, patrons can purchase a Community Supporter membership, which gives discounts and perks at the store. The co-op is also open to expanding its member-ownership.
10345 Joseph Campau Ave.
More information at booksuey.com and on Facebook at @booksuey.
Citywide Poets is InsideOut’s award-winning after-school program, which provides 7th-12th graders with an intentional literary community in which to explore their lives through the power of words. At 15 sites around the city, as well as Dearborn and Oak Park, students meet weekly with literary arts mentors to grow their skills as writers and spoken word performers and to embrace these creative outlets as a measure in which to become change-makers and leaders in their communities. “Students have all kinds of opportunities to share their work in the community, whether that’s in their own school or in wider events that are held across the Detroit area,” says Alise Alousi, director of school & community partnerships at InsideOut.
For more information, check them out on Facebook at @cwpoets or at insideoutdetroit.org.
Detroit Writing Room co-founders Stephanie Steinberg and Jake Serwer
Detroit Writing Room: The Detroit Writing Room, co-founded by journalist and Metro Detroit native Stephanie Steinberg, is a coworking space that welcomes writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs to relax in the coziness of a high-end living room boasting stylish couches and freshly cut flowers while evoking the feeling of being at a professional retreat.
DWR hosts the services of 25 seasoned writing coaches (Full disclosure: Model D managing editor Dorothy Hernandez is a writing coach) that specialize in areas including journalism, creative writing, business plans, grants, podcasts, marketing materials, photography, graphic design, and more. Its memberships range from $10 visits with The Freelancer package to The Novelist at $200 a month, which includes free and discounted coaching sessions, a discount on Writing Room events and rentals, as well as guest passes.
Steinberg says when she and her husband Jake Serwer, a public relations professional, returned to the city in 2016, there weren’t many coworking spaces for people who weren’t in the tech industry, and she couldn’t find options downtown in which to give a book talk. The pair set out to create a welcoming space that creatives would want to spend all day in. Evenings and weekends at DWR feature ticketed events open to the public: poetry slams, national and local author talks, art exhibits, literary workshops, panel discussions, yoga and journaling, and more.
1514 Washington Blvd., Suite 203, Detroit
East Side Reading Series: This monthly reading series of original writing is “here to laugh, cry and drink coffee with you,” as they describe it on their Facebook page, while bringing authors to Detroit and celebrating those invested here. The Commons, a coffee bar/laundromat/community space in Jefferson Chalmers owned by MACC Development, hosts the event. When Aubri K. Adkins started the series in the summer of 2016, she wanted to create a literary opportunity in her neighborhood, where not many were visible, and wanted to support a local business by doing so.
During the academic year, Adkins invites 4-5 writers monthly to read original work to a community audience. Unlike series that may focus on one genre for an evening, The East Side Reading series serves up a smorgasbord of literary tastes, with writers presenting poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction at the same event. “I really like the cross-pollination of genres,” Adkins says, “and the different audience members that will show up for a poet and then really enjoy the fiction writer. It’s been a great way to grow the community and introduce people that might not run into each other.”
East Side Reading Series
It’s important, she says, to have free literary events like the series, which are held in an accessible environment where anyone might wander in. It was an invitation to read her own work that brought Adkins back to the writing community, after stepping away for many years. For this reason, she presents a range of experience levels, from well-known published authors, to writers who have never read their work in public. “I was so grateful for the opportunity that set me back on the path of writing,” she says, “and I wanted to provide that opportunity for other people as well.”
7900 Mack Ave., Detroit.
More information at Facebook @eastsidereadingseries.
InsideOut Literary Arts: Since 1995, Detroit’s oldest and largest literary nonprofit aims “to inspire students to think broadly, create bravely, and share their voices with the wider world.” Its creative writing program has placed professional Writers-in-Residence inside over one hundred K-12 classrooms across Detroit and surrounding areas. Working side by side with teachers on a weekly basis, writers engage students in a range of opportunities to express themselves through written and spoken word, helping to bring what’s inside of them, outward.
“Very often it's kids who don’t naturally identify with being strong writers or strong readers who really respond to poetry, and who respond to what we’re bringing into the classroom,” says Alise Alousi, director of school & community partnerships. As part of the programming, every student become a published author through InsideOut’s professionally designed and published literary journals, created distinctly to each school at the end of every year. “All students deserve recognition for the creative work they’re doing,” Alousi says. “A really wonderful way to do that is to give them that same joy that all writers feel when they have their work published and can share it with people.”
For more information visit insideoutdetroit.org.
KAN Books: Jamii Tata opened co-op bookstore KAN Books in December 2017 as a way to support emerging writers of color from Michigan. As the founder of Know Allegiance Nation, which he started more than 10 years ago to build a nation of knowledge seekers and raise consciousness, as well as an urban farmer and president of Oakland Avenue Arts Coalition, Tata brings all of that work into one space with KAN Books.
The bookstore connects writers and artists to resources under one roof while empowering them as entrepreneurs. Through the youth poetry and entrepreneurship program Illuminate, young writers publish their own work and promote it through events such as release parties. Membership levels for writers of all ages range from $5 and 20 volunteer hours to $100 and no hours a month. As a member, writers and artists can place their work in the store, share vendor booths, and get discounts toward event space and technology. In exchange, they work in the bookstore selling books, recruiting members, and supporting events.
Tata also sees his bookstore as an opportunity for residents to have access to literacy resources. "There's no library here. There were many schools at one point … North End needs [KAN Books] as a literacy hub," Tata told Model D in February.
9405 John R
Motor Signal Reading Series: Curated by journalist Anna Clark and grant writing professional Ashley Calhoun, members of the volunteer group Literary Detroit, this series features interactive poetry readings that engage audiences with co-creation and fun. Launched in 2014 and hosted by Signal-Return, a letterpress studio in Detroit’s Eastern Market, the series invites writers to share their poetry in an unconventional space, while including an element of audience participation. This might be a group activity, a performance, or the creation of an art piece.
Signal-Return hosts the series in a space that celebrates the energy and physicality of text. The studio crafts limited edition hand-set broadsides, or small posters, featuring the artist’s work, for each guest to take home. “This is a really unique setup, I think unusually fun and gratifying,“ says Clark. “We try to treat writers really well and give them a fun and exciting way to share their work, and also give audiences something a little bit disarming and a little bit new.”
Nandi Comer and Rola Nashef at a Motor Signal Reading Series event.
Motor Signal Reading Series, who is a recent recipient of a 2019 Creators of Culture Grant, will start up again in February and run once a month through the spring. “We have a season where we put together kick-ass events and re-energize, regroup, and come back again the next season,” Clark says. Events are open to the public and generally free, with an occasional $5 cost. Clark says that although donations are very helpful to the series, which is intentional about giving a stipend to participating authors, she doesn’t want a price tag to be a barrier for guests.
For more information, check it out on Facebook at @motorsignaldetroit and literarydetroit.com.
Pages Bookshop: Situated in Detroit’s historic Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, this bookstore, complete with a free roaming kitty named Pip, has become a community anchor since opening its doors four years ago. Offering a curated collection of literary fiction, children’s books, biographies, and more, the shop is continually fine-tuning its selections to meet the interests of local book enthusiasts. Owner Susan Murphy hosts in-store events for published authors as well for many of the city’s literary groups such as Room Project, InsideOut Literary Arts, and Wayne State University Press.
In an age of digitalization and Amazon shopping, Murphy says her store offers neighbors a sense of community, a place they can walk to with their children and grandchildren. “Some people truly don’t want to be involved in the digital world as much as they can.” she says, “So this is an outlet for them to not have to be on their computer. They can come in, they can browse, it’s quiet, and they can look through books.” Murphy wants to get to know the people who walk through her door. “My favorite part is being in the store and talking to the customers, finding out what their reading and really, actually sometimes, what their doing in their lives because many of them have become friends over the last five years.”
19560 Grand River Ave., Detroit
For more information, go to pagesbkshop.com.
The Room Project: As a professional writer, Christin Lee knows all about the elements of distraction. Whether it’s activity happening in a coffee shop or the list of tasks undone at home, it’s easy, she says, to be thrown from one’s creative focus. A writer from L.A., Lee moved to Detroit after graduating with an MFA from the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program and ending a painful relationship. After communing with friends in the local writing community, she found she wasn’t the only one who needed to “put on a bra” and leave the house to be able to take her work seriously. Lee opened the Room Project in the summer of 2018, in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood, as a space for women and nonbinary writers and artists to work individually and collaboratively and, Lee says, “to be a place for play, experimentation, and joy,” as well as one to foster “a deeper engagement with people’s interior creative lives.”
Room Project in North Center
Room Project has two levels of membership, a community membership that offers 24-hour use of the space, printer, and access to podcast equipment and a desk membership that gives writers their own designated space. The atmosphere is like a library from the books lining the wall shelves to the quiet, calm environment (no calls are allowed in the Room Project). Volunteering in the space a few hours a month makes a $50 monthly membership a $40 or $30 one, and can help create a regular accountability for writers to work on their craft. “It’s really hard to just create time in your schedule for your own artistic ambitions,” Lee says, “especially for some women and fems where it's just like you are so deeply habituated to taking care of other people and their needs.” Having hosted nearly 65 events since the project’s opening a year and a half ago, the Room Project’s programming includes writing workshops, poetry readings, book talks, and open mics, and particularly highlights work by women of color and women and nonbinary people from the LGBTQ community.
6513 Woodward Ave.
For more information, go to roomproject.org.
Source Booksellers: Celebrating 30 years this month, Source Booksellers continues to thrive in an ever-changing neighborhood. “Print is very much in peoples’ minds now,” says owner Janet Webster Jones. “Because they’re being informed about books by way of their handheld devices, the radio, NPR, and the computer.”
Jones says her book-selling venture has experienced three “incarnations,” going from a visiting vendor enterprise, to a co-owned space inside the former Spiral Collective nearby, to her very own bookshop on Cass Avenue in Midtown. “My store has truly been up from the grass roots, so to speak,” she says, “When I first started, it was opportunity and courage. One thing led to another; I didn’t always plan it.” Jones began selling books in 1989, adding in topics she felt were important to herself and her Detroit community: history and culture, health and well-being, women's studies and authors, and metaphysical, spiritual, and new age. Recently she’s added in literary and visual arts. Source also has a robust selection of nonfiction children’s books and cultivates a “wild side,” which includes a little poetry, science fiction, and prize-winning novels.
As for programming, Webster recently hosted a “Purple Party” at her store, which she says was the only book launch in Michigan of Prince’s posthumous memoir, "The Beautiful Ones." She laughs and tells about the purple punch, purple flowers and the 35 guests, many who were first-time visitors. One man wore a purple morning suit, she says, consisting of matching coat, waistcoat, and trouser. “So our programming, yes it’s fun, but we’re also dedicated to people seeing the literary arts in a visible way,” says Jones. This includes bringing in national, state, and local authors to do book talks and having characters such as Curious George or Peter Rabbit come to life at events like the city’s Noel Night.
Auburn Building at 4240 Cass Ave., Suite 105
The Tuxedo Project: This community literacy center and writers residence on the city’s west side is housed in the renovated childhood home of Detroit journalist and public radio host Stephen Henderson. Located on Tuxedo Street, the center is free and open to the public four days a week, offering collaborative and quiet spaces as well as computer access and a room for children to play and read while a parent is writing or participating in an activity.
Rose Gorman, the project’s inaugural resident fellow and former program director at the NY Writers Coalition, lives in the house. She also teaches at nearby Marygrove College, a partner in the project, and runs the literary center. At the center, she leads a reading and discussion series which, unlike traditional book clubs, spends 3-6 weeks on a single book. The same in-depth look is given to the programming Gorman crafts around a visiting author's work. When it comes to reading, she’s into mindfulness, and encourages participants to “squat” in a text, taking time to get to the “marrow” of it. She also says hers is a low-pressure series, where guests can hop in, even if they’ve missed the week’s reading. Gorman incorporates a writing component to each gathering that’s based on the conversation. “I think that’s the biggest service that books can do, and reading can do,” she says. “They empower us and gives us words to tell our own stories.”
7122 Tuxedo, Detroit
Open hours: 12-4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 3-7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday
Seasonal Saturday and Thursday reading and discussion groups
For more information, go to tuxedoproject.com.