Thursday, 23 May 2013 12:16

Mark Binelli Chips Away at Detroit’s Doomsday Facade

Written by  Kyle Austin
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Author Talk with Mark Binelli
Grand Rapids Public Library
June 20, 7 p.m.
grpl.org/grreads, (616) 988-5400

In the midst of the recent global economic recession, artists from all over the world descended on Detroit to tell the same tale of unemployment rates, rampant home foreclosures, abandoned neighborhoods and crumbling skyscrapers. Such coverage besmirched the city's reputation to the point where it became an umbrella metaphor for everything that was wrong with America. For journalist and Detroit native Mark Binelli, destruction was only part of the story.

"I felt like a lot of these [journalists] were just coming in for a day or two and doing a somewhat superficial job," Binelli said. "Really, there [would] be no way to not do that unless you really knew the place, so I thought, 'I'm from here, I should give it a shot.' If you write for a newspaper or a magazine, you're basically only there to write about human misery."

After moving away in 1993, Binelli decided to move back to the city after being sent by Rolling Stone to cover the Auto Show in 2009. He originally intended to use Detroit as the backdrop for a novel, but ultimately decided on a journalistic approach because "the truth felt so much weirder than anything I could make up."

For the next three years, he thoroughly researched the one component of Detroit's story that always seemed to be missing from the countless images of ruin and rubble: people.

"700,000 people still live [in the city] and they have full lives," Binelli said. "There's a whole range of human emotion going on there. It was important to me to talk to as wide a range of people as possible."

The product of his research, Detroit City is the Place to Be, stands as one of the most unbiased and authentic portrayals of the city to be written yet. Alongside interviews with city officials, business leaders and members of the auto industry, the book highlights conversations with everyday men and women trying to carry on and forge ahead despite the corrosion around them. Binelli describes his most interesting encounters as "pure serendipity" and admits that getting Detroiters to trust him was a formidable challenge.

"It's hardwired in you after awhile in Detroit to not trust journalists," he said. "But then they'd just keep seeing me around, and they'd be like 'Oh, it's you again? You're still here? You weren't just saying that?' I eventually just wore them down."

Coupled with a running history of the city's epic rise and fall, the depth of Binelli's human interactions gives his book an air of cautious optimism. Through acute examination of the ways Detroit is trying to rebuild itself through small-scale economics and community cooperation, the book dares to suggest that a city that has already literally risen from ashes once can do so again.

As a part of the Grand Rapids Public Library's GR Reads program, Binelli will give a free public presentation that is designed to help readers further connect with the book, as well as stimulate discussion about the current state of affairs in Detroit and what the city's future holds.


Other Literary Events

Book Signing with Edward McClelland
Schuler Books, 28th Street
June 5, 7 p.m.
schulerbooks.com, (616) 942-2561

After getting his start in journalism at the Lansing State Journal, Edward McClelland went on to write some stellar non-fiction, winning a 2008 Great Lakes Book Award along the way. His latest release, Nothin' But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hope of America's Heartland, is a captivating mix of pure reporting and humanizing storytelling that captures the spirit of the Rust Belt and its inhabitants.

Author Talk with Matt Bell
Bookbug, Kalamazoo
June 20, 7 p.m.
bookbugkalamazoo.com, (269) 385-2847

Bookbug independent bookstore gives local readers a chance to meet and mingle with Matt Bell, one of Michigan's brightest rising literary talents, at a free event that celebrates the release of Bell's debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods. Having received significant critical acclaim for his earlier essays and short story collections, Bell is certainly a local author to take notice of.

Spoken Word Poetry Open Mic
Dr Grins in the B.O.B.
Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m.
thebob.com, (616) 356-2000

Azizi Jasper, the local poet and activist who brought spoken word poetry to Eastown with recurring Wednesday night events at The Hookah Lounge, now brings this unique fusion of free poetic verse and storytelling to the B.O.B. This weekly event aims for a similar laid-back, spiritual vibe, and language lovers of all walks of life are invited to share in the good time. Admission is $5 for 21 and up, and $10 for minors aged 18-20.

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