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Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

California Dreamin’

July 7, 2015 | by

Stanley Mouse and the sixties psych-rock aesthetic.

40-41 hot rod 1

Get Bent.


If I were to pick half a dozen of the definitive 1960’s people, Stanley Mouse would be one of them. —Bill Graham

Read any book about the sixties scene in San Francisco and you’ll run into Stanley “Mouse” Miller. Born in Fresno and raised in Detroit, Mouse moved to San Francisco in 1965, where he was commissioned by the concert organizer Bill Graham to illustrate the rock posters for which he would become best known. Mouse spent the years around the Summer of Love hocking T-shirts, designing posters for hundred-dollar commissions, running a successful hot-rod memorabilia company, and eventually designing album covers for the likes of the Grateful Dead, Journey, Neil Young, and Jimi Hendrix.

A new book, California Dreams, pays tribute to Mouse’s imagination and colorful, explosive aesthetic. He honed his style on the hot-rod scene in Detroit, where he pinstriped cars, sold T-shirts featuring drag-racing characters, and custom painted dashboards for six-packs of beer, all while still in high school. His early art portrays the speed and metal of American automobiles, but it’s also heavily influenced by the deformed monsters who took center stage in the golden age of TV sci-fi circa the 1950s, a cathartic genre for post–A-bomb Americans and their cold war anxieties. Read More »

Haunting Houses: An Interview with Angela Flournoy

June 4, 2015 | by


Photo © LaToya T. Duncan

In Detroit, the Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for generations, and now their home is worth a mere tenth of its mortgage. Oh, and it’s haunted—it’s been that way for fifty years, since Cha-Cha, the oldest son of Francis and Viola Turner, was attacked by a haint one summer night. Angela Flournoy’s debut novel, The Turner House, set primarily in 2008, tells the Turner clan’s story as they tend to the elderly Viola and decide what to do with the family home.

Flournoy hangs the family’s personal struggles on the political history of Detroit, tracing their move from Arkansas to the bright industrial promise of midcentury Motor City, the electric environment of the 1967 riots, and the city’s long decline. “Lelah,” an excerpt from the novel in the Spring 2015 issue of The Paris Review, focuses on the youngest Turner child, whose gambling addiction takes her to Motor City, where she loses the last of her money on a game of roulette.

I met Flournoy near the Review’s offices in north Chelsea. I was late, and Flournoy, elegantly dressed and having just arrived from Detroit, had already enjoyed most of her coffee and was patiently talking on her cell phone. We discussed ghosts, gambling, and the blend of personal and political in her novel.

Your novel is full of Detroit history. Did you hear stories about it from your family?

I did a lot of research. One thing I remember hearing of the ’67 riot is that nobody knew what it was while it happened. Nobody knows that today is going to be the day a riot starts. A lot of people in Detroit actually called it an uprising. So I would apply the facts I learned in my research to a character’s life. Imagine you’re getting off work, or you’re at work, and things just feel weird. Then you hear that something’s happening across town, but no one knows what to call this thing, because no one knows how big it is. It’s more difficult for the individual to frame what’s going on as a whole, what’s happening outside of the details in the personal life. Read More »

Letter from Dhallywood, and Other News

April 28, 2015 | by


From “Love Me or Kill Me,” via Slate.

  • It must be said: in this, his bicentennial year, Trollope is trending—and not just because, as we mentioned yesterday, one of his books is soon to become a TV show. “The quality of irony that we value today is omnipresent in Trollope—and that is the habit of turning objects and values upside down, of seeing big and little inverted. Trollope’s people are all doing things that are small: getting on committees, making sermons, writing to newspapers, finding misplaced checks.”
  • More than that: Trollope has saved lives. Lives. “To this day [I] credit him with saving me from a nervous breakdown. Reading English at university I’d forgotten what it was to read for pleasure … When I stumbled upon his work, I was looking for a way to understand the world, particularly 1980s London. The ideals—some might say delusions—of the counterculture were being replaced by an enthusiasm for money, efficiency and snobbery, especially among my generation. The people and problems Trollope described seemed then, as now, astonishingly contemporary.”
  • Sarker Protick’s series of photographs, “Love Me or Kill Me,” captures film sets at the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation, where the movies are “exercises in extremes, made quickly and with small budgets to appeal to the widest possible audience.”
  • An interview with Tim Parks on reading, translating, and difficult writers: “An American author actually doesn’t have to think about anything. He can just write and think for years for Americans—and in fact, everybody’s becoming Americans … But if you’re in Holland, Norway, Sweden, even Italy, to a degree, then apart from the fact that you’ve grown up with the idea that lots of books came from other places and so there’s no reason my book shouldn’t go to other places—and apart from the fact that the number of people buying books in your country is much smaller—your chances of surviving on a book that’s totally in Italy is very small. There’s just a tendency to look outward more.”
  • Write a House, the extra-extra-extended residency program in which writers are awarded a house, forever, in Detroit, is accepting its next round of applicants. An inside tip from the last winner: “If you’re considering applying and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘I want to, but it’s in Detroit’—don’t apply. If you don’t want to live in Detroit, or Detroit’s reputation scares you, don’t apply to win a house in Detroit. It’s pretty simple. If you’re not prepared to embrace Detroit for everything it is, you’re going to have a hard time being here.”

My Lost Poet

February 23, 2015 | by

Anger and tenderness in Philip Levine.

Photo: Frances Levine

In the spring of 2012, Philip Levine delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress called “My Lost Poets,” marking the end of his tenure as the eighteenth U.S. poet laureate. In the talk, which was later published in Five Points, Georgia State University’s literary journal, Levine takes us to Wayne University’s Miles Poetry Room in 1948, where, once a month, he and other aspiring poets gathered to talk shop and critique one another’s work. The group comprised four World War II vets and a number of Wayne University students, including a young man who would eventually be drafted to the Korean War, a narcissistic Hart Crane wannabe, a rural Southern Baptist woman from Kentucky, and a young black man obsessed with Walt Whitman. In the wake of the war, Levine explained, the group found urgency and vitality in poetry, regardless of their respective talents. This poetic camaraderie was short-lived, though. The Hart Crane fanboy died in a car wreck at an early age; the Southern Baptist disappeared into the jungles of Latin America; the Whitman worshiper saw his idealism dissolve in the face of fifties-era politics and Jim Crow laws. Still, it was these people, along with the war poets he discovered during that time, who helped shape Levine’s own poetic voice.

That voice, when he finally found it, decried the injustices of our society, of working-class life in particular, lending Levine’s experience a “value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own.” Unlike his great hero, Walt Whitman, Levine doesn’t seem to stand over us, exalting and exalted. Instead, he’s always among the multitude bearing witness to the historical moment. He looks out every so often to address his reader with a plural or a singular you that invites us to share his vision, expanding our own. His poems are full of unrealized dreams, with auxiliary verbs—would, could, should—signaling inevitable disappointments or a foreboding sense of what’s to come. This dissonance between one’s idealistic fantasies and reality conjure a tremendous anger in his work, evident especially in his earlier poems about factory life in Detroit. Read More »

Philip Levine, 1928–2015

February 15, 2015 | by

We were saddened to learn that Philip Levine died yesterday at eighty-seven. The U.S. poet laureate from 2011 to 2012, he composed poems that were, as Margalit Fox writes in the New York Times, “vibrantly, angrily, and often painfully alive with the sound, smell, and sinew of heavy manual labor.”

Levine grew up in industrial Detroit during the Depression; the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he worked factory jobs for Cadillac and for Chevrolet. “You could recite poems aloud in there,” he told The Paris Review in 1988 of his time on the assembly line. “The noise was so stupendous. Some people singing, some people talking to themselves, a lot of communication going on with nothing, no one to hear.”

His time in those jobs would later inform one of his most enduring poems, “They Feed They Lion,” from the late sixties—you can hear him read it above. Levine explained the title in a 1999 interview with The Atlantic: Read More »


Boswell’s Prurient Pastime, and Other News

September 19, 2014 | by


  • Why is our vice president quoting Thomas Pynchon? In a speech in Des Moines, Joe Biden expounded on this bit of vintage paranoia, from Gravity’s Rainbow: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
  • James Boswell had more hobbies than just following around Samuel Johnson; he was also “an inveterate execution goer in an age when such activity was considered prurient for a gentleman … Boswell diligently noted the names and crimes of the condemned: robbery, theft, escaping a prison hulk, forgery and murder. He describes a brother and sister convicted of burglary who met their deaths holding hands, only to be separated when they were cut down from the gallows.” He attended at least twenty-one executions, though they gave him nightmares and depressed him. The best hobbies (e.g., writing) often do.
  • At a recent school-board meeting in Murphy, Oregon: fuddy-duddies. “Some parents complained Tuesday night that students should not be allowed to read the book Persepolis without parental approval. The novel by Marjane Satrapi contains coarse language and scenes of torture, and it’s in high school libraries within the Three Rivers School District in southwest Oregon.” (“I’m boiling mad,” one parent said.)
  • The world’s oldest joke book, the Philogelos, dates to maybe the fourth century ADbut are its jokes funny today? The Internet has delivered its unassailable verdict: “kind of, sometimes.”
  • I’ve mentioned the Write a House project in this space before: it offers authors lifelong residencies in Detroit by renovating vacant homes and then simply giving them to writers. Now the first winner has been announced: the poet Casey Rocheteau, from Brooklyn.