I love the great industrial cities of the Midwest. I did volunteer work for a number of years in St. Louis (which is why my first novel is set there) and my father loves to travel. He took me on city tours of places like Milwaukee. I haven’t yet been to Detroit, but it’s been on my list since I got a great sense of the city in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The reason I love these places is simple: they represent the Midwest in an often overlooked way. People think corn and country when they think Midwest, but with rail and rivers, many cities bloomed to connect the East and the West. Without those connectors, those two would not have met, would not be the locales of our prosperous American companies today. As the nation shifted toward service and tech, those blooming roses of the Midwest have lost their petals.
Yesterday, the Washington Post published a series of Detroit photographs that impacted me. I will be writing about these on my own in the weeks to come. The questions I’m considering:
- Can these photos hold beauty and decay simultaneously? Is that okay?
- What are the stories of the people who once inhabited these places?
- Churches, places historically open for the poor, are gone. How did they make the decision to leave?
- What does it mean for us as a society when we must leave places with historical significance to ruin?
- Does re-purposing the spaces (for example, a theatre is turned into a parking garage) violate the sanctity of art?
- The Motor City gave us the most important product of the 20th century. Do American cities exist to be used by the economy or do we owe them something more as places of cultural significance?
How to Help
- Donate or apply to Write a House, a non-profit that trains young people to renovate abandoned homes. The best part? When the house is done, it’s given to a writer for life.