I hear a lot of writers talk about being priced out of New York, San Francisco, and other cities. New creative communities must be created in new places. While I chose Detroit for myself, one of the most interesting and exciting emerging literary cities is Kalamazoo, Michigan. Halfway between Chicago and Detroit, it’s home to extraordinary writers, bookshops, academic programs, literary festivals, publishers, readings, journals, and more. In the piece I wrote for today’s Detroit Free Press, I was especially interested in the homegrown aesthetic:
Kalamazoo’s industrial history is tied to Southern influences because many Southerners migrated north for jobs. (Author Bonnie Jo Campbell) sees parallels between Michigan writing and Southern writing, particularly in the way writers “treat our eccentrics” and their intimate engagement with the natural world. “We all have a bit of survivalist in us, the sense that if it all collapses, I could get by,” she says.
Like other cities in Michigan, Kalamazoo also has experienced more than its share of economic precariousness. Campbell wonders whether “the very things that create and exacerbate economic stress are related to the things that create great art.” Specifically, she means uncertainty — and the questioning and wonder that come with it.
“I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but great writing rarely comes from people above the middle class, unless maybe in the 19th Century,” Campbell says. “People who are poor don’t write (much) because they’re too busy getting by. But it’s the people who figure out how to get by, who know the uncertainty that comes from having been poor, they make great art.” Kalamazoo, she suggests, has many of these writers.