D-I-Y Lit

Not since the heyday of urban literary icon Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press has Detroit’s collective pen wielded such power. A publishing house that thrived in the 1960s and ’70s, Broadside printed works by such critically acclaimed authors and poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez and Haki Madhubuti. Few companies in the Midwest have rivaled the success and visibility Broadside achieved before or since Randall’s great vision.

But Detroit writers die hard. The lack of a strong community of arts supporters in this working-class city, combined with a dearth of financial and philanthropic resources, leaves many local authors and poets struggling — but refusing to abandon their passion. Far removed from the skyscrapers that house New York’s major commercial publishers or the script-hungry Hollywood studios, Detroit writers agree that their dedication comes down to the question raised in an old Nike basketball commercial: “You got the love?”

“With so many diverse writing styles now coming to the scene, industry publishers are still stuck in the old ways,” says Sylvia Hubbard, founder of the four-year-old Motown Writers Network (MWN), now 300 members strong. “The serious self-publishers believe in their voice and have generated a small audience for their work. With the change of technology, self-publishing has become very easy and very profitable for writers, but it’s a lot of hard work.”

MWN will host The Essence of Motown Writers Conference this Saturday, Nov. 13, featuring a book fair, luncheon and guest speakers: novelist Elizabeth Atkins and media specialist Pam Perry. The conference was designed to assist authors in writing, publishing and marketing their work. Hubbard, author of Dreams of Reality and the recent Stone’s Revenge, says she was drawn to self-publishing by necessity.

“Being a single mother, I found it difficult to sell books off-line,” she says. “I decided to use the only market I could reach, the World Wide Web. But I was very disappointed that I could not find the local information I needed in order to sell online, locally. I was making wonderful strides reaching outside of Michigan, and it bothered me that I could not connect locally with writers and other authors. So I started MWN to network and provide information to them that was difficult to find.”

Her motownwriters.homestead.com regularly features interviews, articles and tips to link with distributors, such as Great Lakes Booksellers Association based in New Haven. On-demand book printing companies include Trafford Publishing (trafford.com) and the Web-based Lulu.com. Books can generally be self-published for as little as $500, depending on the number of copies printed, paper quality, casing and other details.

Longtime local literary veteran, poet and WSU professor M.L. Liebler agrees that the survival of Detroit’s scribes is a matter of determination. Having witnessed the dissolution this year of the Detroit Writers Guild — due to financial and organizational problems — Liebler recently found himself displaced as head of the YMCA Writer’s Voice program when funding was cut. He quickly regrouped with Writers Voice supporters to form Springfed Literary Arts: Metro Detroit Writers, based at the Scarab Club in Midtown.

“The goals and objectives of the program are to offer hands-on creative writing, arts and learning workshops, and classes to as many Michigan citizens as possible,” Liebler says, “with a special emphasis on serving children, in nontraditional venues located in a variety of underserved communities.”

Steven G. Fullwood, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who now works in the New York public library system, says there’s hope for Midwestern writers. Fullwood is founder of Vintage Entity Press — a self-publishing imprint — and author of Funny, an amusing memoir on life as a gay man of color.

“I think there is a real desire for independence for some writers,” Fullwood says. “Unless you are Toni Morrison or Stephen King, you probably don’t have much leverage in negotiating your contracts. Publishing companies are out to make money, that’s it. Writers want the whole thing, the money, the fame and glory, the recognition. With POD [print-on-demand] publishing, folks are doing it for themselves, for better or worse.”

The Essence of Motown Writers Conference takes place Saturday, Nov. 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Detroit Impact Center, 9930 Greenfield, Detroit; 313-289-8614.

Eddie B. Allen Jr. is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].
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