Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Post # 20
Quote for the day: "Torch Lake has driven writers to exhaustion when trying to describe its beauty." Glen Ruggles. Michigan History Magazine, January/February 1979.
Voices from the Rust Belt
Edited by Anne Trubek
This is not the usual book on the Rust Belt which is commonly defined as the post-industrial Midwest centered on Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Rather than an economic overview of how and why manufacturing jobs and industries supplying the jobs fled the Midwest like crooks fleeing the scene of a crime, it is a deeply felt, eye-opening testament on what it means to live and survive in the worst pockets of rust.
The book is comprised of 25 personal essays by residents who live amid the corrosion and toxic remains of once great manufacturing cities. Of the 25 essays six are written by residents of Flint or Detroit. But all the pieces capture the emotional impact of living within the Rust Belt and the hard facts, and often the absurdities of residing in Flint, Cleveland, Buffalo, Youngstown, and other once-thriving Midwest industrial cities. The experiences recorded here share many commonalities, including feelings of abandonment, betrayal, anger, white flight, disgust with government inaction, and racism. In many cases, the people who remain do so because they don’t have the money to move, or stayed because they refused to give up on the town they grew up in. In either case, they are among the forgotten or purposely overlooked by those in power. Or, are until gross mismanagement poisons an entire city and then attempts to cover it up.
That said, each of the individual contributors has different and personal stories to tell. Like the African American Detroiter who was a kid in the late 60s and 70s who thought his white friends were being kidnapped because they disappeared from the neighborhood so fast. Only later did he learn how realtors as early as the 1950s inflamed racism and encouraged white flight by papering neighborhoods warning whites to leave before the price of their homes dropped. A 40-year-old welfare intern tells of the frustration and powerlessness to help those in need. An award-winning Flint sports reporter tells of the murder of his friend because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and how easy it is for trouble to find you after dark. A young Flint woman explains why “I blame this city for my fear of feeling vulnerable.”
A Cleveland resident describes the last assault on urban poor. He notes artists are moving to his town because rent is cheap. But following the artists come coffee shops, diners, laundry-mats, and God forbid – art galleries. “The first sign of the coming apocalypse is the art walk: the Typhoid Marys of Gentrification.” The last piece in the book is by a Flint resident who recounts what should be one of those special times of day between parent and child – the daily bath. Yeah, well not in Flint.
This important book gives a voice to the voiceless, to the political and corporate abused, used, and abandoned.
Voices from the Rust Belt, edited by Anne Trubek. Picador, 2018, $16 paperback.
Power Play: My Life Inside the Red Wings Locker Room
by Cynthia Lambert
Cynthia Lambert scores a hat-trick with this autobiographical account of her 14-year career as a beat reporter covering the Red Wings for the Detroit News. It is a fascinating and often humorous story of her experiences in and out of the locker room in the 1980s as one of the first female sports reporters covering a male professional sports team. The book also serves as an informal tutorial on what it takes to be a good reporter and portrays the daily grind of covering a sports team throughout the course of a season. Lastly, the book is filled with both touching and laugh-out-loud humorous stories about individual Wings players that any Hockey Town fan will treasure.
In 1984 she was studying journalism at Wayne State and was determined to become an accredited sports journalist. To do so, one had to be officially working for a professional news outlet. She finally landed a job as an unpaid contributor to a free, weekly newspaper called the Northeast Detroiter. It got her a Media Game Pass from the Wings and the 22-years-old college student headed to Port Huron to cover a Wings preseason game. Lambert’s account of her first time in a Wings locker room and the first time the players found a woman reporter in their locker room is priceless. Even thirty years later reporters who witnessed the event were still laughing about it.
With a degree in journalism she got a job in the Detroit News sports department and within a short time was named the beat reporter for the Wings. Except for one glaring incident Lambert was treated with utmost respect and great kindness by the team’s players and management. The author presents a host of memorable vignettes of Red Wing players from the 80s and 90s and there is a wonderful retelling of her brief encounters with her hockey god – Gordie Howe – over the course of a season. The story perfectly captures the essence of both Mr. Hockey and the author.
The author was once asked how different or challenging (I’m paraphrasing) it was to be a woman sports reporter rather than a man. Cynthia replied she really couldn’t say because she had never been a man. Power Play is a great read any time, but in May and June, the book seems to possess the healing qualities of a salve that Wings fans can use to ease the pain of missing the playoffs.
Power Play: My Life Inside the Red Wings Locker Room by Cynthia Lambert. Balboa Press, 2017, $15.99.
Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara
by Deborah K. Frontiera
Frontiera’s book offers a rare window into the people, work, history, and culture of the Keweenaw Copper country from the 1890s to the 1930s through the photographs of the region’s first professional photographer. J. W. Nara was a Finnish immigrant who came to Calumet early in the 1890s and opened a photographic studio. In a career spanning almost half a century, Nara’s striking photographs recorded the life, work, culture, towns, and people of the Calumet/Houghton area. The formal studio portraits range from a trio of Chinese gentlemen clad in three-piece suits who ran the local oriental laundry to a young lady in traditional Finnish dress, a wrestler in a pair of trunks, and what is inarguably a very proud dog nobly posing atop of a small round side table.
But it’s outside the studio that Nara went about capturing and preserving Keweenaw’s copper boom era. Nara’s photos include typical company homes in Calumet, farmhouses, a barber shop, churches, offices, school houses, street scenes in summer and winter, a train depot, labor strife, the areas people at work and play, and even a circus coming to town. The last chapter in the book covers the tragic 1913 strike which led to the Italian Hall tragedy in which 74 people, mostly children, died at a Christmas Eve party. The hall was on the second floor and reached by a narrow staircase. When someone yelled fire the crowd panicked and ran for the staircase where children and adults tumbled down the stairs as more came behind them adding to the mass of humanity crammed like sardines in a can. Those caught beneath the growing pile of Christmas celebrants trying to flee a nonexistent fire slowly died of suffocation or being trampled to death. Nara’s photos of the rows of holiday attired children’s bodies laid out for parents to identify, even one hundred years after the fact, is heartbreaking. Each chapter is preceded by a short essay by the author who introduces the subject of the photographs.
J. W. Nara took hundreds of photographs during his career and only a few of them had his name imprinted on the photograph. This book is an effort by Nara’ grandson and the author to gather what they consider to be the best of his work and credit Nara as the photographer of many of the early photos that were not imprinted with his name. It is estimated that 90% of the unaccredited photos from that era were taken by Nara. This very attractive book is a fascinating glimpse into Michigan’s early copper mining era and an invaluable record of Keweenaw area history.
Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara. by Deborah Frontiers. Shining Brightly Press, 2009, $27.95
at May 15, 2018
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