Literary star Bill Harris named 2011 Kresge Eminent Artist


The Kresge Foundation crowned renowned local author and educator Bill Harris this year's Kresge Eminent Artist, a distinction that recognizes both an artist’s professional achievement and his contribution to metro Detroit's cultural community. The award and accompanying $50,000 prize honor Harris' output as an author, playwright and poet, and his work encouraging up-and-coming writers as an English professor at Wayne State University and at writing workshops throughout the city.

Harris' numerous plays have had more than 70 productions nationwide, including Stories About the Old Days, starring late jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, and Every Goodbye Ain't Gone, starring Denzel Washington and S. Epatha Merkerson. He’s penned two books of poetry, including Yardbird Suite, Side One: 1920-1940, a "biopoem" about jazz musician Charles "Yardbird" Parker which won the 1997 Naomi Long Magdett Poetry Award.

Harris has often taken a cross-genre approach to the arts, using his literary talents to explore his love of jazz and blues. In his latest book, Birth of a Notion; Or, The Half Ain’t Never Been Told: A Narrative Account with Entertaining Passages of the State of Minstrelsy & of America & the True Relation Therof, Harris offers a mash-up of prose, poetry, script and screenwriting to explore the cultural roots of contemporary African-American stereotypes.

The 70-year-old artist is currently working on three novels; his latest play, Cool Blues, premieres at New York’s New Federal Theatre in March.

A sampling of Bill Harris from Metro Times:

Arts and culture editor Travis R. Wright’s review of Harris’ Birth of a Notion, or The Half Ain't Never Been Told and interview with the author.

An excerpt from Harris’ novel Ashes on the Water:

Harris on photographers Lester Sloan,

Roy DeCarava

and Gordon Parks.

Harris on musicians Yusef Lateef,

 Hank Crawford,

 Curtis Fuller,

Gil Evans

and Billie Holiday.  


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.