Rust Belt Rising Almanac 2013; Volume One, 168 pp., $17
An inaugural annual “almanac” arrived in our mailbox a few weeks ago. It’s called Rust Belt Rising, billed as “a portrayal of growth, change and loss in America’s Rust Belt cities through short stories, poems, essays and art.” It features a couple pieces written about Detroit, and includes pieces from various cities, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Buffalo. It’s a handsome, perfect-bound edition put out by the Head & the Hand Press out of Philly.
It caught our interest because we’ve long felt that literary endeavors really should be closer to “the street” than they are. People writing in Rust Belt cities have an opportunity to discuss postindustrialism, racism, classism, inequality and a host of other important issues that literature tends to shy away from these days. We’re used to literary contributors being lifetime workshoppers who gather awards and tout appearances in stuffy reviews, so we were encouraged to see that the Rust Belt’s writers’ biographies included very few Masters degrees or Pushcart Prize nominations. We really wanted to like it.
We didn’t read the whole thing. The “almanac” conceit gives it a kind of McSweeney’s preciousness. And the pieces about Detroit, one co-worker felt, were literary drive-bys from people not embedded in this city, redolent of at least a whiff of ruin porn and ghetto tourism. The best thing we found was an interview with Dennis Boyce, a Philadelphian who created a sculpture garden in his tough Fishtown neighborhood; it’s a good interview precisely because Boyce keeps pulling the interviewer, who wants to fawn over the way he’s “making an impact,” back down to the street.
Then again, that’s just the view of a few jaundiced cynics, right? Want to give them a chance? See for yourself? They’ll be in town for a book talk, tonight, June 26, at 7 p.m. at Trinosophes, 1464 Gratiot Ave., Detroit.
Can’t make it? Learn more at theheadandthehand.com.