Special Issues » The People Issue

The Commentator: Aaron Foley

Writer and Detroit patriot



Over the last few years, Detroit native Aaron Foley has made a name for himself as a well-regarded, insightful commentator on the city. But if you ask him what growing up in the hardscrabble city was like, the 30-year-old says he has nothing extreme to share, like stories other residents may have.

"It was pretty normal growing up in the city," he says. "I just want to get the point across: I didn't have my best friend killed in the streets or anything like that. I'm not saying that doesn't happen though."

Foley grew up in Lafayette Park before moving to Detroit's west side near Davison and Livernois in a comfortable brick house.

"We were probably the youngest people on the block," he says. He attended Renaissance High School and graduated from Michigan State University.

Currently, he works as a copywriter at the ad agency Team Detroit. Outside of the main job, however, he maintains a massive workload. Besides writing articles in national publications like The Atlantic and Foreign Policy and penning a monthly column for Belt magazine, Foley is bogged down by tight deadlines for his first book, How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass.

The book, scheduled for release in September by Belt Publishing, is an extension of the direction Foley established in dispatches he published on Jalopnik Detroit, a car-focused subblog of Gawker.

Those pieces repeated "what people in Detroit already know, but [they clarified] it for people outside of Detroit," he says.

The objective of the book is to convey points "in a way that people can understand, so they can drop some of those stereotypes that they have when they visit the city, or when they intend to move to the city," Foley says.

His effort has undoubtedly been of service. In a way, it's a refreshing response to the abundance of "Can (insert person, place, or thing here) save Detroit?" articles.

"That's a terrible convention of thinking, and, like, starting a business in Midtown is not going to fix what's going on," Foley says.

To clarify that last point, he reiterates that most people forget that Detroit is an enormous city at 139 square miles.

"That's where the 'jackass' part comes in," he says. "When you have this idea of what you think it is, when it's so much more."

Working at Team Detroit has facilitated the opportunity to pursue additional projects outside of the office, which allows Foley to continue opining on the city he knows and loves.

"You can work at a place like this and not be tied down," he says, unlike someone who works for, say, the Detroit Free Press and can only write at the Free Press. "You're allowed to be creative in other aspects."

That would include a recent turn that's taken his writing beyond traditional reporting, to include essays, longform opinion pieces, and satire.

"I like doing shit like that," he says. "It's a way for me to comment on things and kind of give this alternative view whether through satire, or whether through opinion, or essay. There's so many more ways to comment on what's going on in the city besides writing a letter to the editor."

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