(Illustrator Nicole LaPointe holding the new book, Rosie A Detroit Herstory, that she illustrated at Detroit’s Festival of Books at the Eastern Market in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)
Hundreds, possibly thousands, spent Sunday inside the cavernous Shed 3 at Detroit’s Eastern Market trying to judge books by their covers. They had no shortage of choices at the third annual Detroit Festival of Books. There were exciting new authors bringing their works to market and vendors with stacks of gently read classics and other books. Interspersed where vendors of vinyl, the plastic of choice for recording music in the 1960s, and other historic artifacts along, of course, with the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.
If there was one common denominator among the writers scattered throughout the hall, it had to be history, and in particular Detroit history. Local authors Elaine Weeks and Chris Edwards were seen doing a brisk business with their 5,000 Ways You Know You’re From Detroit. The follow-up to 500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor is chock-a-block with photos and stories from the motor city’s past.
But even with its 480 pages the Walkerville Publishing release is only touching the surface of Detroit’s rich history. In fact, there is almost a cottage industry of writers publishing unique aspects of the city’s story, or, as one author calls it “herstory.”
Former Free Press reporter Patricia Montemurri, who worked the religion beat, wrote a whole book just about the Detroit Gesu Catholic Church and School. The book, reports Montemurri, has been used as a fundraiser to help preserve the buildings. In the 1950s, she tells Eyes On Windsor, more than half of the city’s population was Catholic. At that time there were 108 Catholic elementary schools and 55 high schools.
Numbers that have dropped precipitously since. With the counts of churches and schools much lower, Montemurri says there is a need to maintain and restore what is left.
To capture the past, historian, author and speaker Paul Vachon was proud to present his fifth book on the city. His four previous efforts were Forgotten Detroit, South Oakland County, Legendary Locals of Detroit, and the Lost Restaurants of Detroit.
Sometimes a particular place in time has enough content for a good book or two. In the case of the Second World War, there is much to talk about if the focus of the conversation is Rosie the Riveter. Author Bailey Sisoy Isgro was fascinated by the iconic representative of the women who took to working inside Michigan’s factories during the War, enough to delve into the phenomenon with her book Rosie, A Detroit Herstory. The book’s illustrator, the effervescent Nicole LaPointe was given the task of creating illustrations to represent the wide range of line working women. “All Rosies,” she told Eyes on Windsor, “were different types of women,” something very well reflected in her art.
Another illustrator was using the Bookfest to expand awareness of her work. Ann Arbor’s Audrey Benjaminsen displayed a number of her artistic creations to favourable reviews from visitors.
In some cases, history itself was unfolding at the Bookfest. Very soon there could be the first Canadian member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Two Marks, Matthews and Van Horn, on hand to publicize their fledgling organization, mentioned that a Canadian writer is interested in joining.
In other cases, there were authors on hand to help other authors. Case in point is Steve O’Keefe who has spent a career helping writers and doing book publicity for the likes of Toronto’s Annick Press. His latest book, Set the Page on Fire, Secrets of Successful Writers is the result of hundreds of interviews over a four-year span. But what he wanted to talk about wasn’t in his book.
Instead, it was his location in Shed 3. It turns out, he has a family connection to the place. He proudly displayed a photo showing his grandfather Sam Ciaramitaro working on a produce deal in the shed.
Lisa Ludwinski doesn’t deal in produce, but in pies. She operates what she self-describes as a big-hearted bakery in Detroit. It is actually on Kercheval Avenue, close to Detroit’s Indian Village neighbourhood. The book which includes recipes and stories of her life as a pie baker is selling very well with over 50,000 copies sold. Her pies are also flying out the door. When Eyes on Windsor visited the store, all its pies had been sold.
While Ludwinski is creating new history on the culinary dessert front, former Free Press columnist Carol Teegardin has taken a detailed look at city hall life not all that long ago in her book Strawberry, How An Exotic Dancer Toppled Detroit’s Hip-Hop Mayor. She manages to fill in a lot of the blanks for those on the other side of the Detroit River who might not have been following the Kwame Kilpatrick years all that closely.
For a little break away from the written word, the organizers of the event, under founder and current event chairman, Ryan Place, upped the ante by bringing in hot dog wiener vendor Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile. Those who would like to get up close and personal with the famed 27’ long fully licensed vehicle could have a chance. Airbnb plans to rent the mobile next month during Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival. It is outfitted with a fridge and a bed and can be had for $136 US a night.
Judging by the smiling faces of those in Shed 3, it is apparent the Bookfest meet its goal of generating a deeper love and appreciation of books, if only through the opportunity it offered for attendees to actually talk with the people who put words to paper.
For more information about Detroit Festival of Books visit https://detroitbookfest.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.