Author explores Flint water crisis at Troy Community Center

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published March 12, 2019

TROY — Author and Detroit freelance journalist Anna Clark said that a love for the Great Lakes flows deep in her veins.

She grew up in a river town, near the shore of Lake Michigan.

“My parents were young, and we were poor,” she said via email. “Watching them hustle throughout my life has given me a lot of empathy for other families who are trying to make it work. I also learned to work hard myself early on. I’ve had a huge array of odd jobs throughout my life, beginning from age 12.”

Clark attended the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, double majoring in creative writing, and literature and art history.

She spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, as a Fulbright fellow and was a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan.

She said she’s spent her life reporting about issues “that came colliding together in Flint. I write about how cities are made and unmade. Being a journalist and a resident of Detroit over the last decade-plus has been an education in disinvestment, emergency management, infrastructure, community organizing, public policy, power and the weight of history in shaping our modern-day realities.”

Clark will talk about her book, “The Poisoned City,” 7-9 p.m. March 19 at the Troy Community Center as part of the Troy Public Library’s Meet the Author program.

“Our author talks have done well,” said Natasha Rogers, the adult services librarian. She said the library likes to feature authors of books that are book club selections.

Clark said she was surprised how radically different writing this book was from her other work. This included editing an anthology, writing a short book about Michigan’s literary culture and long journalism projects, such as a 7,500-word article about Detroit’s rape kit backlog for Elle magazine that she said took her nearly a year.

“It was clear early on that this was a complex story that couldn’t be fully told in a series of news dispatches or even long-form articles,” Clark said. “For as big as the global spotlight was on Flint, there was still a lot of confusion, omissions, contradictions and lack of context. It was a story that deserved the space that a book can offer. In fact, it deserves many books.”

She said the research was “deep, long, unending, challenging and exciting. I read a ton of books and talked to a ton of people. I learned more than I ever expected to know about pipes and drinking water laws. I spent as much time as I could in Flint, staying often with an older couple in the city. I went to meetings and events.”

“I tried to be present and to absorb as much as I could,” Clark said via phone. “I wanted to talk to everybody possible.”

As a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow, she audited university classes that she said helped shed light on the story: law school classes on environmental justice and water policy, and an urban planning class on metropolitan structures.

“I saved my money so I could pay a young research assistant to help me dig up archival material that brings historic context to the Flint water crisis, and also to pay a fact-checker to make sure I got this story right.”

It took Clark 2 1/2 years to write the book.

“A book like this is its own animal. I really went into a different zone for a couple years there. … There were days that I felt lost and bone tired, and days that I felt full of joy and satisfaction. It took all I had to give.”

Clark said that readers may be surprised at “how much beauty and joy there is in Flint. Journalists have long chronicled what it’s lost; people outside the city often forget what is actually there. I really do love spending time in the city.”

“The Poisoned City” will be available for purchase and signing at the Troy Community Center, 3179 Livernois Road, the night of the event.

Registration is required. Visit troypl.org or call (248) 524-3534.