Michigan Notable Book author explores Detroit in the ’60s

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published May 4, 2016

Photo provided by michigan.gov


Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Detroit native David Maraniss was inspired to write about Detroit while he watched a Chrysler commercial with rap star Eminem with the theme “Imported from Detroit” during the 2011 Super Bowl.

Maraniss said the commercial featured “wonderful, iconic” Detroit landmarks and he “got choked up.”

He and his family moved out of Detroit when he was 7. Maraniss grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and his mother was from Ann Arbor.

“I got to thinking what Detroit meant to me and what Detroit meant to America,” Maraniss said.

The result is “Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story,” which explores what was happening in Detroit from October of 1962 to May of 1964.

Motown acts were on their first national tours, cars were selling more than ever and the civil rights movement was strong, Maraniss said.

An associate editor at the Washington Post, he said he spent three and a half years researching the book — his 11th — and visited Detroit eight times, often staying at The Inn on Ferry Street and doing archival research at the Walter P. Reuther Library on the campus of Wayne State University.

He said he discovered in his research a report by a sociologist at Wayne State University during the ’62-’64 time period that predicted the city would depopulate to a half million people and lose its tax base. He also learned that the J. Walter Thompson Co. ad agency shelved its first plan to advertise the Ford Mustang in the 1960s as “imported from Detroit.”

He said that another thing that struck him, and a reason that Motown “happened,” is that all of the musicians he interviewed talked about their elementary school music teachers and the tremendous influence and inspiration they had on their lives and work.

In his book’s introduction, Maraniss writes: “The story of Detroit was not just about the life and times of one city. The automobile, music, labor, civil rights, the middle class — so much of what defines our society and culture can be traced to Detroit, either made there or tested there or strengthened there.”

Maraniss is a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and won the Pulitzer for national reporting in 1993 for his newspaper coverage of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton. He also was part of the Washington Post team that won a 2008 Pulitzer for the newspaper’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting.

“Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” was selected as a Michigan Notable Book.

Maraniss will visit the Troy Community Center at 3179 Livernois Road from 7 to 9 p.m. June 1. There will be books for sale at the event and Maraniss will sign them.

According to the Library of Michigan website, each year the Michigan Notable Book list features 20 books, published the previous calendar year, that are about or set in Michigan or the Great Lakes region, or are written by a Michigan author. Selections include nonfiction and fiction books that appeal to a variety of audiences and cover various topics and issues close to the hearts of Michigan residents.

The Michigan Notable Book is a statewide program that began as part of the 1991 Michigan Week celebration, which was designed to pay tribute and draw attention to the many people, places and things that make Michigan life unique.

“The book is phenomenal,” said Connie Doherty, head of adult information services for the library. “It’s a really good time to be talking about Detroit. It’s in a state of resurgence.”

“It means a lot to have people from where you’re writing about recognize your book,” Maraniss said.

Registration is required. Call (248) 524-3537 or visit www.troypl.org.