From food to famous Michiganders, baseball heroes to breweries, poetry about shipwrecks to a song turned into children’s book, the subjects of the 2018 Michigan Notable Books range far and wide. They do have one thing in common: They all represent Michigan or the Great Lakes region — through the book’s setting, a history or exploration of its people or places, or the Michigan roots of its author.
This year’s 20 books were chosen by the Library of Michigan from a list of nearly 300 published in 2017, according to State Librarian Randy Riley, who has coordinated the selection committee for nearly two decades. The statewide program, which began as part of the 1991 Michigan Week celebration, pays tribute to what makes Michigan unique.
“Every year I am amazed by the variety of subject matter found in the books we review for the program and by the quality of the research and writing,” said Riley via email. “It sounds cliché, but there really is something for everyone.”
Tiya Miles, “The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits”
A distinguished professor in the Department of AfroAmerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Miles, of Cincinnati, was awarded a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her work on African American and Native American history. This is her fourth book of nonfiction. She’s also published a novel.
Miles re-writes history with the revelation that slavery — thought to be mostly limited to the South, with the Northern states serving mainly as stops on the Underground Railroad for slaves seeking freedom — was thriving in colonial Detroit. Through careful research, she details the experience of both Native and African-American slaves, introducing previously hidden struggles and new historical figures.
On the award: "This award means quite a lot to me because the (Library of Michigan is) instrumental in fostering communication and enriching communities and educating people about the complex world we live in. This is what I was hoping to do in the book. ... So the recognition is marvelous."
The book took six years to write. Talk about that and what’s next: I find writing to be joyous and excruciating. I love the work, and it’s so hard…I struggled with this project in a number of ways… I wanted it to be read by people, not just professors and college students. So I consciously thought about how I’d shape the narrative. ... I would love to have this book contribute new narratives about the city of Detroit and enrich people’s sense of place-based history and identity. People draw ideas and ideals about who they are and where their people are from from history. ... I want to inspire people about who they are and where they come from.
"I’m working on another historical project looking at African-American women enslaved in the south, the ways they’ve used creative practices to support one another and to make their survival. I’m also working on a novel based on this research on Detroit. ... A lot of the emotions I experienced during researching, little stories and tidbits and odds and ends that don’t fit into a history book, I want to share that and have an outlet. A novel does that."