Synopses & Reviews
Paul Clemens grew up in the northeast corner of Detroit, just south of the citys famed 8 Mile border. In this moving and affectionate memoir, Clemens, born the year Detroits first black mayor (the legendary Coleman Young) was elected, tracks his own growth to maturity against the background of the citys long decline during Youngs twenty years at the helm.
Made in Detroit describes what it was like to grow up white and working class in a city that had become emblematic of white flight and urban decay. Clemens writes with passion and unflinching honesty about the crime and the prejudices, both black and white, that marked his days in Detroit, and about the linguistic confusions that attend being a minority in a city where minorities are the majority. His neighborhoods common denominator, Catholicism, helped keep Detroits disorder at a distance. Likewise, Clemenss father, a car enthusiast and weekend drag racer of the kind only Detroit can produce, helped keep at arms length the racism that infected much of white Detroit. Though he may have grumbled about the corruption and inefficiency of the Young administration, he would not tolerate expressions of racial hostility.
Made in Detroit is the story of a young mans education in social and racial realities most writers would rather avoid. But it is also the story of a literary apprenticeship in the classic American mold. In addition to his youthful Catholicism, Clemens acquired another belief–in reading and writing–and he embraced the writers vocation with the enthusiasm that only those raised in a household devoid of books can. Yet, in coming to grips with Detroit, and race relations in America in general, he discovered that there are places–geographic, mental, emotional–where even literature cannot help.
This is a story about being caught in the middle: about being white in a black city, urban in suburban America, blue collar in an increasingly obsolete Rust Belt, and Catholic in a place where churches close at an unprecedented pace. Sparing no one–including himself–Clemens depicts with raw authenticity and redemptive grace the realities of one citys, and one familys, recent history.
"Clemens's life has been shaped by three powerful factors: his autoworker father's rock-solid decency and fair-mindedness; a good Catholic education through high school (and natural bookishness); and the experience of growing up as a white kid in a black city. This last aspect forms the basis of Clemens's probing, insightful memoir. In 1973, Clemens's birth year, Coleman Young became Detroit's first black mayor and reigned for 20 years thereafter. During that time, the city lost half its population and nearly all its white citizens, and became the murder, arson and unwed mother capital of the non-warring world, with enough crime, corruption and lack of common sense at government levels to classify as a Third World city. Is such a statement racist? Clemens wrestles with that question, using his own life experience, especially in high school sports, and his obsessive reading of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and even Coleman Young. He concludes that he is not a racist he's in fact become a middle-class liberal. Though Clemens retains doubts, he seems as fair in his self-analysis as his much-loved father, and despite some scares, he has not yet abandoned Detroit. Agent, Timothy Seldes. (On sale Sept. 13)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
This memoir is a beautifully written, unflinching portrait of what it is like to grow up white and working class in Detroit, a place that symbolizes black urban decay.
About the Author
Paul Clemens was born in Detroit and raised on the citys East Side. This is his first book.