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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Write A House aims to fix up vacant Detroit homes, give them to writers

Write A House aims to fix up vacant Detroit homes, give them to writers

Write A House has come up with a creative idea for filling vacant homes in Detroit: renovate them and give them to writers.

The nonprofit organization, which describes itself as “a different kind of writers-in-residence program,” launched an Indiegogo campaign this week in hopes of raising $25,000 to restore a home for its first writer in the program. It will work with Young Detroit Builders — a nonprofit that helps Detroit youth learn contracting skills — to fix up the house.

Write A House, which has already purchased three homes in diverse areas of Detroit, plans to award at least three homes a year to low-income writers. The organization’s website describes its mission this way:

“To enliven the literary arts of Detroit by renovating homes and giving them to authors, journalists, poets, aka writers. It’s like a writer-in-residence program, only in this case we’re actually giving the writer the residence, forever. … Our long, long term goal involves building a literary colony in Detroit, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

The Huffington Post’s Ashley Woods explained how the program will work:

Write A House will accept applications from working, ‘low-income’ writers in the spring, who will be asked to send writing samples and a letter of intent. The judges include former National Poet Laureate Billy Collins, poet Major Jackson, writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton and editor of the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishing house Sean McDonald. Writers from all over the world, or living just a few miles away, are all encouraged to apply.

If they win, they’ll call Detroit home for at least the next two years. Writers will lease the homes from the nonprofit, a small amount to cover taxes and insurance. If they stay for 24 months, they’ll be awarded the deed — and Detroit will count another resident to its comeback.

Three days into its $25,000 campaign, Write-A-House has raised $4,295 with 58 days to go. Cofounder and novelist Toby Barlow says he thinks writers will find inspiration in the Motor City.

“Detroit is one of the most fascinating places in the world right now, and there’s so much dynamic change, and it’s happening at the neighborhood level, it’s happening at the industrial level, and the corporate level. … What I’m interested in is bringing in people who will sort of become witnesses to that,” Barlow said in a video about the campaign. “Whether they’re journalists or whether they’re writing fiction or whether they’re writing poetry, I think any writer is going to be inspired by the energy that is occurring in the city right now. People see the Detroit neighborhoods as being in crisis, and while that’s true to a degree, its also true that it’s an opportunity. What we’re trying to do is take the negative of vacancies in Detroit and flip it into a positive.”



There’s something to be said for providing writers with a designated space to do their work. For centuries, writers have talked about the significance of their “writing spots.” Virginia Woolf believed it was important for every female writer to have “a room of her own“; Henry David Thoreau liked writing in an isolated cabin near Walden Pond; and E.B. White found inspiration in his “bright, cheerful” living room.

Detroit isn’t the most “bright, cheerful” place right now, but it has an important story that needs to be told. The more writers who live in the city and can potentially document that story, the better.


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