By Jan Worth-Nelson
UPDATE: We have added late-arriving comments here from contributor Layla Meillier. Please see below.
Editors and publishers nationally already are expressing interest in a new collection of essays about Flint, according to the publisher.
Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology, is coming out this month from Belt Publishing, which produces an online magazine and books focused on the Rust Belt. Local writer and teacher Scott Atkinson is the editor.
And Atkinson suggests readers parsing the diverse narratives may get a bit of corrective surprise.
“Most anthologies are written for a local audience,” he notes. “ I went into the book thinking of an outside audience. With so much attention here, this has been a stigmatized city for a long time. People here are dealing with that every day. “
But the complexities of the city are often shortchanged, he asserts.
His ideal local reader, he says, will recognize the stories, and also be vindicated by truth-telling to the outside world which has often missed the point.
“I’d like the local reader to be able to say to the outside world, “Yup, yup, yup – you sons of bitches, read this because you don’t get it yet. “
Belt publisher Anne Trubek says the Flint book originally had been scheduled for November, but “was rushed into production when news of the water crisis hit. “
However, for most of the contributors, the water crisis was not the story they wanted to tell. And Atkinson was okay with that.
The water crisis, in fact, is barely mentioned except for the concluding essay, “Bathtime,” by Flint novelist Connor Coyne.
Atkinson says that was partly by design.
“The goal going into it was I wanted to show a more nuanced view of Flint and I wanted to do it well.”
The collection features 24 essays by 22 writers—all with deep connections to Vehicle City. The group of contributors cuts across several diversities: young and old, male and female, black and white, student and retiree, working class and middle class.
The stories offer a wide range of Flint experiences, from accounts of a break-in and a subsequent quest through local pawn shops, to an opus about Flint basketball, to the murder of a good friend, to a “dubious” recollection of a grandma’s stories, to growing up on the Eastside, to an exploration of Glenwood Cemetery.
For the authors, telling their stories has been gratifying, personal, and powerful.
It’s the first publication for Layla Meillier, the youngest contributor at 18.
“I plan to write for the rest of my life so what better way to start spreading my knowledge than by giving thanks to my home,” Meillier says. “That’s really my intentions with my essays; I tried to be as honest as possible but I hope it doesn’t read that I am ragging on Flint. Rather, I’m giving thanks.
“People in ‘safe’ towns with rigid expectations don’t learn a lot of the life lessons hurt, urban cities do,” Meillier observes. “Flint’s perspective is confusing at times but mostly liberating because I feel as though I’m closer to humanity here. There is never a shortage of strange things to write about…There is so much to learn from Flint and its people: young and old.”
Sarah Carson, a Flint native who wrote the prose poem collection Buick City and now lives in Chicago, describes her journey to try to make a life in Flint after college and ultimately deciding to move away.
“As an ex-pat, I feel at once deeply connected to Flint and separated from it….to have my story represented makes me feel connected to the greater story of Flint as a place where for generations people have struggled to make a life that is authentically their own,” she says.
Flint Journal reporter Eric Woodyard reflects that “I got to step out of my comfort zone as a sports writer to work on a personal essay about my close friend’s murder.
“Happy Anyway is a way for others to see Flint outside of the typical news reports and get a deeper dive into the spirit of this city,.” he says.
Teddy Robertson, a retired UM – Flint history professor, says her two essays “crystallize two experiences in Flint that have brought me face to face with loss. First came the loss of possessions that were talismans of my family history, touchstones for identity.
“Then came the loss of my home’s value, a marker of my achievement as an independent woman.
“Incorporating these losses into the story of my life…has taken years. It is not complete. The integration of loss also has meant a re-evaluation of all the other pieces of my life…Writing these pieces has made me more clear sighted. Revising them for Belt has been a kind of redemption,” she says.
For writer and UM – Flint lecturer Tracie Currie, the project was an opportunity to talk about something positive in Flint and to assert “the importance of owning one’s voice through the spoken word.”
“I often tout that Flint is a hidden gem, not given much credit in the national news for what it offers,” she says. “I think this anthology allows this gem to shine a little bit.”
“People always want to show the doom and gloom narrative,” Atkinson says, “but I’m tired of that spectrum – that’s it’s only one or the other, the bad side or the rah-rah” response.
“To talk about one without talking about the other is irresponsible, misleading in either direction. Flint can be wonderful and horrible at the same time – I just think that’s true.
“I wanted real stories about Flint, whatever that may mean,” Atkinson says. “Flint has been worth listening to for a long time, so I hope this helps.”
Belt publisher Trubek agrees. “Flint has always been a fascinating city—and has been, like many Rust Belt cities, underwritten about,” she said. “There are simply so many stories about the city, and I wanted to be able to help them get told, and read. “
Full disclosure: Four East Village Magazine writers are included in the collection: Nic Custer, Stacie Scherman, Teddy Robertson and myself.
The other contributors are Bob Campbell, Stephanie Carpenter, Sarah Carson, Connor Coyne, Will Cronin, Katie Curnow, Tracie Currie, , Emma Davis, Patrick Hayes, Edward McClelland, Layla Meillier, Sarah Mitchell, Andrew Morton, James O’Dea, Melissa Richardson, Becky Wilson, Eric Woodyard, and Gordon Young. Local web designer Shane Gramling did the book design.
Flint launch of Happy Anyway is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday June 27 at Soggy Bottom Bar. A number of readings and book signings will follow through the summer, Atkinson said.
More information aboout the anthology is available on Amazon or through Belt Publishing, http://beltmag.com/belt_publishing/.
Belt Magazine publishes independent journalism, particularly longform, op-eds and first person essays about the Rust Belt. Its companion initiative, Belt Publishing, founded in 2012, publishes non-fiction with a focus on the Industrial Midwest. Other anthologies have centered on Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Youngstown, with upcoming titles featuring Akron and Buffalo.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.