Reading Detroit.

These streets inspire stories, both true and imagined. What follows is a semi-comprehensive list of books that feature Detroit, or are authored by Detroit writers — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, and books for young people. May it be a map for your readerly explorations.


Megan Abbott

  • The Fever
  • Dare Me
  • The End of Everything
  • Queenpin

Harriette Simpson Arnow

  • The Dollmaker
  • Hunter’s Horn
  • The Weedkiller’s Daughter

Toby Barlow

  • Sharp Teeth
  • Babayaga

Charles Baxter

  • A Relative Stranger

Matt Bell

  • Scrapper

Lauren Beukes

  • Broken Monsters

NoViolet Bulwayo

  • We Need New Names

Pearl Cleage

  • Just Wanna Testify
  • What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
  • I Wish I Had a Red Dress
  • Babylon Sisters
  • Til You Hear From Me
  • Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do
  • Seen it All and Done the Rest
  • Brass Bed and Other Stories

Desiree Cooper

  • Know the Mother

Joseph Coulson

  • Of Song and Water

Bridgett M. Davis

  • Into the Go-Slow

Stephen Dobyns

  • The House on Alexandrine

Loren D. Estleman

  • The Amos Walker books, including Motor City Blue, Retro, Angel Eyes, Sweet Women Lie, and Lady Yesterday
  • The Detroit series, including Thunder City, Jitterbug, King of the Corner, and Motown

Jeffrey Eugenides

  • Middlesex  (Winner, Pulitzer Prize)
  • The Marriage Plot
  • The Virgin Suicides

Angela Flournoy

  • The Turner House  (Finalist, National Book Award)

Kelly Fordon

  • Garden for the Blind

Donald Goines

  • Dopefiend
  • Whoreson
  • Black Girl Lost
  • Street Players
  • Black Gangster
  • White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief
  • Daddy Cool
  • Cry Revenge
  • Swamp Man

Judith Guest

  • Ordinary People
  • Second Heaven
  • Killing Time in St. Cloud (with Rebecca Hill)
  • Errands
  • The Tarnished Eye

Arthur Hailey

  • Wheels

Steve Hamilton

  • Let it Burn

Lolita Hernandez

  • Making Callaloo in Detroit

Alexander Irvine

  • The Narrows

D.E. Johnson

  • Detroit Breakdown
  • The Detroit Electric Scheme
  • Detroit Shuffle
  • Motor City Shakedown

Scott Lasser

  • Say Nice Things About Detroit

Allen Learst

  • Dancing at the Gold Monkey

Brad Leithauser

  • A Few Corrections
  • The Art Student’s War

Elmore Leonard

  • City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit
  • Maximum Bob
  • Swag Up in Honey’s Room
  • Pagan Babies
  • Split Images
  • Unknown Man No. 89

Ross MacDonald

  • Trouble Follows Me

Peter Markus

  • Bob, or Man on Boat
  • Good, Brother
  • The Singing Fish
  • We Make Mud

Susan Messer

  • Grand River and Joy

Bill Morris

  • Motor City Burning

Joyce Carol Oates

  • With Shuddering Fall
  • By the North Gate
  • Upon the Sweeping Flood and Other Stories (includes “How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction”)
  • A Garden of Earthly Delights
  • Expensive People
  • them
  • The Wheel of Love and Other Stories
  • Wonderland
  • Marriages and Infidelities
  • Do With Me What You Will
  • The Goddess and Other Women
  • The Assassins
  • The Hungry Ghost
  • Seven Allusive Comedies
  • Crossing the Border
  • Night-Sides

Alice Randall

  • The Wind Done Gone
  • Pushkin and the Queen of Spades
  • Rebel Yell

Upton Sinclair

  • The Flivver-King: A Story of Ford-America

David Small

  • Stitches

Jeff Vande Zande

  • Detroit Muscle

Michael Zadoorian

  • The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit
  • Second Hand

Detroit Noir (anthology; eds. E.J. Olsen and John C. Hocking)


William M. Adler

  • Land of Opportunity: One Family’s Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack

Eddie B. Allen

  • Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines

Daniell Aubert, Lana Cavar & Natasha Chandani

  • Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park, Detroit

Dan Austin

  • Forgotten Landmarks of Detroit
  • Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City’s Majestic Ruins

Richard Bak & Neal Rubin

  • Detroitland: A History of Movers, Shakers, Lost Souls and History Makers from Detroit’s Past

Nancy W. Barr

  • Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and Now

Beth Tompkins Bates

  • The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford

Suzanne Bilek

  • Great Female Artists of Detroit

Mark Binelli

  • Detroit City is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

Peter H. Blum

  • Brewed in Detroit: Breweries and Beers Since 1830

James Boggs

  • American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook

Grace Lee Boggs

  • Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (with James Boggs)
  • Conversations in Maine: Exploring or Nations Future (with James Boggs, Freddy Paine and Lyman Paine)
  • Living for Change: An Autobiography

Nathan Bomey

  • Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back

Melba Joyce Boyd

  • Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press

Kevin Boyle

  • Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (Winner, Pulitzer Prize)

Amy Elliott Bragg

  • Hidden History of Detroit

Brett Callwood

  • MC5: Sonically Speaking The Stooges: Head On (forward by Alice Cooper)

David A. Carson

  • Grit, Noise, and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll

Anna Clark

  • A Detroit Anthology (editor)
  • Michigan Literary Luminaries: From Elmore Leonard to Robert Hayden

Pearl Cleage

  • Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, and Love Affairs
  • Deals With the Devil: And Other Reasons to Riot; Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth

Paul Clemons

  • Made in Detroit

Ken Coleman

  • Forever Young: The Coleman Reader

Maria O. Collum, Barbara E. Krueger & Dorothy Kostuch

  • Detroit’s Historic Places of Worship

Toi Derricotte

  • The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey

Bob Dombrowski

  • 38 Years: A Detroit Firefighter’s Story

Brian Lee Dunnigan

  • Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit, 1701-1838

Aaron Foley

  • How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass

Bradford Frost

  • Reveal Your Detroit: An Intimate Look at a Great American City

John G. Fuller

  • We Almost Lost Detroit

John Gallagher

  • Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City
  • Revolution Detroit: Strategies of Urban Reinvention
  • Yamasaki in Detroit

George Galster

  • Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in the Motor City

Peter Gavrilovich & Bill McGraw

  • The Detroit Almanac: 300 Years of Life in the Motor City

Cheri Y. Gay

  • Detroit: Then & Now

Ernie Goodman

  • The Color of Law

Amy Haimerl

  • Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life, and Home

Laurie Lanzen Harris with Paul Ganson

  • The Detroit Symphony Orchestra: Grace, Grit, and Glory

Robert Hayden

  • Collected Prose (ed. Frederick Glaysher)

Charles K. Hyde

  • Images From the Arsenal of Democracy
  • Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II

Oneita Jackson

  • Nappy-Headed Negro Syndrome

Charlie LeDuff

  • Detroit: An American Autopsy

Andy Linn, Emily Linn & Rob Linn

  • Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider’s Guide to Detroit

Bill Loomis

  • Detroit Food: Coney Dogs to Farmers Markets

Steve Luxenberg

  • Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret

Paul Kersey

  • Escape from Detroit: The Collapse of the Black Metropolis

David Maraniss

  • Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story

Scott Martelle

  • Detroit: A Biography

Tracie McMillan

  • The American Way of Eating

Steve Miller

  • Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City

Jayne Morris-Crowther

  • The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwoman in the 1920s

Andrew Moore & Phillip Levine

  • Detroit Disassembled

Julia R. Myers

  • Energy: Charles McGee at Eight-Five

Charles Novacek

  • Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance

Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian

  • Canvas Detroit

Gerald Posner

  • Motown: Music, Money, Sex & Power

J. Gordan Rodwan

  • Detroit Is (w/ John G. Rodwan, Jr.)

John G. Rodwan, Jr.

  • Fighter & Writers
  • Holidays and Other Disasters
  • Detroit Is (w/ J. Gordan Rodwan)

Tony Rettman & Tesco Vee

  • Why Be Something You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985

Chris Rhomberg

  • The Broken Table: The Detroit Newspaper Strike and the State of American Labor

Wilbur Rich

  • Coleman Young & Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker

Jenny Risher

  • Heart Soul Detroit: Conversations on the Motor City

Mitch Ryder

  • Devils and Blue Dresses

Shaka Senghor

  • Writing My Wrongs
  • Live in Peace

Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren

  • American City: Detroit Architecture 1845-2005

Dan Sicko

  • Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk

Suzanne E. Smith

  • Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

John Sobczak

  • A Motor City Year

Thomas J. Sugrue

  • The Algiers Motel Incident (with John Hersey)
  • The Origins of an Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

Marvin Surkin & Dan Georgakas

  • Detroit: I Do Mind Dying

Julie Manning Thomas

  • Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit

Barrett Watten

  • The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography

Doug Wilson

  • The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych

Malcolm X

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X (with Alex Haley)

Helen Zia

  • Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People My Country Versus Me (with Wen Ho Lee)


Terry Blackhawk

  • The Dropped Hand
  • The Light Between

D. Blair

  • Moonwalking

Pearl Cleage

  • Blues for an Alabama Sky
  • Flyin’ West
  • A Song for Cornetta
  • Bourbon at the Border

Jim Daniels

  • In Line for the Exterminator

Toi Derricotte

  • Captivity
  • Natural Birth
  • Tender Spirit and Flame: An Anthology of African-American Poetry (ed.)

Tarfia Faizullah

  • Seam

Vievee Francis

  • Blue-Tail Fly
  • Horse in the Dark
  • Forest Primeval

Bill Harris

  • Booker T and Them

francine j. harris

  • allegiance

Robert Hayden

  • Selected Poems
  • Words in the Mourning Time
  • Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems
  • American Journal
  • Collected Poems (ed. Frederick Glaysher)

Kim D. Hunter

  • On the Edge of the Time Zone

Murray Jackson

  • Bobweaving Detroit

Phillip Levine

  • News of the World
  • Breath
  • The Mercy
  • The Simple Truth
  • What Work Is
  • A Walk with Tom Jefferson
  • They Feed They Lion
  • Not This Pig

Naomi Long Madgett

  • Connected Islands: New and Selected Poems
  • Pilgrim Journey

Ken Meisel

  • Beautiful Rust
  • Scrap Metal
  • Mantra Poems

Ken Mikolowski

  • Big Enigmas
  • Little Mysteries
  • This That

Joyce Carol Oates

  • Women In Love and Other Poems
  • Anonymous
  • Sins & Other Poems
  • Love and Its Derangements
  • Angel Fire
  • The Fabulous Beasts

Matthew Olzmann

  • Mezzanines

Jamaal May

  • Hum

Marge Piercy

  • Made in Detroit
  • The Crooked Inheritance
  • To Be of Use
  • Stone, Paper, Knife
  • Hard-Loving

Dudley Randall (founder of Broadside Press)

  • Poem Counterpoem (with Margaret Danner)
  • Cities Burning
  • After the Killing
  • A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems
  • Roses and Revolutions (introduction by Melba Joyce Boyd)

Chris Tysh

  • Cleavage
  • Coat of Arms
  • Continuity Girl
  • The Flip Side
  • In the Name Molloy


Ron Allen

  • Aboriginal Treatment Center
  • Dreaming the Reality Room
  • Yellow Eye Mouth
  • Graffitti Body Shop
  • The Heidelberg Project: Squatting in the Circle of the Elder Mind
  • The Hieroglyph of the Cockatoo
  • Last Church of the Twentieth Century
  • My Eyes Are in the Cage in My Head
  • Relative Energy
  • Sack Museum
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • Twenty Plays in Twenty Minutes
  • Swallow the Sun
  • WHAM!

Lisa D’Amour

  • Detroit: A Play

Ron Milner

  • Who’s Got His Own
  • The Monster
  • The Warning—A Theme for Linda M(ego) and the Green Ball of Freedom
  • What the Wine Sellers Buy
  • These Three Season’s Reasons
  • Checkmates
  • Don’t Get God Started
  • Defending the Light;
  • Urban Transition: Loose Blossoms

Dominique Morisseau

  • Detroit ’67

Jonathan Reynolds

  • Yanks 3, Detroit 0: Top of the Seventh

Chris Tysh

  • Car Men: A Play in D Night Scales

Books for Young People:

Jean Alicia Elster

  • The Colored Card Who’s Jim Hines?

16 thoughts on “Reading Detroit.

  1. those Joyce Carol Oates books don’t all concern Detroit, do they? That doesn’t seem possible. She’s not from Michigan, either. Confusing.

    1. Actually, yes! Oates moved to Detroit in 1962 and taught at the University of Detroit (now University of Detroit-Mercy). In 1968, a pivotal year for the city, she moved five minutes across the river to Windsor, Ontario, and taught at the University of Windsor. Her novel “them,” which is especially embedded in Detroit, won the 1970 National Book Award.

  2. Oh Yes, and Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit by Suzanne Smith (non-fiction)

  3. Thanks, Louise: Adding “Grand River and Joy” now! And you’ll see that “Dancing in the Street” is already listed in our nonfiction suggestion. Appreciate the feedback and let us know if you think of others!

  4. Alexander Irvine “The Narrows”. WWII, Henry Ford, golem, it’s got everything. Now, he’s from Ypsi but the book is set in Detroit. I think it’s a fantastic book. It talks of the war effort in Detroit in WWII and seamlessly incorporates fantasy elements, such as golem (Jewish monster-ish creatures).

  5. Thanks for the list; there are quite a few that I am unfamiliar with, but will go on my list of books to check out. William M. Adler’s remarkable account of the two Motown Chambers brothers, LAND OF OPPORTUNITY certainly rates inclusion and while Charles Baxter hasn’t written much about Motown, his “The Disappeared” which gets my vote for the best short story written with a Detroit locale and which appears in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 1991, is collected in his A RELATIVE STRANGER.

  6. How about Theo Czuk’s THE BLACK BOTTOM about Detroit in the roaring ’20s? Jazz, prohibition, union wars, gang wars (the Purple Gang!), Ford’s Model T, and on and on are explored in this psychological thriller.

  7. More to add:
    Fiction: Stephen Mack Jones’s August Snow and Lives Laid Away
    Nonfiction: John Hartigan, Racial Situations

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