We all felt that loss of connection in the last year and, hopefully, a renewed sense of its power. 

“Connection” is the theme for the Metro Times Fiction Issue, and there’s perhaps no better way to explore this topic, which has been on everyone’s minds since the first moment the world locked down, than creative writing. 

Released Wednesday, the alternative weekly’s second annual fiction issue features 20 artists working in a variety of styles — fiction, poetry, narrative nonfiction and even some visual art. It includes works from Tommye Blount, a National Book Award Finalist; Beverly Jenkins, a renowned novelist of historic fiction; and multiple Kresge Artists in Detroit winners. Like all editions of the Metro Times, the hard copy and digital version of the Fiction Issue are free. 

We spoke with Drew Philp and Nandi Comer, who worked on the issue together as editor and deputy editor respectively, to learn more about what this project means to Detroit’s creative writing community.

Detour Detroit: What are the origins of the Fiction Issue?

Drew Philp: This came out of a special pandemic issue we did last year with the same name. Back then, we wanted to do something to help the Metro Times, which was struggling at the beginning of the pandemic as dollars from events dried up, as well as provide an outlet for our creative community during what was a pretty difficult time.

 By all accounts it was very successful, so we decided it would be a good thing if it were a yearly special issue. We spoke to Kresge Arts in Detroit, and they were interested in funding it. Now we’ve got funding for a couple of years. I served as editor last year and this year, and Nandi will be the editor for the next couple. 

“Pulled in by a gust of wind through a doorway propped open to cool customers, a housefly zips around a Coney.”

— The first line of “Fly in a Coney Island” by Khalil AlHajal, featured in the Metro Times’ Fiction Issue

This may be an obvious question, but why did you choose the theme of “connection”?

Nandi Comer: We were thinking a lot about last year’s theme. And while there’s a lot of optimism, we understand that the pandemic isn’t over. There’s a lingering feeling that we’re continuing to battle an ever-present enemy that requires us to be distant, but still try to make these connections. So it wasn’t a difficult choice to choose this theme. When we started to receive pieces from writers, they all really took different interpretations of the idea: connecting through grief, to history, within conflict.

Philp: We wanted to give people a broad enough idea while keeping it open for interpretation. Many wrote about the lack of connection and wanting more or finding it in different areas than the traditional meaning of the idea. We got a snapshot of what the best in our community were thinking and feeling, which I think will be invaluable into the future. 

I feel like Detroit’s creative writing community doesn’t get enough kudos. Could you talk about the caliber of the talent here? 

Philp: Detroit is one of the best cities in the world for visual art. But I think you’re right — we’re not given enough due for writing. Not just for fiction but writing in general: narrative nonfiction, poetry. And aside from this project, there really isn’t a yearly, widely available, free print publication to showcase this talent. One impetus to make this a yearly thing is to have something that people can look forward to year after year, both fans of fiction and writers. It’s important for our creative community to have something like this, to get more widely known while getting paid for their art. Having a space like this is essential for the community at large to all get better together.

Comer: It’s important that the Metro Times is giving over so much of their paper to creative writers. In the writing community, we know how strong the talent here is. In the poetry world, for example, there’s a whole conversation about the “Detroit School.” But I don’t think Detroit generally knows enough about it. 

“The next day I drove to Belle Isle. On the bridge I saw a man sitting on the roof of a Tahoe, legs dangling through the sunroof. The car went faster and faster as he punched the sky, joyful and alive, riding his catharsis like a chariot into the sun.”

— From “Motes” (an excerpt) by Christin Lee, featured in the Metro Times’ Fiction Issue

What kind of writing will people get to read? 

Comer: I know we call it the Fiction Issue, but there’s a diversity of writing that really does demonstrate the richness and variety we have in Detroit. And in some cases, writers known for writing in one genre are expressing themselves in another. Like adrienne maree brown, who’s known for her nonfiction works, has a fiction piece in there. One of the beautiful things about this project is how it showcases writers’ many talents. Also, for me, the stories represented this year are really close to things we’re seeing every day in Detroit. I feel like I know every voice so well, even when we’re talking about fictional characters. It feels like the writers really brought Detroit into this issue. 

How can people submit for future issues?

Philp: Right now, we’re curating it. However, we hope to open it up in future years. But doing that represents a big jump in time and energy — it takes a lot of man hours to do it. We’re working towards that and it’s a future goal.

Aaron (he/him) believes in telling true stories about real people. He doesn’t think there’s anything better than a crisp fall afternoon at the Detroit Jazz Fest.