'Detroit Deserves a Chance to Prove its Doubters Wrong' -- Nathan Bomey, Author

April 17, 2016, 8:42 AM by  Alan Stamm

Former Detroit reporter Nathan Bomey explores a familiar topic from fresh angles for his first book.

"Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back," coming April 25 from W.W. Norton & Co., is promoted as "a gripping account of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history — and a look toward Detroit’s future."

The 32-year-old journalist's first book goes on sale April 25.

Bomey (pronounced BOH-mee) covered the Chapter 9 drama in 2013-14 as the lead reporter on that beat for the Free Press. He worked there from 2012 through mid-2015, when he became a business reporter at USA Today. "No one covered Detroit’s historic municipal bankruptcy more closely," Freep editorial page editor Stephen Henderson says in a blurb.

The 32-year-old journalist, who grew up in Saline, supplemented his background with additional interviews and document reviews for the hard-cover book, presented in 320 pages with 15 chapters. (An excerpt is below.)   

Bomey, a 2006 graduate of Eastern Michigan University, earns positive notices:

  • Kirkus Reviews, a biweekly magazine, calls it "an engaging reconstruction of Detroit’s financial crisis and the broader implications of its comeback for other American cities.”
  • Thomas Sugrue, an author and historian from Detroit, praises the book as "a dramatic account of the debates, deliberation and deal-making that brought Detroit out of its unprecedented bankruptcy."
  • Publishers Weekly describes the writer as "scrupulously fair to all parties and their grievances" and says: "Bomey deftly elucidates the intricacies of law and finance that shaped the case while painting colorful profiles of the principals and their sharp-tongued, profane wrangling (and occasional fits of conscience)."

"It’s really rewarding to hear that people are finding the book engaging and eye-opening," the author tells Detroit writer Sven Gustafson at his 8-Wood Blog. Bomey, who emailed replies to his friend and past colleague, adds:

I wanted to enlighten people who followed the case closely with new information. But second, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted to deliver a compelling narrative for readers who want to learn about Detroit and enjoy a great story at the same time.

To do that, I believed strongly that this book had to rest on the fascinating characters involved. . . . I knew that if I could bring the book to life by featuring these electric personalities, it would make the pages turn faster for the reader.

Lastly, although this is a nonfiction book, I still believed there was a natural dramatic arc to this story. There are compelling scenes that shape the characters and shake up our characters. And the case builds to a surprising climax that forces us as Americans to reevaluate our beliefs about democracy.

Nathan Bomey: "There are compelling scenes. . . . And the case builds to a surprising climax."

Looking ahead, the first-time author tells Gustafson how he answers a frequent question:

I’m cautiously optimistic for Detroit’s future—even hopeful.

But any conversation about Detroit must include an acknowledgment of its numerous challenges.

His New York publisher hosts a launch event with Bomey at the Detroit Institute of Arts on April 26 at 6:30 p.m. Freep columnist Rochelle Riley will moderate a question session. (It's free, with registration requested here.)

The next evening, at 6 p.m. April 27, the writer will be at Pages Bookshop, 19560 Grand River Ave. in Detroit's Grandmont-Rosedale area for a reading and book-signing event.

Excerpt from Introduction

By any measure, Detroit is still trying to rise. Despite tremendous progress in the downtown and Midtown districts—where business executives Dan Gilbert and Mike Ilitch are plunging money into neglected real estate and new apartments are bustling with young professionals—Detroit's neighborhoods are still coursing with violent crime, blight, joblessness and poor schools. It remains exceedingly rare to hear of a family with kids moving into Detroit.

The city may never again be the source of innovation that it was in the early 20th century, when the auto industry delivered advancements appropriately likened only to today's Silicon Valley. It may never again be a  world power, as it was during World War II, when Detroit transformed into the Arsenal of Democracy and manufacturing plants converted into weapons factories to build warplanes, tanks and guns and shipped them off to the Allies.

It may never again lift the soul of American music as it did when Motown produced legendary artists  in the 1960s.

But Detroit deserves a chance to rise. It deserves a chance to prove its doubters wrong,

Most of all, the people of Detroit deserve a more responsive city government—a city that prioritizes the health and welfare of its citizens above the health and welfare of union interests and financial creditors.

"As I look at the landscape of cities, there is no city more important to America than Detroit, said Darren Walker, CEO of New York-based Ford Foundation, which traces its beginnings to Detroit's industrial boom. "It's because of what Detroit represents in the American narrative. In the American narrative, the idea of cities equaling opportunities, cities equaling jobs and economic opportunity, and cities also regrettably meaning decay and decline—Detroit manifests all of that. So it is symbolically, metaphorically America's most important city. If we don;t solve the challenges of Detroit, we won;t solve the challenges of America."

To map out a hopeful future, Detroit first had to wipe out the mistakes of its past.

This is the story of what happens when a great American city goes broke.

© 2016, W.W. Norton & Co.

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