VIDEO: Charlie LeDuff – One Book One Community Project

Emma Finkbeiner

Video by Josh Liimatta

Despite the 30 inches of snowfall and 65 reported car accidents in Marquette this week, author Charlie LeDuff still managed to make it from Detroit to NMU in seven hours, he said, crediting his friend’s Ford F-150 and a need for speed.

Charlie LeDuff, author of “Detroit: An American Autopsy,” spoke at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12 in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center. LeDuff’s book was chosen as NMU and the city of Marquette’s One Book, One Community reading selection this year.

After a dramatic fake fall onto the stage, a few jokes, which received healthy laughter from the crowd and a dig at Harvard, LeDuff showed his appreciation for the audience turnout.

“Northern kicks ass,” LeDuff said. “It’s really good to be here.”

LeDuff continued by suggesting his own format to the speaking engagement.

“You don’t want to be lectured so why don’t I just read a little something, then you can ask me something and then we’ll go to the bar,” LeDuff said.

LeDuff commanded the room by first reading an excerpt from his book, the entire chapter Eight Mile, before beginning a question and answer session with the audience. The first question asked of LeDuff allowed the audience a look into his background.

A 1989 graduate of the University of Michigan, LeDuff traveled around the world for over two years before flying back to the United States to find a job.

“I flew back to New York and all the guys I graduated with were drinking beer wondering what we were going to do and one guy said journalism school,” LeDuff said.

After the seed had been planted, LeDuff attended the University of California Berkeley and obtained a graduate degree in journalism.

“I had stories to tell and I started building an outlet for them,” LeDuff said. “Now, I have the greatest job in the world. Journalism is the greatest job in the world because you don’t have to go to the same desk every day.”

After working at the New York Times for many years and living in Los Angeles for a few more, LeDuff made his way back to his home town of Detroit to work for the Detroit News. There, he embarked on a journalistic journey to uncover political and economic corruption in the city.

LeDuff pointed out that Detroit was once the wealthiest state in the union. He said he believes the cause of the downfall of the city should be placed on the backs of the very people who lived and worked there during the booming time of industry.

“We did it to ourselves,” LeDuff said. “We got lazy and we didn’t take advantage of how rich we were.”

The rich history of Detroit is evidenced throughout LeDuff’s book and he spoke nostalgically, and still raw and uncensored as he always is, about that history. He noted some of the contributions Detroit made to America.

“We gave birth to unionism and we invented frozen peas for fuck’s sake,” LeDuff said. “We’re completely American. Detroit made the middle class.”

LeDuff said he believes he helped the city during the time he wrote for the Detroit News because he helped bring some change to the political system. However, he made it clear that credit for the unseating of many powerful Detroit leaders should not be placed on him.

“I did not cost anyone their job,” LeDuff said. “They cost themselves their job.”

Now, LeDuff said he feels it is time for him to step away from the city and see the rest of America through this cultural point of view. He said he is backing away to give the players in the city, whom he feels he knows almost too closely now, some space.

“I contributed to my community,” LeDuff said. “I’m not bragging about it but I’m saying it. I’m proud of the work I did. Now, it’s time for me to step back and give the city time to do something.”

Though Detroit has seen a long stretch of corruption and greed, LeDuff was optimistic about the future of the city. He shared that he sees improvements in the form of a financial advisory board monitoring city government, big investment, entrepreneurs, young people moving to the city and even small efforts like garbage removal and new city buses.

When asked how to fix the ongoing issues Detroit is still overcoming, LeDuff responded with a laundry list of suggestions.

“Stop stealing, stop voting for people you think are cool, vote for boring people that are competent,” LeDuff said. “Get mad, educate yourself and show up to meetings. That stuff does work.”

LeDuff remains passionate about the city and hinted that he may return in the near future to continue his work. In the meantime, he encouraged people, young and old, to pay Detroit a visit.

“Just come and look,” LeDuff said.

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“I lost my mind trying to do something good and now I’m losing my mind trying to find where I belong,” LeDuff said.

I don’t want to be puke media and be negative all the time so I’m trying to see what America looks like from our cultural point of view

“Just come and look,” LeDuff said.

Cool hip white core and misery on the outside, but that’s not sustainable

how do we fix it, if I knew that dude, then I’d be the man

financial advisory board looking over politics, big investment, entrepreneurs, effort and money not going to political machines, people are watching
fallout of politics, that’s not so hard, it’s just punk stuff I did not cost anyone their job, they cost themselves their job

i just want someone to do the job

it’s a work in progress, but remember when you come there are people that have been there a long time so you have to have respect

they want to love it but they don’t know how

“Always finish what you start, that’s my advice to you,” LeDuff said.

There’s a change, but are we back? Oh hell no. Where’s the new political minds. We’re starting to draw people back with this buzz and at least we’ve got a brand, there is efforts.

“Detroit got so rough that everybody but those who couldn’t get out, left,” LeDuff said.

if somebody starts stealing, then we’ll know