Wayne State English professor M.L. Liebler edited “Heaven Was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip-Hop and Beyond,” a book published by the Wayne State University Press in October 2016.
The book focuses on the essence of popular Detroit music from the early 1900s to music created today. The book is filled with new and classic anthology essays written by well-known music writers, critics and recording artists who share their experiences of the Detroit music scene.
Liebler has taught English and creative writing at WSU since 1980. He is also an award-winning poet and literary activist.
He has written many books of poetry, including “I Want to Be Once.” He was also an editor of “Wide Awake in Someone Else’s Dream” and “Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams,” and co-edited Bob Seger’s “House and Other Stories.”
He said that his original concept for “Heaven Was Detroit” was to write an anthology of poems about Detroit music, until the WSU Press gave him the idea of creating the book mainly using essays by other writers interested in Detroit music.
“I thought about doing a book of creative writing about Detroit music and when it was proposed as ‘how about essays?’ I said, ‘Well, let me think about it for a minute and see if I can think of enough interesting people that write about music in Detroit or in the country who are writing about Detroit,’” he said. “I started thinking of the people I knew; I knew guys who wrote about jazz and blues. I knew people who wrote about pre-Motown Motown. It didn't take me too long—I thought about it and then I said ‘yeah ok, let's do it that way.’”
Liebler said he came up with the title “Heaven Was Detroit” from the late rock journalist Lester Bangs’ letter to Dave Marsh—who also provided the foreword of “Heaven Was Detroit”—that is also discussed in the introduction of the book.
He said he had no problems when reaching out to the writers that were featured in the book. He said they were driven by helping to preserve working class literature.
His most memorable moment when writing the book was when he discussed his project to renowned music author Greil Marcus and him giving Liebler his unpublished essay on Eminem.
“I was telling him about the project and he said ‘well you know, I have an unpublished essay I wrote on Eminem that I never used If you'd like to have it.’ It was kind of like some really famous musician saying ‘here's a song of mine—you wanna record it?’ or something,” Liebler said.
When writing the book, Liebler said that he tried to appeal to all ages by writing about all areas of Detroit music such as jazz, Motown and underground radio. In the book, he also touches on Jack White’s “Third Man Records.”
Kristina Stonehill, the promotions manager for WSU Press, said that their target audience was mainly music lovers and fans of Liebler’s other work.
"We really were looking at that audience and, of course, folks that are interested in all kinds of music that came out of Detroit," she said.
“The book is really good for that as the subtitle says it's from jazz to hip hop and beyond, so it's really a culmination of so many different genres that you know different people can relate to,” Stonehill said.
Liebler said that he has received a lot of great reviews since the book was published and that it has won the Michigan Library Notable Receivable Award. He also said that his students really enjoy reading the book, as well.
Evan Nowlin, WSU English student and former student of Liebler, said that he recently received “Heaven Was Detroit” and is excited to read the book.
“Detroit has a very rich musical tradition and it’s hard to make anything if you don’t understand the past,” Nowlin said. “As a writer, you have to know how to think about who came before you, what they did, what their contributions were and it’s no different in music. If you want to engage in the conversation, you have to be informed with where things originated.”
Stonehill said that since “Heaven Was Detroit” was published, they have sold 1,700 copies and Liebler has done events in St. Clair Shores, Detroit and Los Angeles. Before doing another book tour, Liebler will be doing a library program starting in June.