Paige Pfleger: Write a House gives house to Brooklyn poet

By Paige Pfleger, Daily Detroit Arts Columnist
Published September 22, 2014

Detroit’s creative scene has been booming over the last few years from music to the literary arts, but it doesn’t get much more creative than giving away a house to a Brooklyn-based poet, which is precisely what Write A House has done. The offbeat group bought a house off the auction block for $1,000 back in 2012 and renovated it to give it away to a writer of any kind. Casey Rocheteau beat out hundreds of writers for her new Hamtramck abode.

Write A House threw a coming-out party for Rocheteau last Friday to welcome her into Detroit’s literary scene. Hamtramck’s Public Pool set the scene for the evening: the gallery space was adorned with a myriad of different vinyl albums and Pink FlaminGO’s tin food truck offered curbside locally grown, organic food.

Some of the most prominent writing figures from the city milled about the gallery, including Write A House’s co-presidents Toby Barlow and Sarah Cox of Curbed Detroit, as well as Stephen Henderson, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning Free Press Journalist who is also a member of the University’s Board of Student Publications.

“We’re very honored that you decided to come to our fair city,” Barlow said to Rocheteau. “We’re very excited to introduce you to all the people that we know, and you’ll make your own friends I’m sure.”

Rocheteau will move into her new home on Nov. 1 and is required to use the house as her primary residence for at least two years. Her only other requirement is to work on her writing. Write A House hopes that she’ll engage with her community and Detroit residents at large.

“I am so absolutely thrilled to be in Detroit, to be a part of Write A House,” Rocheteau told the crowd. “Obviously I’m stunned that any of this is even happening. I just want to thank everyone for being here tonight, and being so welcoming.”

Henderson joined Rocheteau for a Q & A session, asking her about her favorite work, her quasi-famous cat, Omar Fromthewire and, of course, why she is interested in Detroit.

“I love places where people are like, ‘You’re going to live there?’ I think with Detroit I’m just really, really fascinated by the arts scene,” she said. “This is an incredibly vibrant community. Everyone was like, ‘you’re gonna die’ but I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it. Everyone does eventually.”

Coming straight from Brooklyn, Rocheteau was immediately surprised by the cultural differences between something as simple as taking a walk on the streets of her old city, and her new one.

“I took a walk today and I ran into eight people that I didn’t know that all just said, ‘hi.’ I was like, ‘what’s up, Midwest!’ It was weird, living in Brooklyn I’m also very accustomed to street harassment, and the one dude who tried to holler at me, literally said to me, ‘Hey little mama. You like “Star Trek?” ’ It was the weirdest cat-call of my life.”

She hopes to make Detroit a main feature of her upcoming writing, and the city’s rich and complicated history have inspired her to try to combat the negative narratives that mainstream media often uses to describe the city.

“I’m interested in digging into the neighborhood and actually seeing for myself what this is and what this really is,” she said. “Not just what this is portrayed as.”