Tiya Miles talks 'The Dawn of Detroit' at Literati

Sunday, October 8, 2017 - 5:20pm

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Emma Richter/Daily

 

A historian, professor, writer — these are just a few ways the award-winning Tiya Miles could identify herself.

Miles received the 2011 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” She has written several other works of fiction and nonfiction, including 2015 novel “The Cherokee Rose.” Miles is also a fan of mysteries, which worked its way into her second novel, “Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era.” She is also a professor at the University, teaching American Culture, Afro-American and American studies, History, Women’s Studies and Native American studies.

Miles recently released a new book, “The Dawn of Detroit.” The novel details Detroit’s first European settlers, and explores how people of color, enslaved people and both indigenous and African descent persevered through adversity. The book also looks at how surprising alliances formed between these different groups of people.

“The most intriguing aspect of this project was learning about the ways in which history matters for contemporary Detroiters,” Miles wrote in an email interview with the Daily. “I have had the opportunity to talk with people who have a great love for and commitment to their city and who think that investigating history can open the door for greater empathy, collaboration and coalition building today.”

Miles wrote that the seeds of the book were planted when she accompanied her class on an Underground Railroad tour sponsored by African American and Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. It made her question local abolitionist history, where she found gaps in the historical narratives of Detroit and the larger Northwest Territory.

She started writing when she couldn’t access an emotional connection to people who were under-represented in the historical record, such as Native American women, African American women and Euro-American women.

Perhaps I was missing the degree of interiority and emotional connection that only novels can provide,” Miles wrote. “I wanted to know more about these women's lives than the sources could tell me, so I began to fill that story in through fiction writing.”

She also became fascinated with Detroit after realizing how minority groups contributed toward the development of the city.

“Around five years ago, a group of UROP students, graduate students and I went to Detroit to take a tour that we had devised for ourselves,” Miles wrote. “I recall our shared feeling of awe at recognizing in a visceral way just how compact and intimate the fort town of Detroit had been in the 1700s and early 1800s, and just how central the Detroit River was to the geography of lived experience there.”

Miles had a word of advice for others with similar interests, whether those interests lay in history, writing or even mysteries — all personal areas of intrigue for Miles.

“I would encourage aspiring scholars and writers to explore new avenues of inquiry, to ask hard questions even if finding the answers seems impossible at first, to pursue experimental modes of research and expression, and to follow the intellectual paths that excite them most,” Miles wrote.