Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Interview with the Author of "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City"

Scott Atkinson of The Flint Journal profiles Teardown: Memoir of a Shrinking City and interviews me in a story that came out today. He writes:
Readers are introduced to a variety of characters who show that Flint can't be defined by just one person or neighborhood. Early on, we meet a shirtless panhandler claiming it's his birthday before screaming obscenities. Throughout the book there several people trying to save their neighborhoods from blight and crime, others just wondering if it will ever stop.

Through all the people, he offers these contrasting views of the city — the evidence of its decline as well as its hope for its future. The most telling example might be when a well-to-do couple hosts a fancy dinner party in their Carriage Town home and has to close their curtains to block the guests' view of their next-door neighbor holding a knife to a man's throat and screaming, "Don't you know I love you?"
Yes, I'm now blogging about myself being interviewed by someone else. Seems weird. Soon I'll be referring to myself in the third person. Since I've already gone this far, I might as well quote myself: 
FJ: One thing that stood out to me throughout the book was the way you balanced the different sides of Flint. You wrote about some of the humorous and charming aspect of Flint, but those always seemed counterbalanced by some of the very real problems here. Was that a conscious effort?
GY: Flint requires the ability to compartmentalize. You have to be able to evaluate the good and the bad and keep it all in perspective. I don't think it does anyone any good to sugarcoat what's happened to the city. It's in a socioeconomic freefall, and things could still get worse. At the same time, there are a lot of positive things happening in the city. And I met so many people who have not given up. They love Flint. They're still fighting to make it a better place. It's important to remember that the city is more than a collection of economic stats. It's a collection of people, and I wanted to tell a story about those people. Life in Flint can be sad and funny and heartbreaking and inspiring. I tried to capture all of that. It's the opposite of the kind of shoddy slideshow journalism that Forbes does when it produces those endless lists of America's most miserable cities and all of that. I think that's a complete waste of time. I don't think it's journalism. I don't think it's informing anybody of anything. So what I tried to do was provide something that was accurate yet heartfelt.


  1. So, regarding the smuggled-out kitchen knife that you're carefully clenching in your teeth in your pirate/commando/tough-guy pose, did you have the (relatively) good sense to at least position it dull-edge-tongue-side?

    Feel free to answer in the third person if you wish.

    1. God, who knows? It was all a bluff anyway. I was always a better sprinter than a fighter. And my pink shirt probably undercut the air of menace I was trying to project with the knife.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at