Detroit's first free Write a House goes to Brooklyn poet

Casey Rocheteau's reward is a free home

Nevermind the headlines about water shutoffs and a high-profile murder trial. Casey Rocheteau, a 29-year-old Brooklyn poet, will be packing up her things to move to Detroit in November.

She's the first winner of the Write a House Project, launched last year to give free homes to writers who commit to live and work in Detroit.

"I think of Detroit [as] this very sort of working-class city that is a hub of creativity," Rocheteau told the Detroit Free Press. "I'm thinking of a city that is currently undergoing this regeneration. It's a city that's seen a lot and taken a lot of abuse."

The project purchased a home in foreclosure, partnered with another local nonprofit to make major repairs  and invited writers to apply to be its writer-in-residence. Three hundred fifty did.

Rocheteau, who has published one poetry collection and has another on the way, emerged as the winner from a diverse list of 10 finalists. Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, one of the contest's judges, said of her work, “These are witty but deeply serious poems.”

When Rocheteau moves to her new house north of Hamtramck, she'll be responsible for its upkeep and taxes. After residing in the city for two years, Write a House will hand her the deed to the property.

The house is about 900 square feet, with two bedrooms, a front porch, a basement and a yard. It's in the neighborhood called Banglatown/No Ham, with a cultural mix that's part Polish, part Bangladeshi -- and part vacancies as Detroit's population has shrunk.

"We're not looking for community activists.... But I do think we want to bring in people who want to be there," Barlow told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "Mostly, though, they're there to do what they do: write."

A literary celebration welcoming Rocheteau is scheduled to take place Friday evening at Public Pool in Hamtramck. It will include South African writer Lauren Beukes, whose new novel "Broken Monsters" is set in Detroit -- showing that a local literary community can also be global.

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