Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Aerial photo of MSU (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Michigan State University is a sprawling and beautiful campus of leafy trees, ubiquitous green & white team colors, and intriguing experiences, such as visiting the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection.

Located in East Lansing, about 1hr 30mins west of Detroit, the school was founded in 1855 as a prototype land-grant university and renamed MSU in 1964.

MSU currently sits on 5,200-acres dotted with 566 buildings. Over 50,000 students attend here. There are 27 resident halls and over 900 registered student groups on campus. Yes, this place is massive. It’s one of the largest universities by population in the USA.

MSU’s Nuclear Physics graduate program ranks # 1 in the nation. Magic Johnson & Sam Raimi attended MSU simultaneously in the late 1970’s. Fun factoids abound.

I’m here visiting the MSU Library, the building which contains the main portion of the comic collection.

Red Cedar River (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

You park on the north side of Spartan Stadium in Lot # 62 W (99 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing). You ‘pay by plate’ by the hour. Then, use the footbridge to cross the beautiful Red Cedar River and enter the library doors straight ahead.

Once inside, the Special Collections Reading Room is on your left. This is where you’ll read the comics.

As the world’s largest library/academic comic book collection, the MSU Comic Collection is a true world resource.

Sure, Mile High Comics in Denver has a self-estimated eight million comic books in three warehouses and a single individual, Bob Bretall, in Mission Viejo, California has over 105,000 comics.

But the MSU Collection is catalogued, indexed, available to the general public free of charge and managed by comic book expert, Randall W. Scott.

Randall W. Scott, or “Randy” as he prefers to be called, is an MSU Special Collections Librarian, Comic Art Bibliographer, and head curator of the MSU Comic Art Collection. Working here almost 50-years, Randy has one of the greatest jobs on the planet: reading and archiving comic books.

Yes, a state university had the foresight to bankroll Randy’s unique expertise and thus, help fund a world-class collection of pop culture artifacts in the form of comics books. We’re so jelly. Randy, I want your job.

MSU’s Comic Book Curator and Head Honcho: Randy Scott

Randall W. Scott, aka: Randy, head of the MSU Comics Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’ve always enjoyed comic books. I like the format of blending words and pictures. I also read a lot of books without pictures. Mainly, I like thinking about how the literary form of comic books works and is evolving. Comic books are different from every other kind of storytelling. And I like the theoretical questions associated with comics and collecting comics.”

“I grew up on a farm in Alpena County in a little town called Hubbard Lake. I like to practice reading in other languages like French, German, Spanish. My foreign language level is fair. But my level of reading comics is pretty good.”

“In the late Sixties, I migrated to Lansing and attended MSU while working at Curious Book Shop, a used & rare bookstore run by Ray Walsh. I was Ray’s first employee and the comics buyer there back when Curious had an upstairs that was all comics. Stan Lee did a signing there once! I met Ray while we were both students at MSU. He was famous for riding his bike around campus in a trench coat.”

The Paper (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

“As a student here at MSU, I worked as a writer and editor on an underground paper aptly called ‘The Paper’ and toward the end of its lifespan, it became absorbed into SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. There was a national movement for underground papers at that time. Detroit had The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor had The Sun and so on. In June 1969, we had a convention in Chicago where SDS split and The Weathermen became one of the splits, so I briefly became an original Weatherman before it became the Weather Underground.”

“I have a B.A. from MSU and an M.S. in Library Science from Columbia with a concentration in cataloging and indexing.”

I started working in the MSU Library back in 1971. I had various jobs, including being a preorder typist, whereby I would send out orders to jobbers to order books. I started cataloging the Comic Art Collection in 1974 when I developed a system for indexing and cataloging them and I’ve been here ever since.”

“In 1975, a high-school student stole our Amazing Spider-Man # 1 comic book. We knew who it was but couldn’t prove it. Today, in good condition, that comic is worth around $100,000.”

“After that happened, I decided to take on the job of looking after the Comic Collection, during my lunch hours, as a volunteer.”

 

MSU Comic Collection: At 350,000 items, it’s the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection

MSU Comic Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Randy and I head downstairs, one floor below the Reading Room.

The Comic Collection is housed in long rows of electronic Spacesaver mobile storage units. The lights are on 120-second timers, thus, if there’s no movement for 120 seconds, the lights go off.

We have the main core of the collection here. Then we have about 700 shelves of international comics at an offsite, remote storage warehouse.”

 

Russell Nye: Creator of the MSU Comic Collection

Russell B. Nye circa 1978 (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

The MSU Comic Collection started in 1969-70 when MSU professor Russell Nye donated 6,000 comic books, mostly 60’s-era Marvel superhero comics, to the university.”

“Around 100 of the comics were his, the rest were from some of his senior students who donated their collections to him for his new Pop Culture course.”

“Nye taught in the English department from 1941-79. He was an early proponent of Pop Culture Theory and I had him as a teacher. Nye was a gentleman, always wore a suit, taught 19th century American Literature and had an inquiring mind.”

“At the time, comics were deemed ‘inappropriate material’ by academia. However, Nye was respectable, he had also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so they couldn’t deny this pop culture scholar’s donation of comics.”

Comic Buyer’s Guide issue # 1 (1971) image courtesy of: Michigan State University

“Comic books had already been around for over 100 years and it took them that long to get academic recognition. I did Independent Study with Nye and wrote a paper called ‘Comics in Libraries’ where I argued for their inclusion.”

“Prior to this, academic libraries had been reluctant to collect and study comics, which they foffed off as ‘subliterature’. It was revolutionary times. The spirit of the time was to open things up and do what hadn’t been done before.”

“Nye wasn’t thought of as a radical but being a proponent of putting comic books in libraries was definitely a radical idea at the time. It’s hard to fathom now because it’s more commonplace. Now over 50 libraries have permanent comic book collections.”

 

It’s a Midwest thing: Michigan and Ohio Lead the Charge

Bowling Green University’s Popular Culture dept. (image courtesy of Bowling Green University)

“Ohio’s Bowling Green University started a Pop Culture department around the same time. The Journal of Popular Culture started in 1967 at Bowling Green and was edited by Ray Browne. They now have the Browne Popular Culture Library, which is the world’s largest collection of pulps, dime novels and ephemera.”

“In 1977, Lucy Caswell started the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, which is now the world’s largest repository of original cartoon art.”

It was a Midwest thing. We started putting comic books in libraries, then NYPL followed suit after a few years and now it’s a global thing.”

“In 1978, the Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection was officially titled as a branch of the Special Collections. This collection includes the Comic Art Collection, 10,000 volumes of sci-fi (mostly monographs), probably 5,000 books, magazines & fanzines, and loads of Popular Fiction (ie: dime novels, pulps, detective, westerns, etc).”

MSU Library’s Carolyn Blunt (c. 1973)

 

A Taste of the Goodies

Young Allies # 1 (1941) photo by: Ryan M. Place

The hardest part of being a Comics Librarian is cataloguing. Cataloguing is a daily, ongoing process. On January 1st, 1981, we stopped using the filing index card system.”

“Every year we get deliveries of 12 to 20 boxes of comics sent via UPS. Gerber invented mylar comic sleeves. I order these babies 5,000 at a time. Cataloguing all this stuff takes time.”

“We have 7 copies of the original Obadiah Oldebuck here, the first comic ever created.”

Obadiah Oldebuck, the first comic book ever printed (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have the personal microfilm collection of Detroit comics guru Jerry Bails and the #1 CAPA-Alpha (1964).”

“We have all sorts of comics: Young Allies # 1 (1941), Walt Disney Comics and Stories No. 1 (1940), Wonder Woman # 1 (1942), R. Crumb’s Zap # 1 (1967), etc.”

“We have about 600 Underground comics, 10,000 volumes of Manga, 1 million comic strips donated by Dick Webster, and large holdings of Eclipse, Marvel, DC, Fantagraphics.”

“We have the King Features proof sheet collection from NYC (1930’s-1990’s).”

Rodney Ford scrapbooks (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have 530 scrapbooks of daily newspaper strips. They came all at once from Rodney Ford in Sacramento, California. Over 100 titles from the 1920’s-1970’s. He made the scrapbooks meticulously by hand.”

“We have 17,000 Golden Era comics (1938-52), the first 1,000 of which came from Jim Haynes, a Connecticut racetrack owner who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.”

“We have the Lexikon der Comics, the only copy in North America. It’s a German language encyclopedia of comics.”

“The list goes on and on. MSU has a tradition of keeping the best two copies of each item. Our triplicates we give to the MSU Surplus Store to be sold, and proceeds of these sales come directly back to the library to continue supporting the collection.”

Lexikon der Comics: German language encyclopedia of comic books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU’s International Comics @ the Remote Storage Warehouse

MSU International Comics inside Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

After touring the main collection, Randy drives us to an offsite warehouse in Lansing, about 15 minutes away from the main library. The facilities coordinator, Josh Maki, lets us in.

The warehouse is divided into two massive rooms.

One room contains international comic books on 10 and 12-foot-high steel shelving. The other room is a high-density storage bay of 800,000 books and bound journals. Big blue-box air scrubbers clean the air.

This is but one warehouse in a complex of warehouses. The others are: Folio, Special Collections and RSA. The comics warehouse is RS-F and called ‘remote storage’. Spread across the complex, there are around 1.7 million items.

MSU Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Here we have about 700 shelves of international non-American comics from all over the world. For instance, we have 1,800 comics catalogued from India alone.”

“We have shoe boxes full of two million daily comic strips, plus big boxes of proof sheets, Sunday sections, etc.”

“The most we ever paid was $130,000 for 13,000 European comics in the 1990’s.”

“We get about one international visitor per month, mostly from Europe and Asia.”

“When visiting, please remember that international comics must be requested at least three full days in advance.”

Funding: Where does the money come from?

“I get a little slice of the annual MSU Library book budget. I also have a couple of endowments which provide funding. Our total annual budget is around $40,000.”

“In regard to acquisitions, I have a Collection Development statement that I follow when we want to acquire new material for the collection.”

In addition to the budget Randy receives from MSU, generous supporters also lend a hand by giving funds in support of this collection.

For more information on ways you can support the collection, contact:

MSU Libraries’ Development Office

517-432-0708

giving@lib.msu.edu

 

MSU Special Collections

MSU Special Collections Rare Book Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Established in 1962, the MSU Special Collections department contains 450,000+ printed works, several manuscript and archival collections, a huge stash of ephemera, and more.

MSU has a massive collection of Sixties Radicalism pamphlets and papers. You can find these in the American Radicalism Vertical File (ARVF).

The Special Collections Rare Book Collection is at the end of the comics collection, behind a vault door, inside a temperature-controlled room.

It contains the Charles Schmitter Fencing archives. And the oldest printed book at MSU: Scriptores Rei Rusticae (1472, Venice). They even have a Book of Hours here.

 

Randy’s Final Thoughts

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Well, I’ll need to retire one day, I suppose.”

“My replacement will need to be enthusiastic about comic scholarship, knowledgeable in the field of comics books and care deeply about growing the collection and understanding how important it is.”

The MSU Comic Collection is always open to donations of comic books. If you or someone you know wants to donate their collection, they can email or call the MSU Libraries’ Development Office.”

“Personally, I think it would be cool if the library put a little more recognition into the comics, such as the graphic novels. We have a ton of graphic novels, including the first-ever, Will Eisner’s ‘A Contract with God’ from 1978.”

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“There’s a future in academic comic study. It just depends on administrative attitudes. Currently, MSU offers two minor degrees in Comics.”

“Every February, we host a two-day long MSU Comics Forum here on campus.”

“Visiting scholars with an MSU netID can apply to stay overnight at the Owen Hall Grad Dorm here on campus.”

Plan a trip. Let us know you’re coming. We look forward to seeing you.”

MSU Comics Forum (courtesy of MSU)

 

Donate your comic collection to MSU by emailing Randy Scott and the library development office:

scottr@msu.edu

giving@lib.msu.edu

 

Search the MSU Comic Collection here

https://lib.msu.edu/findbooks/

 

Randy’s Comic Index

http://comics.lib.msu.edu/index.htm

 

Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection

https://lib.msu.edu/spc/collections/nye/

 

MSU Comics Forum

http://www.comicsforum.msu.edu/

 

Map of MSU Campus

https://maps.msu.edu/

 

Library of Congress has 150,000 comic books

https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/comics.html

MSU logo (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Ryan’s Final Thoughts

Having toured the collection multiple times, I feel it necessitates its own building.

Due to the size, importance and future growth potential of the collection, MSU should consider centralizing the entire collection under one roof exclusively.

You could also add a museum component to this, complete with display cases, regular events and periodic in-person signings.

 

Ryan’s Recommendations on Visiting the MSU Comic Collection

While visiting MSU, you might want to make time to check out the following:

 

1.) Brody Square (241 Brody West) campus food hall

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park in the Kellogg Conference Center parking garage (219 S. Harrison Rd.) for $1.50/hr. Walk directly across the street to Brody. Up on the 2nd floor is one of the most ingenious campus food hall concepts ever created.

Brody features 9 to 12 food stations. For $10.00 per person it’s all you can eat, all day long. And yes, this is open to the general public.

They have a wondrous array of food featuring things like:

Burritos, sushi, spicy crab soup, Cajun fish with mashed potatoes and gravy, Hudsonville ice cream (get the Cake Batter with chocolate syrup), 15 breakfast cereals, pepperoni pizza, vegetable spring roll, miso soup, mango slush drink, pasta with spinach and alfredo, breadsticks, and more.

Also impressive is their automated tray system. You walk over to a moving wall of empty metal racks and slide your tray in and it disappears into the back for the cleaners. Every university in the country should replicate this food hall model.

 

2.) MSU Dairy Store @ Anthony Hall (474 South Shaw Lane) 9am-8pm

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store grilled cheese (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park out front at the meters. 8 minutes per quarter or use your credit card.

This is an ice cream parlor open to the general public and run by the MSU Department of Food Science. All the ice cream is made right here at MSU. You can even buy half-gallon tubs!

I recommend trying a double scoop of the Sesquicentennial Swirl and Dantonio’s Double Fudge.

Also try the Grilled cheese on sourdough with a cup of soup.

 

3.) Curious Book Shop (307 East Grand River Ave)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park directly behind the store. $2.25 for 90 minutes maximum.

Opened in 1969, this is a used & rare bookstore with a large sci-fi section.

The store is owned by Randy’s friend Ray Walsh. Ray has done a tremendous number of good things for the book community over the past several decades.

Ray puts on the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show.  You can usually find Ray himself a half mile down the road, running his other bookstore, Archives Book Shop (519 W. Grand River).

 

Some Other Cool stuff in Lansing:

Potter Park Zoo (1301 South Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing)

Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern (1200 North Larch Street, Lansing)

Lansing Brewing Company (518 East Shiawassee St, Lansing)

Meat BBQ (1224 Turner Rd, Lansing)

Randy Scott (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Special Collections gift of Jim Haynes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Comic Collection cataloguing (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Exclusive Interview: The View from Detroit with American Reporter CHARLIE LEDUFF!

Exclusive Interview: The View from Detroit with American Reporter CHARLIE LEDUFF!

Charlie LeDuff in his backyard (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Charlie LeDuff is many things, but first and foremost he is an adventurer and a reporter of the world.

Charlie has that wonderful sort of manic energy, which causes him to jump around a lot in his train of thought sometimes, but he’s a great conversationalist and very insightful. If I had the impossible task of describing Charlie LeDuff, I would call him an ‘existential drifter and an American reporter’.

Sitting in the backyard at Charlie’s house, drinking IPA’s with him and playing with his dog Rupert, a purebred lab, we talked for hours about a wide range of topics, everything from George Orwell & Hunter S. Thompson to Mexican cartels to the way big media can control reality to Charlie’s time living in a treehouse in Alaska.

Charlie LeDuff

Charlie has lived all over the world. He grew up at Joy Road and Wayne Road in Westland, Michigan and attended Churchill High School. From there he studied political science at the University of Michigan, then documentary film at University of California-Berkeley.

Then it was a whirlwind tour of writing for the New York Times (1995-2007), winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, moving back to Detroit to work at the Detroit News, then Fox 2 News (2010-2016) and writing a few books along the way, including the 2013 smash hit for Penguin, ‘Detroit: An American Autopsy.’

Most of his exploits are notorious and hilarious. He lived in a treehouse in Alaska, took a bath in the Rouge River, golfed empty Detroit lots, ate catfood, wore a coonskin hat while talking to a Detroit guy who sells raccoon meat, etc.

The Magic and Importance of Books in Society

Charlie LeDuff

Books are forever. Always were and always will be the greatest art that humanity could ever conceive. They can be smuggled, buried, don’t need a plug, can’t be told to shut up. I love books. I have a library. I even have my own bookplate stamp.”

“Sometimes the image is better, you know, films, photos. Sometimes the image makes the point when it’s impossible to capture it in words.”

I try to write daily Monday through Friday from 8am to Noon or 10am to 2pm. I take the weekends off. Weekends are for family, beer and gardening.”

“Writing books is hard, really hard. You won’t know until you do it. You do the best you can writing your book, you put it out there, you hope it’s well-received, then you move on.”

Detroit Festival of Books (aka: Detroit Bookfest)

“Detroit needs an uplift. The Detroit Festival of Books is great for Detroit. If we’re gonna do hockey arenas and skyscrapers, we better have some culture. I support Detroit Bookfest 100% and so should you.”

Detroit is a critical part of the world. Detroit matters. Something tells me the world is worried and everyone is looking to Detroit for hope. It’s hard. To actually get something this big right.”

Charlie’s New Untitled Book

Charlie LeDuff in his backyard (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Charlie is currently working on an untitled book for Penguin Press.

“My new book is about the economic impact of corporate policies and political agendas on the regular average working class people of America. Not the over-educated liberal elite but the average hard-working Americans out there grinding every day. The book is readable, not stuffy.”

Writing the book has been the journey of a multi-ethnic son of a blue-collar father, me the reporter, doing it. And along the way, smoking a little weed, drinking a little booze, visiting a whorehouse, going where the guns are, the urban cores, the halls of power, etc. It’s an examination without being a lecture of this great thing called America.”

Ask the Regular Guy

Charlie LeDuff

Charlie is frequently critical of those in power because he cares about the big picture, the treatment of people and the well-being of a planet not quite past the point of no return.

“I’ve been busy working on the book and shooting a pilot for A&E. Been traveling all over the country filming this thing.”

Politics has become absurdist theater, mind-torture. I’d rather be kayaking in a yellow rubber speedo with the cartel again near the Texas border than listen to all of it.”

In the totem of American life, the ghetto feels it first. Take the Flint water crisis. Flint River water so gnarly you have to mix it with Kool-Aid so you don’t gag. Around July or August, Flint’s first boil-water advisory came out right after we did our story. Like Bedouins to the well, the good people of Flint could no longer drink their own water, they had to drink water bottled elsewhere.”

“Ferguson went from white to black overnight, yet still had a white power structure. Cops were instructed to be shakedown artists and ticket everyone. See, politics.”

Does Media Control Reality or Does Reality Control Media?

“To what extent does the clang-clang of the echo chamber of the media, television, the internet, etc, control reality? Let’s put it this way. I carpooled with the Grand Dragon of the KKK down to the Carolina’s. When I got down there, there was only a few hundred of these guys total.”

“So, in reality, these racist pukes are in far smaller numbers than the media would have you believe. The media also makes people think that every year is the worst of times. It’s not. Everybody’s going berserk, just calm down. Maybe we’re better off than you think.”

Charlie the Reporter

Charlie LeDuff

“I’m a reporter. I don’t blog. I barely tweet. Reporting is different than journalism. The difference is a journalist can type without looking. Reporters know how to hit the blocks. I like to experiment, use the new tools.”

I studied documentary film at Berkeley. I was the first multi-media columnist at the New York Times. Some of my favorite documentaries are ‘American Dream’ (Kopple) about the meat packing plant strike. Meat packers got paid $10.25/hr on average plus bennies (benefits) in the 1980’s, it was too much money, so they broke the union. I also like ‘Harlan County USA’ about the coal miners strike.”

“There’s just so many large issues affecting everyone. Banking deregulation, forever wars, feckless leadership, the mortgage meltdown, trickledown economics, the trade deals. I love the think tanks = hey, look at my fuckin’ community pal, it didn’t work!”

Alaska Was Cold

“Alaska was cold. I was chasing my newlywed wife. She had planned to work there with her sister for a year. I met her 8 weeks prior, fell in love with her, we eloped, came to Detroit for the honeymoon, she went to Alaska, I followed.”

“Before that, I went to Moscow for a bit. I was dating a girl who lived in Boris Yeltsin’s apartment complex around 1990. I met her there. I was just blowing thru baby, call me The Breeze.”

“Came back from that jaunt around the globe, went to the University of Michigan for Poli-Sci. I had a major in Poli-Sci and a minor in Saturday night. Ended up in New York. Lived in Queens. Applied to Berkeley for journalism. Then moved out to California and lived in the Hollywood flats, it’s not the Hills. Then back to Detroit, baby.”

Charlie on Being a News Reporter

Charlie LeDuff

“I wanted to become a reporter because you can get paid to hangout in places you have no reasonable access to, learn something, try the craft of writing, the greatest craft there is, and it’s really democratic.

“I’m a Timesman, always will be. You learn how to do the paperwork there at the New York Times. News exces are like blackjack players at 3am in the morning trying to hold onto dawn. Then the sun comes up. Some are there, some aren’t.”

“Being a reporter is tough. The billionaires are off-limits. The media would rather hang out with the power than challenge it.”

“In absorbing the news, people just want a true reflection of what’s going on, some info and for fucks sake, can it be entertaining? The unassailable #1 rule is your info has to be correct though. That is first and foremost.”

“Being persistent is being annoying, it’s seduction, it’s the art of the dance. Kurt Eichewald used to sell pens over the phone before he worked at the Times. Why would you need a $100 pen? Sell the pen, he said! My pitch is history. The media is here. What do you have to say? You count. If you don’t want to talk, that’s cool too but it might last and have a great effect on somebody.”

“I really love reporting in Detroit and New York but all of America is great. New York, especially, when you get into its finery and hard-wiring, its unfucking believable. A reporter’s wet dream.”

Charlie is Part Ojibwa Indian, Creole and Mackinac Islander

Charlie LeDuff in his backyard (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m part Ojibwa. My Mom, Dad and Grandma on both sides were from Mackinac Island. I’m a part of the McGulpin family, which originally hails from Scotland. Some of my relatives still live on the island and I go there sometimes. I’m a pipe carrier, just made my own stem out of ash.”

“I’m also Creole, my cousins live in Louisiana. The Detroit LeDuff’s are the lightest skin LeDuff’s you’ll ever meet. My people were making families and loving each other when it was hard. Before the liberal establishment, when it was illegal, when we had no rights. We’re here and I’ll honor the whole rainbow that I’m from. French, Ojibwa, Creole, put it all together and you get….Italian! (laughs)

“If anything about me is a secret, I’m keeping it that way. Some things belong to me. My daughter will write it, it’s not for you. Even I don’t fully understand it.”

“I had three dads, spent some time in Gary, Indiana, some time in Detroit. My Mom still lives in the area.”

Charlie’s Advice

Charlie LeDuff

“My advice for aspiring writers and reporters is: read. Read a lot, read what you like and never stop reading. Believe in yourself and practice, write, write, write, write, write. It’s a craft, one of the best crafts there is. Writing is democratic and can be achieved through hard work and practice. It’s lonely. Just you, ink and paper. But it allows your soul to unfold.”

“People don’t even believe in death, taxes, the certainties, not all of them. People believe in loneliness. Everybody wants to escape loneliness, that’s part of the curse of being embodied. The nothingness of normality.”

Go out into the Great Big World and find out what you are. You know what I found out? I found out that I’m nothing special. I think of the mass of humanity when I’m getting all freaked out or bummed out and I realize I’m not alone, that I’ll get through it and so will you. Isn’t that what Detroit is all about? Detroit prepares you for the whole world, it’s a great upbringing.”

“You can conquer anything if you think you’re one of the chosen ones.”

Humanity’s Inevitable Encounter with Aliens

Ryan: “Hey, Charlie, when do you think contact with extra-terrestrials will be achieved? Or at least publicly acknowledged?”

Charlie: “I believe both of those things have already occurred. All I know is this: fuck them. You know what we blasted out there? A gold record of Chuck Berry. Johnny B Goode. The Beatles were gonna be on there but they could get over the rights. Bach, Javanese Court Gamelan, Senegal, Zaire Pygmies, El Cascabel, Johnny B Goode, Shakuhachi, Bach again, Mozart, Georgian USSR Soviet Chorus, Stravinsky, Bach, Beethoven, Bulgarian and Blind Willie Johnson. If there’s life out there and they’re not digging Johnny B Goode, then they’re not intelligent.”

Final Thoughts

Charlie LeDuff in his backyard (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Overall, Charlie is a hilarious and humble individual. A fun, rambling Kerouack-ian type figure and a brilliant writer.

I’m deeply honored that he took several hours to sit down and hang out with me and do this interview for Detroit Bookfest.

Where’s life gonna take me? I don’t know, Ryan, let’s see what it does.”

 

Charlie LeDuff Homepage

http://charlieleduff.com/

Charlie LeDuff Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/LeDuffCharlie/

Detroit: An American Autopsy

https://www.amazon.com/Detroit-American-Autopsy-Charlie-LeDuff/dp/0143124463