Stephanie Steinberg is building a Detroit literary collective one workshop at a time.
She’s the Founder and CEO of The Detroit Writing Room and the Executive Director of Coaching Detroit Forward on a mission to connect the community with award-winning authors, journalists, and photographers to champion a new generation of storytelling.
EXP: Do you consider yourself an author or an entrepreneur?
SS: Currently, I consider myself a hybrid journalist and entrepreneur. I’ve spent my whole career as a journalist and recently stepped into entrepreneurship. A few years ago, I edited the book, “In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 Years at the Michigan Daily,” published by the University of Michigan Press. Now I edit books when people reach out to The Detroit Writing Room for help with their manuscripts, so you can also call me a book editor!
EXP: Why was it important to open The Detroit Writing Room?
SS: When I was a Detroit News reporter in 2016-17, I got to know the creative community and entrepreneurs in the city. I realized many people needed help with their writing — whether it was content for their websites, social media or writing a grant for funding. I also lived downtown and was disappointed that Detroit lacked a space for book talks. I thought downtown Detroit needed a place for both local and national authors to give book talks and also lead writing workshops and other literary experiences.
So, I opened The Detroit Writing Room in June 2019 as a writing and event space. Before the pandemic, we held writing workshops, book talks, open mic nights, panel talks and other literary and cultural experiences. We also have a team of 30 professional writing, design and photography coaches that anyone can sign up with for one-on-one help with books, websites, resumes, grants, screenplays, photography and podcasts. Our coaches are award-winning authors, journalists, photographers and graphic designers, and they’ve enjoyed working with Detroiters on all their creative projects.
One of the best parts of my job is hearing that a writer’s book got published, an entrepreneur launched their website, a job seeker got the job they wanted, or an organization received funding with the help of our coaches.
EXP: What was the impetus behind establishing the nonprofit arm of The Detroit Writing Room, Coaching Detroit Forward?
SS: When I opened The Detroit Writing Room, I knew I wanted to give Detroit youth opportunities to learn from our coaches, and our coaches, opportunities to give back and share their talents with the next generation. So, I created our nonprofit arm, Coaching Detroit Forward, as a way for our coaches to mentor Detroit high school students and teach them writing, photography and design through summer camps and after-school workshops. These are all free experiences for the students thanks to donors and funders like the Fisher Foundation who support our work.
We launched our first journalism and photography camps this past summer. The students in our journalism camp wrote incredible stories about the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests in their communities. Their stories and photos were published in Perspectives Magazine.
The students in the photography camp, taught by photography coach Sacred Overstreet-Amos, captured gorgeous photos around Detroit using professional cameras we gave them.
I’m now planning for our 2021 summer camps and am excited to add a video storytelling camp that will be taught by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 reporter Jennifer Ann Wilson. (If anyone wants to sponsor a student to attend, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
EXP: How has the business pivoted during the pandemic and what have been the silver linings?
SS: Since March, we’ve switched all coaching sessions, workshops and events to Zoom and are now able to reach people across the country and overseas. We’ve had people tune into our virtual workshops from as far as Australia and New Zealand! We also opened our first all-virtual chapter, The New York Writing Room, and have a team of 10 coaches based in New York that anyone can sign up with for coaching. It’s been fun to expand our reach and connect our Detroit and New York communities virtually.
We also announced a 2021 Book Club Membership, where members will have access to 12 virtual book talks by top authors each month. Members will get to ask the authors questions and also enjoy book discounts and giveaways like signed books. I’m pretty excited to have some amazing authors — including former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Rochelle Riley, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, Tony Schwartz and so many more participate.
EXP: Detroit has a rich literary history – from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to U.S. Poet Laureates. If you could have dinner with any Detroit author living or dead who would it be?
SS: I’d probably pick Elmore Leonard. Elmore’s grandson, Tim Leonard, is our screenwriting coach, so I’ve been lucky to glean some of Tim’s screenwriting advice. The Leonards are such a talented, creative family. I would have loved to sit down for dinner with Elmore and get to know him.
EXP: What are your five must-read books that either feature Detroit or are authored by a Detroit writer and why?
1. Anything written by Detroit journalist and author Mitch Albom. I’ve read most of his books and love them all. He’s an incredible storyteller, and his books make you think.
2. “Detroit Hustle” by Amy Haimerl. Amy is our featured author in the book club for August 2021. The memoir shares her journey moving from New York to Detroit and restoring a historic home in the city. She’s not a native Detroiter, but she’s a Detroiter at heart, and I loved reading how she fell in love with the city.
3. “Love That Boy” by Ron Fournier. We’re featuring Ron’s memoir in the book club for November 2021. The memoir is a touching story about Ron’s relationship with his son who has Asperger’s. As a busy journalist, he touches on the challenges of balancing work and family as well as unique experiences meeting presidents with his son. Ron is a Detroit Writing Room coach and donates profits from his coaching sessions to the Autism Alliance of Michigan.
4. “The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy. This novel based in Detroit is a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. You really get to know the characters, and the book is full of Detroit references that Detroiters will appreciate.
5. “Once Upon a Car” by Bill Vlasic. I have to give Detroit Writing Room coach Bill Vlasic a shoutout! If you’re interested in the automotive industry or curious about its history and the key players in the Big Three, this book is for you! It’s a fascinating read and contains exclusive interviews with top automotive executives. I’m not a huge car person, but I sped through this book.
EXP: Plenty of authors have drawn inspiration (or consolation) from a strong cocktail – where in Detroit do you find your perfect bibliophile beverage?
SS: Oh, this is so true! There are so many great Detroit bars I love. I don’t think I can choose just one! I’m a big fan of Bad Luck Bar, Grey Ghost, Savannah Blue, Eatori, and The Royce (for wine). Drink of choice? Dirty martini with blue cheese olives and extra dirty!
EXP: Your business partner is your life partner. Where is your favorite Detroit date night?
SS: Haha he is indeed! Jake and I enjoy trying and supporting new places, so before the pandemic, we would hop around. (Now we do a lot of takeout.) But we always enjoy grabbing a drink at Eatori, which is a block away from The Detroit Writing Room. We met in Washington D.C. when we both lived there, and it reminds me of some of the neighborhood spots we’d frequent.
What does 2021 hold for you personally and The Detroit Writing Room?
If you asked me what 2020 would look like back in 2019, my answer would have been far from what we experienced! At the moment, I’m just planning to keep offering our writing workshops, book talks and events virtually until it’s safe to gather in groups again.
If you’d like to help support The Detroit Writing Room and Coaching Detroit Forward to provide free photography and writing camps for Detroit teens, all donations of $200 or more received before Jan. 26, 2021 will receive a complimentary book club membership.