Wayne State Prof named 2011 Kresge Eminent Artist

Jan 28, 2011

Writer Bill Harris, a Wayne State University professor of English, has been named the 2011 Eminent Artist by the Kresge Foundation.

The award is given out to one Detroit artist every year. When writer Bill Harris found out he won the award, he was pretty surprised. No one had contacted him during the nomination process. In fact, he's not even sure who nominated him.

Harris was born and raised in Detroit and has been a fixture of the city's literary scene for decades. He's written plays, prose and poetry. The city is so much a part of him that he’s been told he writes with a ‘Detroit rhythm. ’

"It wasn’t a thing I was conscious of, but as I thought about it, I think it is a combination of southern influence with the blues and then the Detroit think with the whole mechanical auto line and with the jazz, and somehow all of that comes out and came out in the dialogue in plays and in the prose."

As for what being named the 2011 Kresge Eminent Artist means to Harris, he says he's still "in the process of trying to figure that out. But I am a writer of Detroit and very proud of that, and again would not be the writer that I am without having come up in the environment in which I did."

Harris’ latest book is about the history of African Americans. It's called Birth of a Notion: Or, The Half Ain't Never Been Told. His play "Cool Blues," about jazz legend Charlie Parker, opens in New York in March.

The previous Kresge Eminent Artist award went to Marcus Belgrave. Michigan Radio caught up with the trumpeter last year to talk with him about Detroit, jazz, and the "strange animal" that is the trumpet. You can listen to that interview here.

The first ever Detroit Eminent Award went to Charles McGee in 2008.