Not long after college, Drew Philp, ’09, moved to Detroit, where he’s learning to live in a city far different than the rural area where he grew up. And until he published an article about the experience on BuzzFeed earlier this month, few in the world were talking about it.
That’s all changed now. The article has had more than a million views, and he’s been interviewed about everything from why he did it to what the success of an article like his says about reading long articles on mobile phones.
We asked him: What’s it been like to get all this attention?
Was the BuzzFeed article the first time you went public with this story? If not, what was?
Mostly, yes. I purchased the house in 2009, and of course many people knew what I have been up to since, and I’d written a small amount about it. But I never told the story with any length and I have certainly never done anything on this scale before. BuzzFeed was wonderful to work with and offered me the perfect opportunity to tell my story and that of some of my neighbors and community members.
What sort of response have you been getting from the article?
The response has been almost universally positive, and seems to stretch across many demographics. One of the most interesting things I’ve seen is that people from both the far right and left, politically, seem to like it. My hope is that something like this cuts across political lines and these are stories we can all get behind—not only my own, but the many beautiful, gritty, and ultimately hopeful and very human stories Detroit has to offer.
It seems like this experience began in a way that was both personal and private. As a writer, you eventually make it public. What is that experience like so far?
It’s strange to have nearly a million people see the abridged version of your life story in about 48 hours. On the other hand, journalists, both amateur and professional, often attempt to tell this story and stories similar to it. There has been a lot of attention surrounding Detroit lately and I think it’s important that people are able to tell their own stories. There are many brilliant and hopeful organizations in the city, such as the Grace Lee Boggs Center and the Allied Media Projects, that are currently doing great work around this issue and helping people tell their own stories. If I can use a cliché, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.
What do hope will happen as a result of telling this story? And what price will you pay for telling it?
I hope this will open up avenues for more people within the city to be able to tell their own stories, and I hope people will begin to see these houses and neighborhoods, and the communities within them, as assets, not just problems to overcome. If I can keep one person from being pushed out of their home and community in the name of “progress,” the story has been a success.
What is your long-term plan for where you will live? And for what work you will do?
I love where I live. The neighbors are great, and my house is coming along, slowly, but it’s coming. I plan to finish my house, and then possibly tackle one of the other three abandoned homes on my block, potentially with other members of the community, together. Ideally I will be writing a book about my experience shortly.
Nice dog. Can Gratiot do any tricks?
Thank you, Gratiot is great. We do this trick where I hold up my leg, Rockettes style, and Gratiot jumps over it. We call it “circus dog.”
Photos by Garrett MacLean