Interview with Lisa Sinnett

Did you choose writing, or did it choose you? And how did you develop your unique Lisa-voice?

I don’t think I chose writing or vice-versa, but when I was really young and I looked in the mirror, I thought that there was another being behind my eyes—I felt that there were two channels going on at once, what people said and did, and something else, something untouchable. You could say that it’s my soul, lurking there, and another self that goes around and talks to people and goes to work and pays bills. I started getting really curious about this other, inner being, that I believe all living creatures have. Writing is my attempt to really get to know the inner life of myself and others. I’m also fascinated by things like poetry, art and music where sometimes this duality disappears and it’s for me, all disappearing into timelessness.

The part of my voice that’s ‘coming out of the bag’ right now is from an early part of my life, when I went from a Catholic school with a graduating class of 175 students, to an all-city public high school with a freshman class of around 1,000. The characters in my stories are based on kids I met when I went with friends after school to a part of Detroit that was very different from the neighborhood where I grew up. Some of the people I base my characters on are dead now, in prison, or have been taken away by the undertow of poverty and addiction. I don’t know where they all are. As far as knowing that these are the stories I need to tell now, it’s working in the Literary Kitchen, the Lit Star collective with author Ariel Gore, that’s helped to develop my voice and given me courage to just say what’s in my heart to say.
How would you classify or describe your most important writing work thus far?

Right now these fictionalized memoirs are important to me, because I am finally seeing and processing what I was facing as a young teen and how unprepared I was for it all. My daughters are reaching this stage and I can see that they are not bathed in violence and they are much more confident and mature than I was at their age. Writing through these experiences has given me so much optimism—that positive change does happen, and the chain of family violence can be unhinged, broken, laid to rest. In turn, this helps me with my other life’s work—teaching in the same neighborhood where this series of stories is set and practicing nonviolence on a personal level.

I am also starting to collect some of my other writings at
Many stories of Detroit’s social and economic woes have become a routine part of the national rhetoric of America’s Great Recession. How do you see your hometown symbolizing what has become of the U.S.?

The first thing is just this reaction like “Oh, people are paying attention to Detroit? Are we a symbol for the great recession?” Looking at it from the inside as a teacher in the public schools, for me all the negative attention on the schools is an excuse to accelerate privatizing of the schools, and union-busting. There’s enough money to pay for Detroit’s schools, infrastructure, housing, job creation, entrepreneurship, fair wages for public workers. If we are a symbol of what’s happening in the USA it’s deliberate. I have a strong sense from people I know that the dismantling of the middle class is deliberate, and it’s rippling downward. The solutions are really simple, but there is not any will from bought politicians to demand that we cut military spending and stop exporting war, and consuming the planet. When I ride my bike through Detroit I see a lot of pockets of beauty. When I ride the bus, I am seeing people just trying to get to work and school. When I am teaching my students, I am seeing optimism. I would like to see more of these things, but I think it’s hard for people to stay up and focused when the infrastructure is so damaged.
If you could have a “dream sabbatical” of your choice for a year, what would you do? Where, and why?

I can’t even imagine this. Do people get to do this? I think I definitely need to go outside of the USA for at least the first six months to get deprogrammed from the tiresome media blitz and lies that are constantly streaming in. Maybe I’d go to an intentional community for a growing season and learn how to get off the grid. Then I’d go see the West Coast of the USA for the first time and pick a city to hang out and write in. That’s what I’d do!
What are some projects you are currently working on, or would like to begin in the future?

I have a lot of rough stories from this fictionalized memoir from the time I’ve spent with Ariel Gore’s Lit Star collective, so I’ll be working on polishing those. I can’t wait to finish because I am having so many new ideas come to me as I’m working. I’m also attempting to blog about my relationship with my bicycle, and working on bringing all of these things together on my website,

Lisa Sinnett

Lisa Sinnett is an immigrant to the middle class—and was dismayed to discover shortly after her arrival that it was being dismantled. She enjoys life on her severely curtailed teacher’s salary, because she’s remembered that she has more friends when she is broke, and is considering going off the grid with her family and anyone she can convince to go with her. She admires bicycle commuters, her urban farmer friends, and fellow Detroit teachers who are hanging in there for Detroit. She adores acoustic musicians.

Lisa Sinnett's website »