Liana Jahan Imam spent a decade experiencing the subway rides of New York City, the snow-dusted mountains off of Highway 12 in Montana and summer in Tbilisi, Georgia in Europe.
In January 2020, the 35-year-old writer and Detroit resident moved back to her home state and began writing about her adventures across the globe. The result is the essay “Just Cool Enough in the Apartment This Evening,” featured in the new anthology “Room Object,” a collection of poems and essays majority from writers of color.
The book was released Jan. 16 and published by Room Project, a New Center writing space on Woodward Avenue for women, non-binary and transgender writers and artists. The organization will host two readings with writers from the anthology at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 and 17.
The book will be available to purchase at the space and online.
“It was really fortuitous to be asked to contribute to a book like “Room Object” while I was working on something like that and had the opportunity to kind of jumpstart the editing and get it ready to be out in the world,” said Imam, who grew up in metro Detroit. “And so, it really means a lot to me to have that particular piece in this book.”
A showcase of Detroit’s literary community
Room Project opened in 2018 to offer women writers a space outside of the house to create, said founder Christin Lee. The following year, the Knight Foundation awarded the organization $15,000 as part of its Knight Arts Challenge, which provides artists, nonprofits and for-profit businesses an opportunity to come up with projects that might not be spotlighted elsewhere. For Lee’s group, that project would turn into “Room Object.”
“And then it was a pandemic and the whole world fell apart and everything kind of stopped,” Lee said.
Room Project spent 2020 and 2021 raising an additional $15,000 for the book, another hurdle to face due to its small size, she said. But once the organization was able to reach its goal, Lee and co-editor MARS Marshall began collecting work from the 32 Room Project members.
Lee said it was important to ensure that at least 70% of the writers were women of color. In addition to Imam, “Room Object” features works from a diverse range of Black, white, Latinx, Middle-Eastern and Asian writers such as Alice Alousi, Rochelle Marrett, Franny Choi, and Yasmine Rukia.
The anthology was also created by Black designer, researcher and educator Lauren Williams, who adorned the book’s cover and some of its pages in a dark orange hue.
Lee said “Room Object” does not have a central theme, but highlights topics like loss, generational trauma, finding a sense of home and motherhood.
“It’s not, ‘Let’s all write about Detroit,’ although Detroit was everywhere in this collection,” she said. “But it is linked together in that all of these people have been in this space together in different iterations, like reading each other’s work, giving each other feedback, showing up to each other’s readings.
“Let’s just have it be the anthology of all these people who are just really, really good writers,” she added.
It also was a priority to highlight writers who haven’t been published before, Marshall said. Marshall, a writer and co-executive director at Allied Media Projects, edited the poetry portion of the book, while Lee edited the prose pieces.
Marshall, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, said one thing they thought about while curating the collection was who are the voices in Detroit that prove the city has a rich, literary community.
“It was really cool to be able to pull together writers that have been part of this space, but to also think a lot about the gifts that those writers offered in terms of considering, ‘What is home’ and ‘how do we sort of wrestle with the themes of home?’ that so many of our writers touch on in the book,” they said.
The idea of a home away from home
Imam said “Just Cool Enough in the Apartment This Evening,” touches on the various places she lived during those 10 years away from Michigan, the feelings she had at the time and the different meanings of home that came with moving across several states.
“As I was putting the pieces together, I was trying to pair these ideas and situations in a way…trying to make like a little bit of a commentary about what those things mean internally and how they’re related to the past, and to my family, and to all these different expressions of self that I’ve had in the many places that I’ve lived,” Imam said. “I tried to explore for myself what all those little feelings really meant.”
Imam said she’s proud to be included in the collection of writers that she’s met through Room Project.
“There are so many incredible poets living in the city, who have come out of the city,” Imam said. “and I’m just…in disbelief to now be in a book with so many people who I admire both from near and far.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Room Project is a nonprofit organization.