Detroit Immigrant Left Legacy of a Book and Tour

Detroit Immigrant Left Legacy of a Book and Tour

bcimmigrantcoverLast Sunday I exhibited Charles’ book, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance at an Author’s Fair celebrating local authors, Detroit-centered books, and the city of Detroit. Charles was a Detroit immigrant, engineer, artist and writer and worked and lived in the city for 50+ years. I figured his book was qualified to be there.

While preparing for the event I ran across information I had sent to Amy Haimerl of Crain’s Detroit Business after she wrote the special report  “Driven to Succeed: Southeast Michigan immigrants tell of barriers, opportunities – 2014 American Dreamers.” It was featured in Crain’s June 1, 2014 issue.

The introduction to the article remarked how “in many ways metro Detroit was built by immigrants. They left their homelands to escape war and persecution, to get an education or to seek more economic opportunity. . . Their stories share a common theme: Hard work and persistence pay off.” Charles surely proved that to be true.

I wrote Amy: Reading the inspirational “American Dreamers” vignettes made me think about my late Detroit immigrant husband, Charles Novacek. Charles not only lived the life of an American Dreamer with a metro Detroit success story, but he left the legacy of a book that inspired my entrepreneurial spirit to form my own publishing company and publish Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance right here in Detroit,

I hope Charles’ writing of this book will inspire other immigrants of all ages to write their stories and motivate the public that reads them. Immigrants have a real understanding of the gift of free expression while many of us who were born in America may take that gift for granted. Immigrants have observed that you can’t really know freedom of expression until you’re been silenced. It’s important to think about this especially with our upcoming Independence Day holiday.

Charles Novacek was born in 1928 in what was then Czechoslovakia. He lost his freedom as he grew up through his country’s occupation during World War II and the Cold War. Charles began training as a resistance fighter as a boy of 11 against the Nazis, and continued the fight against the Communists until he was 20. He endured prison and torture before escaping to a refugee camp and, ultimately, to a new life in Detroit, Michigan.

Here, Charles became a noted engineer in the Detroit area and Michigan working on many projects,  including Cobo Hall, the Detroit People Mover, Chrysler Styling Dome, and Henry Ford Hospital.

Border Crossings has been endorsed by an immigrant, Madeleine Albright and has been a finalist and/or winner of 14 awards for independent publishing including a Gold Medal for Autobiography/Memoir in the 2012 Midwest Book Awards. One reviewer said about the book, “Landing in Detroit in the 1950s to search for a job opens a window into the city of the mid-20th century. How revealing to read that first person account.”

With increased interest in Detroit tourism I created a literary tourism collaboration with Source Booksellers, a business in my Cass Corridor/Midtown Detroit neighborhood. I designed a walking tour of the historic street where Charles lived and wrote his memoir from 2000 – 2007 – “Book Marked on Cass Avenue: Talk + Walk.” Starting from the bookstore the “walk” traces Charles’ footsteps along his Cass Avenue walk breaks from writing.

The “talk” gives history and stories about historic landmarks along the way. One of the landmarks was a favorite of Charles – Wayne State University’s historic Old Main was where he took classes and first learned to speak English. The tour stops at other favorite Cass Avenue landmarks, including the Detroit Public Library, Hilberry Theatre and David Mackenzie House and ends at the place where I live and where Charles wrote his book.  Of note: The Venn Manor was designed by E. C. Van Leyen (the architect of the Belle Isle Casino). One its first residents was automotive pioneer, William Metzger who opened the nation’s first independent car dealership in Detroit in 1897.

Note: Also at the Author’s Fair with two books he’s written was  Aaron Foley, the City of Detroit’s Chief Storyteller, a position created by Mayor Mike Duggan to tell the stories of Detroiters citywide. I spoke to Aaron about Charles’ book and asked that he do a series of stories on Detroit immigrants, too. He seemed open to the suggestion. Hopefully he will some day!

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