Growing up on the Eastside of Flint, David Blight never knew he would some day receive the literary world's highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize. Now that he has, it all seems to make sense. David learned how to tell a great story, understand different perspectives, and above all, keep it very real, while learning the ropes of life in Flint. He attended Potter Elementary, Lowell Junior High School, and Flint Central High School. As a member of the the Flint Central basketball and baseball teams, he played with and against some of the best athletes the country had to offer. He was good enough in baseball to warrant a full-ride scholarship to Michigan State University.
However, as fate would have it, education, not athletics, would be the future for David. He started out by teaching at Flint Northern High School, while attending graduate school. He later went on to earn a graduate degree, moving on to Amherst College, which then carried him on to his current role as Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Along the way, he has authored seven books, participated in another, and garnered seven major writing awards. No decoration was higher, however, than the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for History, earned for his most recent work, the magnificent "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom".
One of the narratives that Flint has, which is among the most cherished, is the idea that you can rise from nothing and achieve great things. Humble backgrounds are no impediment to achievement, and in fact, often fuel success. Resilience and determination alone are omnipotent among the legendary success stories of Flint's greatest achievers.
After being kicked out of GM, Billy Durant took his business back by inventing a new company from scratch (Chevrolet) which then purchased General Motors. When Grand Funk Railroad’s music legend, Mark Farner, had only had his first six guitar lessons, his music teacher shot his own foot off in a hunting accident, forcing Farner to teach himself to play. Major League pitcher, Sullivan and Golden Spikes Award winner, Olympic Gold medalist, and New York Yankee no hit pitcher, Jimmy Abbott, was born with only one hand. Boxer Anthony Dirrell overcame both cancer and a potentially career ending motorcycle accident to become the World Super Middleweight Champion. David was no exception to the “Flint Resiliency Factor”, as I call it.
David came up at a time when a job in the 'shop' seemed like the logical choice, and growing up in a trailer park (American Trailer Park on Branch Road), on the Eastside wasn’t in the procedure manual for "How to Win The Pulitzer and Become a Yale History Professor” (well, frankly, is still isn’t). In fact, it took a ton of determination to pursue his advanced degrees while simultaneously teaching in Flint during a tumultuous time (a time he still considers among his greatest accomplishments). But he did it.
His book on Douglass isn't just an historical masterwork, it's also an eminently readable and sublime example of superlative storytelling. Given his accolades, there can be little doubt of the quality of his narrative and history telling sensibilities, but what's less known is the background that fed the talent. Like most people who have grown up in Flint (and certainly for all alumni of the Old Eastside), he has a certain no-BS grit that breathes life in to his work. If you're from here you know. Now, because of people like Blight, millions of others around the world will know what that brand of art and talent looks like.
This show originally aired on June 19, 2019
You can also visit this episode at Fish's website: http://www.flintchronicles.com/