he multi-hyphenate Oneita Jackson – cab driver, columnist, author – has been enthralling Detroiters with her observations on the city for years and will strike again with a new book out March 1, Letters from Mrs. Grundy.
The title is a nod to the uppity character “Mrs. Grundy” of Thomas Morton’s 1798 play Speed the Plough. Though Mrs. Grundy is never actually seen on stage, her supposed wrath keeps her neighbor, Dame Ashfield, on her toes.
Jackson’s book, following 2015’s Nappy-Headed Negro Syndrome, is creative nonfiction in the form of a series of letters to workers in the service industry, from wait staff to retail workers. Detroiters may recognize certain offending shops and restaurants, and the inclusion of GPS coordinates gives readers an extra hint to possible locations around the city.
“I could have written straight-up stories, but where’s the fun in that?” she says.
Jackson says the book came out of a intense writing session after an experience she had in a shop she frequents in Eastern Market, during which a service worker was rude to her. She brought it up to the shop owner, who defended her employee’s actions.
“People should know how to behave, specifically if it’s your job to do that,” she says. “I’m appalled in general how people talk to each other. What happened to the manners? To the decorum?”
A passage from the book’s introduction reads, “This book isn’t about me: I am writing on behalf of people who are routinely offended and insulted by customer service professionals, and as an Art Buchwald- and Ambrose Bierce-loving satirist, I take my work seriously.”
The letters are harsh and honest, and while many critique the waning of the service industry’s manners, others offer a glimpse into the subtle (and sometimes blatant) racial tension in Detroit.
“That real estate agent y’all hired to take me apartment shopping when I come there? She just told me you have ‘an Arab problem’ in Detroit,’” one passage reads.
Jackson has the ability to pick out and retain poignant moments that the rest of us might miss and, by relaying them to her readers, she teaches them a bit about how our city is, and what it actually should aspire to be, in the process.
“My point in writing is that humanity should be improved. You might not like it, but consider what I’m saying,” she says.
Letters From Mrs. Grundy, $12.55, Dakota Avenue West Publishing. Available March 1. www.dakotavenuewest.com.