by Maya Stovall. Duke University Press, November 2020. 328 p. ill. ISBN 9781478011125 (pbk.), $27.95.

Reviewed March 2021
Autumn Wetli, Undergraduate Collections Librarian, University of Michigan,

stovallMaya Stovall’s book Liquor Store Theater is both a companion piece to the artist’s performances — dances conducted at various liquor stores in Detroit between 2014 and 2019 — and an independent work in its own right. The book delves into “the action before the LST cameras showed up and the actions after the LST cameras were turned off.” Stovall is a conceptual artist and anthropologist who grew up in Detroit and received her PhD in anthropology from Wayne State University. While Liquor Store Theater documents Stovall’s dance performances, it also relies heavily on history and social theory to place the work within anthropological and historical frames. This melding of genres makes the book unique and gives the topic of social-economic-political issues in Detroit a more human voice. Liquor Store Theater is not solely based on historical and theoretical research, but on the lives of the people living in the city. Stovall is skilled at interweaving the scholarly with the poetic, theory with lived experience.

The book’s preface and introduction provide a broad introduction to the racist policies, practices, and history which have shaped America over the past 500 years. This background sets the scene for Stovall’s work and allows the reader to gain greater knowledge of the political and economic forces which dictate Black life, and particularly, Black life in Detroit. The majority of the book focuses on nineteen performances (with images) and between describing said performances, Stovall discusses some of the relationships built with those in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood, where the performances were created, and her own experiences and changing feelings over the five years during which the performances were completed. While only focusing on a pocket of Detroit, these experiences provide greater representation of issues currently confronting the city. Detroit is still majority Black, but the long-term effects of dispossession and political-economic racism, which continue today, along with increasing gentrification, are changing demographics, pushing longtime residents out of homes and neighborhoods, and drastically reshaping the landscape of the city.

Liquor Store Theater is an excellent addition to the library of any art or performance program but is also appropriate for anyone interested in contemporary art, artistic intersections with social justice, creative anthropology and ethnography, the city of Detroit, or issues surrounding political-economic racism in Black and urban life.

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