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August 16, 2012 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-08-16

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No place like home

Travis Wright
finds his niche
in Detroit and

By Francine Wunder

Travis Robinson Wright is
the first to admit it: The tall,
blond, blue-eyed, slightly husky
Dutch Canadian does not look
Jewish. "When you look at me
you don't think of a Jew who
can talk your ear off about
Torah, Israeli politics or klezmer
music," Wright says. "I'm kind
of like Detroit. It's easy to drive
down Woodward and think
you know what you are seeing
when really you don't have a

co . )

Telling the Detroit story — and
more specifically, his Detroit
story — is exactly what Wright
likes to do. Whether he's
pontificating at MothSlam
storytelling competitions,
reviewing a concert for the
Metro Times, or interviewing
a Detroit wunderkind
entrepreneur on his weekday
afternoon program on WDET-
FM, Wright enjoys piquing
others' curiosity through
narratives with human interest.

"I'm hoping someone connects
with my stories ... and is
touched in some way or even
surprised," he says. "The
MothSlam is like group therapy
on a stage. Whether it's funny,
thrilling or sad, the story has to
have a point and it has to have
affected the storyteller in some
meaningful way."

Wright also is a musician,
photographer and cook.
After years as a frustrated
poet and fledging creative
writer, he turned to Detroit's
local alternative weeklies for
structure and guidance. From
2006 to 2009, he worked at
the entertainment publication
Real Detroit, at one time writing
under three names. He left
Real as editor to join the staff
of Detroit's acclaimed news,
music, art and culture weekly
Metro Times as arts and culture

Travis Wright: "There is no way I'd be where I am today if I'd moved."

In July 2011 Wright joined
WDET, Wayne State University's
public radio station. His
weekday gig, National Public
Radio's All Things Considered,
attracts the largest listening
audience of any WDET
program. It weaves national
feature stories with local,
in-studio and prerecorded
interviews to give listeners
the perfect mix of news and

"I'm trying to create a seamless
show," Wright says, "but my
mission is really just to be in
people's cars with them. I'm
a talker, a communicator, a
storyteller, a people person ...
I want to bring people into the
story in a way that doesn't feel
'too radio.'"

Born in northern Ontario,
Wright was raised in Southfield,
Mich., and studied English at
Wayne State University. He
says he chose Wayne State for
his undergraduate education,
and ultimately Detroit as his
home, because he craved
the kind of social life not
found in a traditional campus

"My mind was blown at Wayne
State," admits Wright, who
recalls being overly confident
about his writing ability
when he arrived. "I realized I
didn't know anything. Great

professors like Barrett Watten,
Chris Tysh, Christopher Leland
and others deconstructed my
writing and broke me down.
And I wanted more. I thought,
'Feed my brain with more
exciting poets and novelists.
Take your red ink and destroy
what I've written.'"

In 2005, with the late Cantor
Stephen Dubov, Wright was
commissioned by the Jewish
Federation of Metro Detroit to
write an educational musical
(which he refers to as a
Jewsical) called Chai: Live the
Dash, which chronicles the life
cycle of being a Jew.

Wright's great-grandfather,
Bernard Milinsky, was
instrumental in forming the
state of Israel, and Wright
proudly proclaims himself as
"ideologically socialist with a
deep love for Israel," but he
won't go as far as to call himself
a hardcore Zionist.

Wright says being Jewish is
important in his personal
life, career and, certainly,
his politics. These passions
converge in his advocacy for
Detroit and his outspoken
efforts to build density in
the city by attracting young
professionals, Jewish and
otherwise. Last year, Wright
partnered with friend Philip
Laurie to create a regional

talent retention program
called Do it In Detroit, which
won a Crain's Detroit Business
Big Idea Competition award
and received funding for

"Professionally speaking, there
is no way I'd be where I am
today if I'd moved, like so many
of my peers, to New York or
Chicago," he says. "I'm the
local host of a top-rated NPR
program and at the same time
I'm arts and culture editor of
the region's top alternative
weekly. And I just turned
30. Where else could I have
accomplished this much this

The key to success in Detroit,
he says, is doing things "with
strident independence" and
being "confident but not
arrogant" as you do it.

"Cantor Dubov would always
say that on your tombstone
there's going to be two dates
with a dash separating them,"
Wright explains. "That dash,
that's what matters. That's life."

Francine Wunder is director of
corporate and public affairs for
TechTown, the Wayne State
University research park and
business incubator.

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