Youngstown’s Revitalization on CNN

Youngstown’s revitalization efforts have been picked up by CNN today. A good article that encapsulates a general overview of where we’ve been, where we are here, and where we’re trying to go. Here I’ve excerpted various parts of the article, but you can read the whole thing by clicking here.

Youngstown, Ohio, has seen its population shrink by more than half over the past 40 years, leaving behind huge swaths of empty homes, streets and neighborhoods.

Now, in a radical move, the city – which has suffered since the steel industry left town and jobs dried up – is bulldozing abandoned buildings, tearing up blighted streets and converting entire blocks into open green spaces. More than 1,000 structures have been demolished so far.

Already, delegations from smaller, post-industrial cities like Flint, Mich.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Dayton, Ohio, have come to Youngstown to study the plan.

It’s an odd way to pioneer. “The American narrative always includes growth,” said Hunter Morrison, Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University, which works closely with the city on plan 2010’s implementation. “No one wants to talk about shrinkage. That’s too threatening to politicians, civic boosters and Chambers of Commerce.”

Even wealthy neighborhoods, like the North Side historic district, where mill owners and upper management once congregated, have eyesores.

On one corner, there sits a beautifully maintained seven-bedroom Tudor, yet down a side street, a wood-framed colonial is boarded up. Next door, an empty Victorian sits moldering, the wood of its window frames scorched. Lines of old hedges mark lot boundaries where once-proud homes stood.

Youngstown used to be the nation’s third-largest steel producer; its mill workers earned among the highest factory wages in America. Demand for their services was strong.

That changed on Sept. 19, 1977 – Black Monday – when Youngstown Sheet and Tube abruptly closed its doors.

“The city lost its heart and soul,” said Mayor Williams.

Today, a new spirit seems to have taken hold. Phil Kidd started the Web site Defend Youngstown, and said he hears from tons of former residents who would like to return.

“They call and email from all over the United States with suggestions on how to help,” he said.

Ideally, all this energy surrounding 2010 will help turn the city around. It does have a lot going for it, including Youngstown State University, which attracts creative-class types like artists and writers and other intellectuals, as well as museums and an excellent public library.

The cheap residential and commercial real estate can be a draw. Start-up companies thrive on low overhead, and employees can easily find housing just minutes from work.

At the very least, the 2010 plan has changed residents’ perspective, said Hunter Morrison. “It’s getting us to think about where we’re going into the future, rather than where we’ve been in the past.”

Suspect Readings

I was up in Cleveland for a reading tonight at Suspect Thoughts Bookstore with my friend Cat Valente. Suspect Thoughts is a great little bookstore, and if you’re in or around Cleveland, you should definitely look it up and take a stop in. The owners Ian and Greg are extremely nice people, and the book selection is amazingly good, a wide array of kinds of books, literary, genre, small press, large commercial press, zines, and lots lots more. They had a whole table devoted to Small Beer Press books, so you know they’ve got good taste!

It was a nice space to read in also. Very warmly lit and people sitting close together on couches and chairs. I told Cat after the reading that it felt like doing MTV Unplugged, rather than the sort of reading at a podium type of event that I’ve gotten used to being the scenario lately. I read a short story of mine called “Born on the Edge of an Adjective” which I wrote about eight years ago, I think, when I was twenty-four, and published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, as well as online at Fantastic Metropolis. I’d never had a chance to read that story anywhere before. It takes place in both Youngstown and San Francisco, and since Ian and Greg moved Suspect Thoughts to Cleveland from San Fran, I thought it would be appropriate to have a cross-regional story to bridge the two places together. And also I’ve always really wanted to read that story out loud, so I took this chance, and am glad that I did.

One of the funny things about that story is that a character from Youngstown who moves to the Bay Area finds a bar in San Francisco where people from Youngstown and Cleveland make up the population of regulars at the bar. Tonight, at the reading, six or seven of my friends from Youngstown all showed up at the reading, and I was really surprised and happy to see them come out to one of my readings in a town, though nearby-ish (an hour drive or so), that’s not our own. It made that bar with the Youngstown regional subculture that inhabits it feel even more apt. That’s the sort of people Youngstown breeds, I think (well my favorite sort at least!). The sort that sees a friend giving a reading in a city an hour away and the reaction is, Hey, let’s go. Maybe it’s one of the qualities you get from living in a small city. You get some of the stronger community ties of small town life in a semi-urban/college town setting that is decidedly not the same thing as an American suburb.

In any case, it was a great night, and I cannot urge Cleveland locals more to go visit Suspect Thoughts Bookstore at 4903 Clarke Avenue in Cleveland if you haven’t already, and buy some books!

A Call for Stories

The Interstitial Arts Foundation will be publishing a second volume of Interfictions. The first volume was edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss. I’ve been asked to fill the co-editor seat for this second volume, and am excited to be along for the ride. Below are the guidelines for the next volume. We would love to see work from you all, so please distribute these guidelines near and far to help spread the word. And then send us your best when the reading period opens this coming October! More information on the Interstitial Arts Foundation can be found by clicking here.



Interfictions II: The Second Anthology of Interstitial Writing

Editors Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak

We invite submissions for an Anthology of Interstitial Fiction, to be published by Small Beer Press under the auspices of the Interstitial Arts Foundation in ??? of 2009.

What We’re Looking For

Interstitial Fiction is all about breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, cross-pollinating the fields of literature. It’s about working between, across, through, and at the edges and borders of literary genres, including fiction and non-fiction. It falls between the cracks of other movements, terms, and definitions. If you have a story idea that’s impossible to describe in a couple of sentences, it may be interstitial.

We’re looking for previously unpublished stories that engage us and make us think about literature in new ways. Rather than defining “interstitial” for you, we’d like you to show us what genre-bending fiction looks like. Surprise us; make us see that literature holds possibilities we haven’t yet imagined.

We are also open to graphic stories of about 10 pages.

Who We’re Looking For

Writers in all genres of fiction (contemporary realism, mystery, historical, fantasy, whatever) who have an idea that challenges generic tropes and expectations. If you’re not sure whether a story is interstitial, send it along anyway.

Practical Matters

Our submission period will be from October 1, 2008 to December 2, 2008. Please submit electronically only. Send your stories as .rtf attachments to: You will hear from us after January, 2009.

Overseas submissions are welcome. Stories previously published in other languages may be submitted in English translation for first English language publication.

Please follow standard manuscript formatting and submission conventions: ie, double-spaced, with 1” margins, and the name of the story on each page. No simultaneous or multiple submissions. Word count is open, but the ideal range is 4,000-10,000 words. Payment will be 5 cents a word for non-exclusive world anthology rights, on publication, along with 2 author’s copies.

Any questions? Write us at

The near future

This weekend I’ll be reading with Cat Valente at Suspect Thoughts Books at 4903 Clarke Avenue in Cleveland.  Looking forward to a trip up there.  If you’re around the area, stop in and say hi.

On Saturday, April 26th at 3 PM, I’ll be hanging out at Barnes and Noble in Boardman, Ohio with poets, Philip Brady, William Greenway and Nin Andrews.  These are three of our local poets here in Youngstown, two of which teach at YSU in the English department, all of which are fabulous wordsmiths.  Come buy a book of their poetry, have it signed, take their words home and read curled up with coffee, tea or whiskey, or some combination of the above.

I’ll also be in Columbus for the Ohioana Book Festival on May 10th. I get to meet the governor or his wife, or both maybe?  And to go to the governor’s mansion.  I get to bring one person with me.  I wish it were two, but maybe I’ll have to somehow get myself invited again in the future so I can bring various people I know and love who would like to say they have been a guest at the governor’s mansion in Ohio.  (“And all because of my son the novelist,” would be how my mother would finish that statement, as she rides around town on the back of a convertible speaking through a megaphone.)

And then of course at the end of May I’ll be at Wiscon, hosting the karaoke party and getting my groove on (at least on Friday night.)

Good Things

It’s so sunny out today, I walked to the post office to mail my taxes out, then stopped in at a cafe where a bar tender convinced me to drink a very fruity drink with her to celebrate the sunniness.  It had seven different kinds of alcohol in it.  Good thing I was walking.

Last Friday I was offered a job as a full time fiction writing instructor at Youngstown State University.  I accepted the position happily, happily, and celebrated all weekend long.

I’m catching up with grading.  One more stack of essays to go and I’ll be free again.  At least for a couple of weeks.

Did I mention it’s really sunny out?  I’m going to keep coming back around to that, I think, all day long.

Politics at Tin House

Tin House is putting together another interesting issue for this coming fall.  If you’ve got stories involving political trends, you might try them out there:

Fall, 2008, the Tin House Political Issue

We are now reading for forward-looking political writing. Emphasis on forward-thinking, projections of trends and counter trends (no utopias or dystopias). With nonfiction, we are NOT looking for rehashes of old issues, but for fresh ideas. Solutions versus deconstruction. With fiction, we are open to exploration of history if it illuminates the present political condition and the implications for the future.

The deadline is June 1, but the issue will fill quickly, so please don’t wait.

The rest of their general guidelines can be found by clicking here.

Close Encounters

When I woke up this morning and opened the door of my bedroom, my kittens weren’t waiting right there at my feet, which they usually are doing. Yeah, they’re that cute. I stood there, worrying for a moment that something had happened to them, but in the next moment a very frightened bird soared down the hallway, passed me standing in the doorway, and smashed itself against the leaded glass windows at the end of the hall. The kittens then came barreling down the hall in chase. Ah, I thought, well that’s one mystery solved. Now I didn’t have to worry about them, but this bird, which was flapping around on the landing of the stairway now, between the first and second floors. I went down the stairs as it flew down to the first floor, opened the front door for it, but it got scared and flew back up to the second floor. The kittens ran up the stairs after. They were running on pure instinct and that thing we all love–the energy that comes from life being disturbed by something different happening. I went upstairs again, where the bird was perched on the edge of the painting of the buddha I bought on Khao Sahn Road in Bangkok, opened a window at the end of the hall, put on a pair of gloves, and hoped that the thing would let me guide it to the window. What I discovered is that it let me put my hands around its little body and pick it up altogether. It was scared, I could tell, breathing heavy, cocking its head back to look at me and hoping that I wouldn’t destroy it. It dug its talons into the gloves, but not deeply, only to get something to push off from if it had to do that. I carried it down the hall and to the open window, where I sat it down on the brick ledge outside, where it sat, and looked back at me for a long while, and I kept looking at it too. I kept waiting for it to take off, to get the hell out of Dodge, but it was calm now, out in the air, and just wanted to look back at where it had come out of and at me. I went to get my camera, wanting to capture the moment, because it felt like that–that we’d “had a moment” as they say, me and this bird–but when I came back, it was gone, just like these things always happen in a story. And I still don’t know how it found its way inside to liven up my morning. And now the kittens are moping.