YSU-Ytown Reading Series

Just a brief announcement that I, along with my assistant Mona Lisi (yes, it’s her real name, and it’s awesome, isn’t it?), have been doing the work to start promoting awareness of a new YSU-Ytown Reading Series, a new monthly event (during the college school year) I’ve created to bridge university activities with the community that hosts the university.  Here’s a look at the who/what/where/when/why of the series.  I hope if you’re in the region, you’ll help spread the word on your own blogs, Facebooks, Myspace sites, or by any other means.  Word of mouth is always good.  But more importantly, I hope to see you at our first event, which will feature Cleveland author Catherynne Valente on October 6th.  And our second reader, David Giffels, from Akron, will be coming in November to read from his memoir, All the Way Home, published by HarperCollins (read this awesome article in the New York Times about him and his new book!). Read ahead to get all the pertinent info, and please friend us on Myspace and Facebook.

Welcome to the new YSU-Ytown Reading Series. Held at 7PM at Cedars Cafe in Downtown Youngstown on the first Monday of the month (September through December and February through April), we will be bringing you authors from the Youngstown/Cleveland/Pittsburgh corridor as well as the rest of the nation (and the world on occasion) hopefully for a long time to come.

And on top of that, after each featured reader, the mic will be open for our local poets and writers to share their words as well. But to do that, we need an audience to make it happen, meaning YOU.

So please check out the blog entries at this site to find out more about our upcoming readers, and pass the word around about this new community series to anyone you think might be interested in listening to and meeting authors, as well as interested in bringing their own words into awareness in our town, Ytown.

As Bukowski wrote, “a poem is a city” Not to mention short stories, novels and memoirs.  Bring your city and make it part of ours.

Our first reader will be Catherynne M. Valente, on October 6th at 7 PM.

Born in the Pacific Northwest in 1979, Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the Orphan’s Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and four books of poetry, Music of a Proto-Suicide, Apocrypha, The Descent of Inanna, and Oracles. She is the winner of the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Spectrum Award. She currently lives in Cleveland with her partner and two dogs.

This is going to be a great new reading series complete with open mic after the featured reader so we hope to see you all there. Come show your support for local writers, and bring your own work to share!

The second reader has been announced! The reading and open mic will be held the first Monday, November 3rd, at 7:00, Cedars Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Youngstown.

Former Beavis and Butt-Head writer David Giffels is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and the author of All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-down House, a memoir about coming of age as a father in a ramshackle mansion reclaimed from termites, belligerent squirrels and decades of neglect. The book will be published May 27, 2008.

He is the co-author of two other books: the rock biography Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (SAF Publishing, 2003), and Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron, a 1998 history of his hometown that is the best-selling title in University of Akron Press history.

His essays appear in The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana University Press, 2006) and The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier (Random House, 2004), and he received a “Notable Essay” citation in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004. He has written the introduction to a West Point Market cookbook, to be published by the University of Akron Press this fall. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

He is a contributing commentator and essayist on National Public Radio station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. In a 16-year career, he has won dozens of journalism awards, including the 2006 national award for commentary from the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. He has been nominated five times for the Pulitzer Prize.

Giffels has bachelor’s degrees in English and mass media and a master’s degree in English/creative writing from the University of Akron. He writes in the former servant’s quarters of a semi-rehabilitated Tudor Revival home in Akron, where he lives with his wife, two children, and a large but uncounted number of bats.

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.)

Got lit?


If you’re in the mood for an evening of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, you should definitely check out next Tuesday’s readings that YSU’s Poetry Center has arranged.  It’s a great line-up.  I’ll be there for sure.  Hope to see some of you locals, as well.

On Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 7:00 PM in the DeBartolo Stadium Club in Stambaugh Stadium, three distinguished NEOMFA faculty,  Neal Chandler, David Hassler, and Varley O’Connor, will read from their works. Books will be available for signing. Please join us in celebrating the work of these fine writers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
7:00 P.M.  DeBartolo Stadium Club in Stambaugh Stadium

NEOMFA Faculty Reading

Varley O’Connor
Varley O’Connor’s newest novel is The Cure, loosely based on her father’s polio as
a child in the 1930s and ’40s. She is also the author of A Company of Three (Algonquin Books, 2003), a novel about the world of theater and acting, and Like China (William Morrow, 1991). Most recently, her short prose has appeared and is forthcoming in The Sun magazine and AWP Writer’s Chronicle. O’Connor is on the faculty of Kent State University.

David Hassler
David Hassler is the author of two books of poems, most recently, Red
Kimono, Yellow Barn, for which he was awarded Ohio Poet of the Year
2006. He has received an Individual Artist Fellowship and an Artists and Communities grant from the Ohio
Arts Council.  His poems and essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Sun, DoubleTake/Points of Entry, Indiana Review, and other journals. He is the Program and Outreach Director for
the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University.

Neal Chandler

Neal Chandler is the Coordinator of Cleveland State University Poetry
Center, where he teaches creative writing. He is the author of
Benediction: A Book of Stories, and a play, Appeal to a Lower Court.
He edits Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. His stories and essays
have appeared in Sunstone, Weber Studies, and Exponent.

Home again

I am back home from New York City, a bit bedraggled but thoroughly enjoyed myself. Saw Aimee Mann in concert, the anniversary reproduction of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming”, Southland Tales, shopped in open air markets, was a guest on the Hour of the Wolf, which you can listen to here, and ate lots and lots of good food. Gave a reading at the KGB Bar last night with Naomi Novik. The place was packed. My friend and colleague from YSU, Phil Brady, was in town and came, so we had another Youngstowner in attendance. Afterwards I had dinner with everyone at an amazing Chinese place nearby. The actress Helen Mirren was there, too. I stared unabashedly once this was brought to my attention. Luckily I was outside the restaurant when that happened, finished with my meal, and could stare through the restaurant window at the second floor at her, without her noticing and feeling like she had a stalker. I barely slept last night, got up at 5 AM this morning to get ready and catch a taxi to the airport in time for my way-too-early flight to Pittsburgh. On the way, my driver made it clear to me over and over that he had only just arrived in America recently, and kept asking me for directions to LaGuardia as he took me further and further out of the city. On one exit he asked if it said LaGuardia. I was totally out of it and sort of looked up and said yes anyway, even though after we passed into that exit and into a tunnel I immediately wasn’t sure if I had just said yes as an automatic response or if the sign really had said LaGuardia. Getting ready to go into another entrance ramp lane, he pulled up beside another cabbie, rolled down his window, and said in a hysterical voice, “LaGuardia!? LaGuardia!?” and the other driver looked back at him in puzzlement, concern and panic, shaking his hand as he drove, a gesture that said, “I don’t know what the hell you’re saying!” I rolled down my window at that point and said, “Which exit is LaGuardia?” and he told the other driver to follow him. It was the most ridiculous taxi ride I have ever experienced outside of Tijuana and Bangkok. New York, oh, New York, how the mighty have fallen.

My eyes are dry and puffy from lack of sleep. I have a cough that came with a cold two weeks ago, but didn’t leave when the cold left. My body feels heavy and fatigued. I am going to make tonkatsu for dinner, because tonkatsu makes everything better. Always, always.

Thank you for a great week, New York and its denizens. I hope everyone has a great holiday season. Now I’m off to settle down into bed for a cold winter’s night.

The Truest, Realest Gifts

Something terrible happened in a community near to my little town twenty-two years ago. A twelve year old was murdered in a horrible, senseless way. He was biking to a Boy Scout meeting through a shortcut in the woods, was taken by two men who had been watching him, and was tortured to death. I was ten years old when it happened. The news of such a thing happening in a small town in Ohio shook all of the neighboring towns as well, and for a long time parents didn’t let their children out of their sight, not even after the men were captured and imprisoned.

At the time I had not really had any encounter with death, let alone murder, let alone the murder of a child. What happened to twelve year old Raymond Fife was confusing and frightening and changed how I understood the world. It was a much scarier place suddenly. I didn’t understand why anyone would murder another person, let alone a young boy who was just going to a Boy Scout meeting. I remember feeling like I was floating in outer space, and the rest of the world felt really distant below me. My mom could see that I was bothered by what had happened and talked about it with me. I had a thousand questions, most of which she couldn’t answer, even though she tried. I remember being worried about the boy, even though I knew he was dead now. My mom asked me one night if I’d like to pray for Raymond, and talk to God about him, and we did that together. I was worried that he was out there still, but lost maybe, and that someone just needed to bring him home or help him find his way. It doesn’t make any sense why I thought that, but I was ten and it’s how I felt. I was sad about it for a long time, and I don’t think I ever was able to make any sense of it and finally put it away, even though I still hadn’t made any sort of peace with those feelings.

And then when I was in my mid twenties, I lost a friend suddenly. No one took her life, but she died young and suddenly from a reaction to something the doctors were never able to pin down. And suddenly life felt pretty scary again. That realization that death took people suddenly and without any comprehensible reason was stirred up in me again, but I was twenty-four and dealt with that realization in a different way than I was able to when I was ten. Raymond, the boy who was murdered, came back to me soon after my friend Jenna died, and I began to write a story. Not about him, or Jenna, but about what the sudden loss of a person does to the community and people who loved them. How it can make you feel crazy and want to escape something inescapable in this world. Our own mortality.

That story was the seed for my novel One for Sorrow, and I don’t talk about the story behind the story so much. I’ve mentioned in interviews or for introductions to that short story, “Dead Boy Found”, some general details about why I wrote both that story and the novel. But I’ve not named names before, for a couple of reasons. Because the story and novel I wrote weren’t so much about those people, but about how their absence, and the way they were taken from the world, affected me. I wasn’t writing a thinly disguised biographical account of anything, that is. And also because I want my stories and novels to be read on their own merit rather than for any other reason from my personal life that could be attached to them.

But then a local reporter who interviewed me to write an article about the publication of One for Sorrow called me and asked me if I had taken inspiration from anything specific. I was general at first as usual, mentioning that a young boy had been killed in a terrible way when I was young and that a lot of the emotions and thoughts that his death stirred up in me were in this book. And then he asked if it was Raymond Fife, and I said that it was, and he said he had been one of the reporters on that case in the eighties, and had recognized small details in One for Sorrow that reminded him of the case, and that’s why he asked. In his article about the book’s publication, he also mentioned this. I hadn’t thought much of it until today, when I was doing a signing at a local bookstore, and a woman came to my table with a book and said, “I’m Raymond’s mother.” At first I wasn’t sure what to say, and she said, “The little boy who–” and stopped.

I still wasn’t able to come up with any words. Chills ran up and down my spine, and I got up and came around the table and we hugged for a while and said nothing and when we pulled away from each other, it felt like some sort of circle had finally closed for me. She’d brought her family with her, said she’d seen it in the newspaper, and had marked my signing date on her calendar so that she would be sure to come and see me.

I was–I don’t even know the word for how it made me feel. Whatever that feeling is, it feels right and true and makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful in a world that sometimes feels meaningless. So many things have happened since I’ve published this book, in a short amount of time, and I hadn’t expected any of it. Reunions with old friends from high school, long lost family members resurfacing, favorite teachers from my past coming back into my life. And when I met Raymond’s mother and family today, I realized just how much books really can bring people together. I’m not sure if it works this way for every writer, but that’s been my experience of having written and published a book. Everything I expected has happened, but it’s these things that I hadn’t anticipated that have been the truest, realest gifts writing has ever given me. It’s on days like this that I know whatever path it is that I’m walking, it’s taking me to a totally different place than I expected, but it’s the place I need to go.

Schedule Change

Not sure if anyone reading this up around Cleveland was planning on attending my reading/signing at Mac’s Backs in Coventry, but just in case: the date has been changed to September 29th at 5 p.m. due to some scheduling conflicts. Coventry Crawl is also that day, I’m informed, which means a sidewalk sale of all the local businesses, so it sounds like it’ll be a fun day. I’m going to go up earlier than necessary now, just to shop. Coventry has some pretty cool shops. So if you’re around, stop in at Mac’s around five.