Foreground/Background

Another TIme Magazine feature in the same week, this time down the road from Kinsman to Youngstown, with my friends Deb Weaver (of Youngstown Moxie fame–see blogroll) and Jan Pentz speaking, as well as the mayor, a smart guy.  A good portrait, once again, of people coming at this political dilemma from a variety of angles.  I guess we’ll find out which angle wins for the next four years tonight.

I’ll be glad when the election is settled, but it’s certainly been nice to see the people of this place find some voices in the national media over the past year or two because of all this, and our part in it.  I dare say I wonder if, like it has not been time and again after past elections, there might be some sort of continuing change here and in places like it after this election fades into our background again.

What I heard

What I heard on a walk around my neighborhood tonight:

“Bush said the entire economy’s in danger.  He sayin’ it like it’s our fault.”

“Brother still won’t own up to bein’ a straight-up mofo loser takin’ us down with him.”

“Shit.  We still ain’t ownin’ up to puttin’ the mofo in office either.”

I didn’t put that man in office!”

“You ain’t done nothin’ but complain to me about him either.  Why don’t you go protest or somethin’!?”

“Yeah, I suppose I should do that.”

“Yeah, I suppose I should, too.”

Sighs.

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.

Excuse me, But I’m From Ohio

A really wonderful column in today’s Washington Post about growing up in Ohio, missing Ohio, being annoyed with the rest of the nation’s stereotypes of Ohio (and much of the Midwest in general), being annoyed with oneself for leaving Ohio, and more.

I think the Midwest is a blank spot on the mental maps of many Americans who have no connection to it, blank spots that are filled in with caricatures of people and a lifestyle that is at best quaint and at worst derogatory.  It’s pieces like this that both explain why many Midwesterners have inferiority complexes when placed outside of their places of origins, or why they blather on about how lucky they are to have “gotten out” in order to placate a false idea that others hold that, surely, if there was ever some place in the states to escape from, this is it.

Some favorite paragraphs:

My flashes of insecurity were snuffed out as soon as someone mentioned their parents’ two-hour commutes or used the word “summer” as a verb. What I wonder now, two years out of college, is why so many people in Washington, the adopted home of nobodies from all over the country trying to make names for themselves, are so clueless about the Midwest. Take my boss. He’s a smart guy who has traveled around the world. Yet despite all my jabbering about Ohio, he has asked me more than once about my family back in . . . Iowa.

Of course, I’m not the only Ohioan to have mixed up Brooklyn and the Bronx. But the tendency to write off Midwesterners as a bunch of simpletons strikes me as plain unfair. I recently met a man who drives through Ohio every year on the way from Washington to his summer house in Canada; when he heard where I’m from, he hopped up on his high horse and announced that Ohioans “don’t take risks.” So he hasn’t run into any Evel Knievels there. That’s surprising, I wanted to say, because the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, and it took some gumption — now there’s a word Midwesterners like — to catapult themselves into the sky in their rickety contraptions. Another gutsy Ohioan: John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. And another: Neil Armstrong.

“No, no dreamers in Ohio,” I felt like replying. But my mother would have called that back-talk, so I let good old-fashioned Midwestern manners get the better of me and kept quiet.

Presidential candidates, in their efforts to look like regular folks, are among the chief purveyors of one of the most destructive stereotypes of Midwesterners: the working stiff who can’t work, thanks to the Rust Belt hemorrhaging all those jobs. During a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry set up shop outside a boarded-up building so that photos and television footage would show the city’s “ugly rump,” as the New York Times wrote, rather than the new office building across the street. No hard feelings, senator. The voters of Youngstown understood: It was easier for you to show that Ohioans needed your help if you pretended that they couldn’t help themselves.

I miss Ohio most when I hear other transplanted Midwesterners belittle their parents for being intimidated by subways that they have no occasion to ride, or mock the suburbs that seemed pretty great when they were running through sprinklers in their big backyards, or dump on cornfields and cows, especially when most of them spent their childhoods not on tractors but in minivans. But of course, I too have sinned by leaving Ohio, and there are days when I feel downright traitorous for having done so.

Read the whole article by clicking here.

Oakland Center Open House

The Oakland Center for the Arts announces its Second Annual Free Open House and Season preview Party on Saturday, August 23, from 6-9 pm. Festivities will be held at the theater, 220 W. Boardman St. in downtown Youngstown. Free parking surrounds the theater.

Guests are invited to mingle with Oakland board members, volunteers, and performers in the Star Gallery. Free food and beverages will be served. Posters from the past 22 years of Oakland productions will decorate the gallery, and photos of past productions and performers will also be available for viewing.

A free performance highlighting the play selections of the 2008-2009 Season will be presented at 7:30 pm. Host Ellen Licitra will narrate the show, which will include performances from Night of the Living Dead, How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas, Bug, Reefer Madness, and Rabbit Hole.

Oakland Season Flexpasses will be available for sale. There is no charge to attend the event. The Open House and Season Preview is the Oakland’s way of saying thanks to all its patrons, past and present. If you’re a loyal Oakland fan or just curious to find out what the buzz is all about, stop by the Oakland on August 23 for a night of friends and fun.

Call 330.718.5515, visit myspace.com/oaklandcenter, or email oaklandopenmic@gmail.com for more information.

Perspectives on class

A great new website from YSU’s own Sherry Linkon, including this new blog in its contents: Working Class Perspectives. If you’re at all interested in understanding class in America, Sherry Linkon has been one of the leaders in academia on this subject for years now. As the blog editor, she has gathered together an impressive list of contributors.

From a university update I received just today:

The new website, Working–Class Perspectives , will include a blog, links to recent news stories and information on how Center affiliates can help journalists contact real people to get the story right, said Sherry Linkon, co–director of the CWCS.

“With all of the attention focused on the working class in this year’s election, and the complex nature of working–class culture, we knew it was time to join the discussion,” Linkon said.

John Russo, the other co–director of the CWCS, said the Center’s affiliates have been monitoring how the media has been covering the working class. “So much of the coverage of working class reduces these people to little more than a simple phrase. We believe we can help journalists by sharing our insights and by helping reporters find real people to talk to,” Russo said.

The blog, “Working–Class Perspectives,” will feature weekly commentaries about politics, the economy, the media, education and other issues.

The inaugural entry of Working–Class Perspectives finally offers a clear definition of who are the working class today, Linkon said. “It”s not just blue–collar workers,” she said.

Russo said the Center has been engaged in research about working–class voters, labor issues, economic change and a variety of other topics for more than 10 years. “We want to share this expertise,” he said.

The Center for Working–Class Studies at YSU was the first interdisciplinary academic center in the country devoted to understanding and making visible working–class culture. Its 13 faculty affiliates teach, conduct research, and work with community organizations on a wide variety of topics.

Sounds like a necessary contribution to the internet. I myself am looking forward to reading the information and perspectives that the site promises. If any Wiscon readers concerned with class are reading this, you might be too.

Locus Interview

The good folks at Locus Magazine are offering a deal for the latest issue, which features an interview with yours truly talking about everything from my first novel to my second novel, from Youngstown to Japan.  Order the issue with the full interview in Locus postage free (a savings of $3.00) or completely free with a subscription! To receive this special deal, click here.

Youngstown: Descent into Darkness

My friend Deb over at Youngstown Moxie found this great photography project on rustbelt cities created by freelance photojournalist Sean Posey of San Francisco. His family left Youngstown in the 80s and now he’s putting together a fine art/documentary project that will look at Youngstown and other areas of Michigan and Pennsylvania as it considers the rustbelt and the effects of de-industrialization on these communities. I love the slide show (the images of disintegration, decay, nature reclaiming a once settled and extremely populated region, the abandonment left in the wake of the 80s, are the sort of images I tried to collect through words when my characters Adam and Jamie come into Youngstown toward the end of One for Sorrow–and by the way, for readers of the book, the photo of the church in this slide show is the church that Adam and Jamie squat in when they reach town) and the Bruce Springsteen song is a perfect match for background music. But I’ll just crib from Deb and you can follow the link to the site to see for yourself. Thanks for finding it Deb!

Odd how things work around here. A friend of mine sent me a link to a slide show created by Sean Posey and as I was looking through the photos I recognized a church that another friend of mine, Chris Barzak, had written about in his book One for Sorrow. The church is located by YSU and I’m told that it is was the first church in the area. It is in poor condition and I would love to see the building saved. However, that is a story for another day.

I want to share with you the slide show that depicts our ruins in all of their glory. In the decay there is much beauty. I,for one, believe that by looking and perceiving the ruins through a lens of creativity, new birth will come to Youngstown. Not only has Sean Posey captured the beauty of the place, but he has somehow managed to imbue his photos with the emotional strength and courage of the people who reside here though people are are not his subjects, and are not within the frames of the photographs. Click here to view the show.

I’ll be judging. Just call me Tyra.

On Saturday, June 14, the latest incarnation of the Oakland Center for the Arts popular Fundraising is a Drag event will feature Downtown Youngstown’s first drag pageant!

The show begins at 8 p.m.. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 7 p.m.. Attendees may bid on items in the fabulous Chinese Auction during this time as well. All winners will be announced at the end of the night. All tickets are $15. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

The evening will be hosted by notorious drag diva Starrlet O’Hara and will feature performances from Maxine Factor, Ahrin Starr, Kage Coven, Mary Kate Rockefellar, Buffy Melendres Starr, SuXanadu, Anita Joint, Alecia Sarkis, Jenifer Kuczek and many more. The panel of judges for the event will include a dazzling array of local celebrities and Ytown A-listers.

Five contestants will compete for the title of the Oakland’s Next Top Drag Queen and prize package that includes a $200 gift certificate from Jaci Clark photography, season tickets to the Oakland Center for the Arts, season tickets to The Stage open mic night, a complete drag makeover, and the most coveted prize, a guaranteed feature role in the December 2008 Oakland Center production of How The Drag Queen Stole Christmas, directed by Robert Dennick Joki.

The Oakland Center for the Arts is located at 220 West Boardman Street in downtown Youngstown. For tickets, please call the reservation line at 330 746 0404. For more information about the Oakland, visit myspace.com/oaklandcenter.