Cleveland's 2017 Winter Fictionfest kicked off with Susan Petrone leading a discussion with author Doria Mary Russell. Russell shared her insight about the publishing industry and getting started as a writer looking to be published. Afterwards, attendees had a chance to attend two of three workshops hosted by authors D.M. Pulley, Geoff Landis, and Shelly Costa and Casey Daniels.
When the nonprofit Literary Cleveland, whose mission is to create and nurture a vibrant literary arts community in Northeast Ohio, put out a call for immigration stories by Northeast Ohio writers, the group was flooded with responses.
Now many of them – written by immigrants from Syria, Iran, Colombia, Poland, China, Azerbaijan and elsewhere, many of whom are not professional writers but have powerful stories to tell – will be heard in front of a live audience during the upcoming Cleveland Humanities Festival.
Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives, a staged reading of original work, is set for Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th at 7 pm in the Cleveland State University student center ballroom at 2121 Euclid Ave, SC 319. The events are cosponsored by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities and Cleveland State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
The staged reading of short essays, fiction and poems is directed by Marc Moritz, who has assembled a cast of professional actors to perform the pieces. The stories in the show are provocative, moving, heart-wrenching and funny. The authors address the emotional journey of crossing borders, both literal and metaphorical, and what it means to be both an immigrant and an American.
In “Crutches,” Jill Sell writes about her Czech ancestors’ uncertain passage through Ellis Island, which could easily have been rejected. “Food and Family,” a piece by Hathaway Brown student Crystal Zhao, tells the story of a second-generation Chinese immigrant bonding with her mother over stories of childhood rebellion. The poem “Genesis” by Daniel Gray-Kontar addresses the journey of African-Americans from the south to northern cities like Cleveland during the Great Migration.
Additionally, several stories in Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives deal with recent immigration experiences. In the raw “Struggling to Survive,” Syrian immigrant Bayan Aljbawi writes about leaving her troubled homeland for the U.S., an experience she describes as “escaping from one suffering to another: new culture, new country and different language.”
“My husband, my baby and I were lucky,” she concludes. “The only question left is this: What about too many others who did not get a chance to do the same?”
And in “American Promise,” award-winning novelist and Case professor Thrity Umrigar – who immigrated here from India over 30 years ago – confronts the current political climate and asks if the U.S. “will be a country that is as small and narrow as its fears” or “as large and glorious as its dreams, as splendid as the hopes of millions of its citizens, immigrant and native born…?”
Writers featured on Sat. March 18th include Alex Arredondo, Victoria Avi, Baya Aljbawi, Barbara Belovich, Lola Farron, Daniel Gray-Kontar, Susan Grimm, Diane Kendig, Philip Metres, Nazly Pashmini, Maria Perilla, Joelle Reizes, Mary Robles, Jill Sell, Thrity Umrigar and Crystal Zhao.
Writers featured on Sun. March 19th include Amy Breau, Lee Chilcote, Lisa Chiu, Laurel Domanski-Diaz, Elizabeth Figueroa, Jason Jaffery, Ann Klotz, Lara Lillibridge, Philip Metres, Charlotte Morgan, Melanie Rademaker, Viplav Saini, E. F. Schraeder, Nancy Sotka and Thrity Umrigar.
Literary Cleveland’s mission is to create and nurture a vibrant literary arts community in Northeast Ohio. For more information on upcoming events, check out our website at www.litcleveland.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
Thanks to an invitation from Karen Schubert and Liz Hill of Lit Youngstown, Lee Chilcote of Lit Cleveland had the opportunity to speak on a panel about Great Lakes literary arts organizations and how place informs purpose at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington D.C. last week.
The other panelists were David Hassler of the Wick Poetry Center; Kelly Fordon from Lit Detroit; and Janine Hairston from the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. We loved learning what other literary arts centers around the country do, and what lessons we might learn and borrow from them.
Highlights included interacting with leaders from other lit arts centers during the rest of the conference and seeing Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, give a keynote address to a packed house on Thursday night.
Last Thursday, Lit Cleveland had the honor of hosting an open mic in conjunction with The Cleveland Museum of Art’s MIX event. Poet Damien Ware served as emcee as writers of all levels braved the mic and recited original poetry. The event's atmosphere felt like an homage to street culture. Jean Michele Basquiat’s exhibit was free for attendees as the DJ spun music from the likes of Grandmaster Flash, A Tribe Called Quest and The Wu-Tang Clan. The packed audience clearly enjoyed the mix of street culture and poetry partnered with the sophistication of the art world.
Writing about family history is more than creating a tree. It’s about becoming a detective and historian. That was one of the main takeaways of Lit Cleveland’s recent “Writing Your Family History” workshop, held on Sat. Feb. 4th from 10 am – 12 pm at Lake Erie Ink.
Writer Amy Breau shared her story of discovering her Acadian family history. Breau suggested that when researching family history, writers should be sure to pay attention to photo albums and journals as well as legal documents like marriage certificates. She explained that your family history is a narrative and should be treated as such.
Afi Scruggs focused on the history of struggle that so effortlessly intertwines with the individual black experience and how that can affect a person emotionally. Missing documents and the effects of the social climate in America towards blacks can create many unforeseeable problems when researching their history.
Scruggs’ point on researching family history was quite different from Amy Breau’s. Scruggs told the attendees to “go beyond looking for facts” and to “look at society.” She also pointed out how important libel laws are when writing about family history, and that writers need to be cautious in revealing private details.
Mary Helen Petrus closed out the workshop. She highlighted the importance of digging for the truth. She shared how the grandfather she knew growing up was not her biological grandfather. Similar to what Scruggs said, Petrus believes that it is important to try to “fill in the blanks” of what you don’t know about your family while accepting that there are limits to your knowledge.
To create a strong community of readers and writers in Cleveland, Ohio through workshops, classes, readings and other events.