On the 50th anniversary of the notorious Cuyahoga River Fire, Lit Cleveland placed a call for original work by Cleveland writers addressing the devastating fire and other environmental issues. Over 100 poems, personal essays, plays, and short stories were submitted, and Lit Cleveland's programming committee and staff worked to review, select, and edit the submitted works.
Ultimately, over 20 pieces were chosen for an upcoming staged reading titled "Words On Fire: Remembrance of the Cuyahoga River Fire, 1969." Part of this year's Cleveland Humanities Festival, the free staged reading takes place Sat. 3/16 and Sun. 3/17 at 7pm in CSU's Student Center Ballroom. In anticipation of "Words On Fire," we sat down recently with the show's director, Chennelle Bryant-Harris, for an inside scoop on the show.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what's in store for this performance?
I have always been intrigued by the mythology of Cleveland—there is always a larger-than-life story about this city. So, I wanted to play with the idea of mythological creatures speaking these words. What if the goddesses of the river could speak? What would they say? How would they feel about the development of their body, the river? It will be a celebration! A rally for the river! A thinning of the veil so to speak.
In what ways have the selected works impacted your understanding of the Cuyahoga River Fire?
One thing I noticed in a lot of the pieces is that there seems to be a change in the tide. We are 50 years out from the last fire and the river seems to be headed in the right direction—wildlife is returning and the river is becoming part of the life of the city again. The sentiment of rebirth and reclamation is echoed through the pieces. It parallels the growth of our city.
What are some of the challenges of adapting written pieces for the stage? What is exciting to you about this process?
One of the biggest challenges in adapting written pieces for the stage is the editing process. I truly believe that different art forms are created to be tasted, enjoyed, and discussed differently. The artist's intent with the work is the most important part, so moving, changing, or editing works to fit a into performance was hard for me to do knowing that each word and phrase is chosen for an important reason and with the intent of being read off the page by the audience member directly. I want to honor the work and the words, and also create a dynamic performance piece. On the other hand, all I have as a guide is the text. The world that we will create is not bound by stage directions, characters, or a plot, so the audience has no idea where we are going. And that’s kind of fun!
Anything else you'd like to share about the show?
I hope our audience comes with an open mind, ready to experience these pieces and then go home and read them for themselves. I hear music every time I read them and our performance will encourage a soundscape too.
If you haven't already, register in advance for the free performances here. See you at the show!
"Words On Fire" is presented in partnership with Cleveland State University's English Department and
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University.
Cleveland’s infamous Cuyahoga River Fire in 1969 triggered a lot of change, accelerating the environmental movement in Cleveland and around the U.S. On the 50th anniversary of the fire, 20 creative writers from Northeast Ohio will share their thoughts about that event, with their words performed by three professional actors at the 2019 Cleveland Humanities Festival.
This one-hour staged reading titled: “Words On Fire: A Remembrance of the Cuyahoga River Fire, 1969,” presented by Literary Cleveland, will be held on Saturday, March 16 and Sunday March 17. The performances each night will begin at 7 PM in Cleveland State University’s Student Center Ballroom.
Lit Cleveland's call for submissions garnered more than 100 poems, plays, personal essays, and short stories from writers across Northeast Ohio. The selected works--some urgent and some elegiac--explore various topics including climate change, Hurricane Harvey, humanity’s relationship with nature, California wildfires, the fate of native animals and plants, and some very personal reflections.
The performances promise to be very involving. As director Chennelle Bryant-Harris says, “It’s a unique challenge to craft performances from diverse kinds of writing such as poetry and essay. We’re excited to share these resonant works because the range of emotions they touch on really express what it means to be a Clevelander.”
Christine Howey, Executive Director of Literary Cleveland also notes, "We are thankful to all the writers who shared their perspectives and insights with us, and look forward to collectively exploring a truly life-altering event for Cleveland and the nation."
This free event is made possible with the support of the Baker Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Humanities Festival, and Cleveland State University. Although there is no charge for the performance or the reception afterwards, all attendees are asked to register in advance for the event. The Cleveland State University Student Center is located at 2121 Euclid Avenue.
Contact: Christine Howey, Executive Director, Literary Cleveland, email@example.com.
As great as our instructors are (and they are amazing!), consider how much you can be mentally stimulated by your fellow participants in the classes and workshops we offer.
For example, here’s a rundown of the topics that participants brought with them to work on—in our recent How to Create Creative Nonfiction class with Christopher Johnston:
• An exploration into the art of handmade archery bows.
• A history of drag racing in Cleveland.
• A perspective on changes in religion in Cleveland in the last 50 years.
• Dealing with children that have neurological disabilities.
• Power walking and meditation.
• Gender and social issues from a combined Cleveland/India perspective.
• Chinese gang wars in the 1920s.
• Behind-the-scenes experiences in TV and radio offices in New York City and Cleveland.
• Health aspects of climate change.
• History of transit in Cleveland.
• A look at the #MeToo movement through various age groups.
• Using the wisdom of people to heal racial and economic divides.
Whew! And that’s just one class…full of fascinating, involved, and sharing participants. To join a class yourself, start here. To learn more about the structure and philosophy of our workshops, click here.
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