When I first met Larry Smith in Ohio, he was sporting a Cleveland Browns cap–not an unusual fashion choice for a sports venue or bar, but we were at a literary conference. From this first impression, I could sense two things: the cap wasn’t ironical and Larry was my kind of literary people.
As it turns out, the Ohio-based author, poet, and director of Bottom Dog Press/Bird Dog Publishing and I have much more in common than rooting for the home team. There’s an abiding sense of creative responsibility, a promise to tell our own stories, that comes with hailing from a place like ours. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Larry and I try to make good on that promise. Larry has definitely made good on his.
This National Poetry Month of April, Larry was also gracious enough to take the time to answer over email my questions–about the writing life and what it means to publish poems and stories rooted in place. “There is always some blurring of identity here,” says Larry, “between Larry Smith and Bottom Dog Press.”
Though much of my life is Bottom Dog Press, my life extends beyond that, and Bottom Dog Press is more than I am, too, it’s over 210 books and about 500 authors.
Let’s learn more…
Larry, how did growing up in the Rust Belt, specifically an Ohio mill town, affect your writing sensibilities and choices?
Well, this goes to the heart of it and of myself. You can’t take out of me the Ohio Valley and the working-class world I grew up in. I was nurtured on that life and those values of hard work and character, of family and neighborhood, of just accepting and caring for each other. I write from who I am, and though I worked as a college professor and live in a middle class neighborhood now, I am still that kid getting up to deliver morning papers and watch my father pack his lunch for work on the railroad. Read more
I have to say, I felt a little bit vindicated when reading author Lauren Groff‘s latest interview with Poets & Writers magazine (her short story collection, Florida, was released earlier this year) in which she asserts: “Florida is the biggest joke of all the states. It is the punchline to every other state’s joke.”
That statement, itself, feels like a joke to this Cleveland, Ohio native. A quick recap for the Buckeye State-uninitiated: OH is flyover country; Cleveland is the “Mistake on the Lake”; the home team Cleveland Browns’ last season went 0 and 16. (Yep, it’s a rebuilding year–again.)
Who doesn’t love a “Top” list?
Top 3. Top 10. Top 100. We attach ourselves to the superlative and feel tops–if only for a moment. And that almighty numeral: even an English major gets to feel like a statistician.
So, without further ado…
A Rust Belt Girl Top 3 (according to you)
with related recommended viewing for the new year:
Number 3: A blog is born, my first-ever post, covered my rationale for starting this blog. (Among my reasons: an online search for “female and Rust Belt” turned up rust-colored ladies’ belts for sale by JCPenny.) For those of you who made it to post two, thank you!
Number 2: Life in Lima and more–from Intensity Without Mastery’s Michelle Cole (along with the second installment) featured a collaboration with the photographer and blogger with an honest eye for life and art in the Rust Belt. (Bonus points for pronouncing “Lima” correctly!) Look for more collaborations in the blogosphere in 2018.
(And, drum roll, please…)
Number 1: The big kahuna, the winner of the most views goes to my Interview with award-winning Akron, Ohio, author and journalist David Giffels, who answered all of my pressing questions about his books–including Furnishing Eternity coming out January 2–along with his teaching, his hometown, and even Lebron. Be on the lookout for another conversation right here with David on his latest memoir early in the new year.
Until then, may your days be merry and bright and your New Year’s celebrations be tops…