Poet for a weekend, and other literary festival miracles

I am not a poet, though some of my prose has aspirations. However, if writing is about invention–and re-invention–maybe my prose knows something I don’t.

How glorious to reinvent ourselves through our writing, over and over, on the page (or screen). I do find invention the most exciting part of being a fiction writer, blogger, and even a marketing professional–well, second only to the excitement of connecting with likeminded creative folks.

And so, I was in literary heaven at Lit Youngstown’s fifth annual Fall Literary Festival, held on the campus of Youngtown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. (Heaven is in Ohio? Yes, yes it is.)

Remember in-person literary events? I’d almost forgotten that some of my favorite writerly faces can been seen in the literary wild, outside of their confining Zoom boxes. For those of you readers who’ve been around these blog parts for a while, this festival gave the pleasure of meeting several of my Rust Belt interviewees in person for the first time: memoirist and poet Robert Miltner, poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, and novelist Margo Orlando Littell. Also, in small-literary-world news, a writer friend I made while attending a writing retreat in Virginia in the spring made it to the fall conference (hi, Rebe!).

So, what exactly goes down at a literary festival? The “gathering in” night at a downtown art studio included a cookie table, a local tradition. And, not only did I cookie, but I also put on my brave writer pants and read a short piece at the open mic (following maybe some of my best advice for speaking–or singing–in public).

The first full day of the festival, I moderated a craft session on writing memoir; attended a panel discussion on rewriting women into history (take that Jack London–just trust me); attended a poetry discussion on transforming grief into a gift; and took an epistolary poetry workshop. Yes, me, the non-poet. At the risk of total embarrassment, here’s my epistolary poem from the class:

Dear Son,
A hotel bed big enough for the four of us, but it sleeps only me. I could say I wish you were here,
but Youngstown, this place I only discovered when I was no longer young, feels like mine
alone. Here, the people talk like me, the nasal accent that cuts through a crowd. You will love
a campus like this someday, a place that will watch you become a stronger you, tempered
like the steel of this place. Your Youngstown might be Annapolis or College Park or Cambridge.
You know we can't afford the Ivies, right? Do your homework, get a good night's sleep, and know
I love you.
~Mom

One of the coolest aspects of having a literary festival on a college campus is the other arts to be found. A short walk took me to a university art museum that was featuring an installation by artist Diane Samuels. My photos don’t do her work justice, so you’re going to want to check out her site. Here, you see Moby Dick, Romeo and Juliet, and The Overstory–with every word of those texts hand-transcribed on various materials. The quilt-like pieces are gorgeous from afar or up close, where you can read every word.

From the art museum, we then had dinner–pierogi and halushki–at a local, historic stone church, where after, in the sanctuary we heard from a jazz trio before the evening’s creative readings. (See pics above.) From there, I followed the locals to a tiny jazz and blues club where we heard, you guessed it, live jazz and blues–some originals and some covers of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and other sing-alongable songs. And my weekend just kept getting more art-full.

The second day of the conference, I played hooky. It’s true. Rule-following me. Of course, before that I did my duty as part of the planning committee and worked at the book fair (which was a lot of fun!). I also took poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ poetry workshop about writing from family history (one of her best tips: to avoid sentimentality, get very specific and use details sparingly); I’m still working on that poem. And later, I took a poetry workshop on the Golden Shovel form (news-to-me: it has nothing to do with a shovel shape). And then, I played hooky.

Book fair book haul: Don’t miss Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ latest book of poems, A More Perfect Union.

For the several years I’ve been attending this literary festival, everyone’s told me I must make it to the Butler Museum of American Art, a short walk from the conference venue. This time, a couple writer friends and I made it, took the tour, the whole thing. Reader, there was an Edward Hopper. I knew I was in the right place. (Pictured: Edward Hopper’s Pennsylvania Coal Town, William Gropper’s Youngstown Strike, Henry Martin Gasser’s Intersection, Grant Wood’s In the Spring, a name-that-abstract piece I didn’t take a good enough picture of the id card, Peter Maier’s Horse-Power (Ben)–a floor-to-ceiling rendering of a Clydesdale painted on metal–and Alfred Leslie’s High Tea.)

After my fill of American art, I enjoyed dinner (Italian, if you’re keeping track) and literary conversation that alternately had me jotting notes (the TBR pile grows ever taller) and laughing. There again, my idea of heaven. To cap off the final evening of the festival: another reading (at another downtown art gallery), this time by Jan Beatty–raw, real, and revelational! I can’t wait to dive into this one, too.

Huge kudos to Lit Youngstown director Karen Schubert and outreach coordinator Cassandra Lawton, the board, and planning committee folks–for another successful literary festival. It felt like a miracle that was over too soon!

Have you ever been to a literary festival or conference? What were the highlights for you? Did you stay in your literary lane or reinvent yourself in a weekend? Do you enjoy creative readings? What makes a reading memorable for you?

I’ve been terrible about keeping in touch, but I hope you’ll check in here. What are you reading, writing? What authors have moved you, lately? Are you getting out to any in-person activities?

Hankering for Rust Belt author interviews, book reviews, and more? Check out my categories above. I hope you’ll follow me here, if you don’t already, so you never miss a (quite infrequent) post. Thanks! ~Rebecca

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For my ‘hood of humans: a retrospective and a gift

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The Port Clinton, OH, (Walleye capital of the world; don’t give me a hard time on this, MN) Walleye Festival 2018 at night. (Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

Nope, I’m not going to get all weepy on you (and I’m not going anywhere), but I am going to share a few of the coolest things that have come out of my first year, social–as in, social media.

A retrospective as it were (we will miss you, Daily Post.)

But first, a little tongue-in-cheeky lyrical accompaniment–hum along if you can–from “Brotherhood of Man” (a la How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying):

There is a Brotherhood of Man,
A Benevolent Brotherhood of Man,
A noble tie that binds
All human hearts and minds
Into one Brotherhood of Man.

 

I don’t know a lot about brotherhood or business (OK, maybe a little about the business of writing), but I know that noble ties that bind are hard to come by anywhere.

Question: What connects us human readers and writers, really?

Answer: A love of ideas communicated as words, right? Carefully chosen ones–yes, all in the right order. Not the sort of stuff you can dash off between your Dunkin Donuts run and the office (unless you’re Hemingway and D.D. is a bar).

Rarely do I feel more alone in the writing world than I do while pawing my way through my FB feed populated by thousands of “writers” group members. You (and Mark Zuckerberg) don’t need me to tell you that there’s not enough real connecting–or even real socializing–going on, on social media, for writers, readers, or anyone else.

Not so for my WordPress Reader feed. Of course, I’ve taken the time to curate the scads of sites I follow. (If I’ve missed yours, let me know!) But there is, generally, great care and feeding done to the words that make up WP posts. And that care feeds community. So, here’s where I lament the draining of the Community Pool, especially, and and thank the WP editors for making it and the Daily Posts, like this, happen. (Not to worry, though, there is another pool I plan to dip my toes in and hope you might join me there.)

Back to the good care and feeding of our reading/writing community here and everywhere…remember when e-book readers made us fear the end of real books was nigh? In the same way I worried that email would disappear with my foray into social media. My findings: I still email the friends and fam I used to. And, guess what, people–even strangers–still respond to emails, even from bloggers (like this one), who reach out to writers they want to interview. I’m here to say email still works, and stay tuned for an author Q&A with Cinderland memoirist Amy Jo Burns, who will fill us in on her upcoming novel, Shiner!

My final finding in my very unofficial year-long social media study: the heated FB or LinkedIn debate: which is better suited to connecting with other writers and readers. My sense is that the pace of FB is more frenetic, making LinkedIn the place to connect with other communicators of your ilk looking to take the time to consider something more substantial than a jumping pygmy goat. (FB has cornered the goat video market, and that’s OK).

How do you best use social media to meaningfully connect with your fellow communicators?

I’d love to know.

And, as it’s the last day of short story month, I’d love to present a little gift, the latest issue of Flock literary journal (FREE to view online only until June 4), chock full of carefully tended words, all in the right order. Short stories not your thing (wah?)? How about a poem about honey? Art or interviews your bag? This issue’s got that too.

Hope you enjoy.