Lit Youngstown is a literary arts non-profit founded in 2015 by Liz Hill and Karen Schubert. More about Lit Youngstown can be found at its website, here: https://lityoungstown.org/about/
Can you tell us how Lit Youngstown came to be and how its role in the community has evolved?
A few years after I finished my MFA in creative writing at the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts, I was thinking that it would be great to have a monthly reading series and a way for writers to continue to workshop and share new work. I gathered some literary-minded people together to ask them what they thought about the idea. Everyone said yes, and a few wonderful people, Liz Hill and Kris Harrington, worked with me to get started. We added a fantastic board, and thanks to the generosity of the community in time, effort, funds and faith, we continue to thrive.
What kinds of events do you host, and how often? And are they strictly local?
One great thing about the literary arts is that it’s a wide umbrella, and often when people join us, they bring in terrific project ideas that are new for us. Liz’s passion is storytelling, so she created a storytelling night and the Phenomenal Women: Twelve Youngstown Stories book. Those were one-time projects, but the book continues to find new readers, and we have taken it out into the world. In November, I will attend a Women Writer’s conference in Arkansas and will talk about the book on a panel about using the literary arts as a vehicle for outreach to women.
Kris has a love of live theater, so with her help we collaborate each year with Selah Dessert Theater on The Strand Project, a production of original dramatic monologues. The second production, sold out, was in June, and involved a cast of local actors and several local writers.
My passion is poetry, and live readings, so each month we bring in visiting writers (poets, and writers of fiction and non-fiction) from around the region and beyond. We also host writing workshops, like the six-week screenwriting class that’s running now. The author David Giffels will teach a one-day workshop in August about writing from a Midwestern, postindustrial landscape.
Our monthly Writers Circle critique group gives writers a chance to give and offer feedback on new work.
Can you tell us about some events coming up and what makes them unique?
I am pretty chuffed about our upcoming Fall Literary Festival, which will take place on September 30th. We have some incredible writers coming in—talented, experienced and well published, including Denise Duhamel from Florida International University; the poets Margo Taft Stever and Susana H. Case, the editors of a press in the Hudson Valley; historical novelist Robert Olmstead of Ohio Wesleyan, also beloved and wildly talented Valley writers Nin Andrews, Chris Barzak and Kelly Bancroft.
The festival will be our first all-day event, and will feature craft talks, writing workshops, readings, and a panel on publishing. We will also see Kelly Bancroft’s short film that was featured at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It’s important to us that our programming be affordable, so the festival is only $25 for the whole day, which includes a catered lunch from Cultivate Co-op Café and an afternoon cake break featuring sweets by Selah.
There are a lot of literary arts gigs in the region, but not like this festival, I think. I miss the annual James Wright Poetry Festival in Martin’s Ferry, and I borrowed some of the structure from what I loved best about that event.
We had an ekphrastic reading recently, or writing from art. Four poets including you, Arya, read their original work at the YWCA Women’s Artist Show on July 20, and before the reading, the Writers Circle met at the YWCA to read each other’s poetry and short stories and give feedback.
Our next First Wednesday reading at Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts is August 2, and three poets will travel in from Pittsburgh and Ashtabula to read. After the featured readers, Brandon Noel of The Makeshift Poets will emcee an open mic.
Do you collaborate with other organizations, whether near or far? What direction would you like to see Lit Youngstown take in the future?
Yes, we are collaboration enthusiasts. We have had other readings and events at the YWCA, including a fundraiser for their children’s library. We read poems with Purple Cat clients at Joe Gallagher’s Lunch Bucket, taught workshops at the South Side Arts Academy, the Hubbard Library, and have brought readings to the JCC, the Soap Gallery, and the Ward Bakery, as well as neighborhood events.
We have three fall memoir workshops planned at Boardman Library.
And a big project we’re working on now is called Words Made Visible, which will involve collaborations between literary and visual artists. We just had four poetry posters graphically designed, and will soon have the Cranky Pressman in Salem letterpress poems, We’ll also stamp poems into sidewalk squares, and we’ll end with a gallery show at The Soap, featuring poems and work by YSU student visual artists responding to the poems.
A few unique events are also coming up. We’ll be reading modernist poetry at the McDonough during the Salon de Fleurus exhibit, a recreation of Gertrude Stein’s salon. And in October, we’ll read contemporary Scottish poetry at the Highland Fling, Opera Western Reserve’s event at the Soap Gallery, in conjunction with Lucia di Lammermor, their 2017 opera.
I have so many dreams! My ladder-to-the-moon dream is to have a writers’ residency, where writers can come and live and have time to write. Every time a mansion comes up for sale, I can hardly sleep for a few days.
But more immediately, I’ve been thinking about all of the great efforts afoot to raise up children’s literacy in the Valley, to foster a love of reading in kids. I would like to see Lit Youngstown be a partner in that. The love of reading… that’s where we live.
YWCA Women's Art Show-Youngstown