Monthly Archives: February 2016

Our Night at the Museum


Thank you to the McDonough Museum of Art for the quiet and intriguing space to write and imagine. We found the art engaging, and it sparked our poems and stories.



We invite you to be inspired by one of the works below, and send us what you’ve written ( With your permission, we’ll post it by its inspiring piece.

To see more ekphrasis–writing from art–visit Ekphrasis, A Poetry Journal.

Our First Year in Review

Happy Birthday to Lit Youngstown! We had our initial formation meeting just about a year ago. We asked one of our YSU interns,Sam Amazing, to dig around on our Facebook page and blog to discover some highlights of our year. This is Sam’s reflection. 

Hi, everyone! It’s hard to believe, but LitYoungstown is a year old. Since our formation in 2015 we have sponsored or participated in many programs and events in the community. Here’s a look back at them.

We hosted a monthly prose and poetry reading the first Wednesday of every month with a special guest, followed by an open mic. Our hope and plan is to present local writers a chance to have their work heard.

We started on March 4, 2015 with: A reading from the Fallen City Writers Anthology. The Fallen City Writers have been an institution in Youngstown since the beginning of the 1980s. Their 2014 anthology includes work from a myriad of poetry and prose writers who have passed through their doors.

 We ended the 2015 reading series on December 2 with: Three Appalachian women poets. The poets were Jeanne Bryner, Karen Kotrba, and Sherri Saines.

These were both great readings, and there were many great ones in between. Check out our archives and Facebook page for more posts on the individual readings. We have continued our series in 2016 and are booked with great readers through 2017.

We would like to thank Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts  for allowing us the space to hold the readings.

We also offered classes in poetry, prose, storytelling, memoir writing, playwriting, and screenwriting, taught by skilled writers and scholars. Our six-week-long classes were open to writers of all experience levels and we reached nearly a hundred writers in their literary journey. Our past classes are listed here, and you can read some of our student feedback on this blog post.

In July we were participants in YSU’s Summer Festival of the Arts, where we gave away more than 500 tote bags imprinted with the poem Disco, by Diane Borsenik, winner of our Ekphrastic poetry contest. We also hosted a poetry/prose reading and invited the public to write short reflections finishing one of the three phrases: ‘I remember the day when…’; ‘I wish I had the courage to…’; I am most inspired to write when…’.

Things didn’t slow down for us in September, as we took part in Mahoning Avenue Better Blocks where we gave away writing notebooks and a book on writing, and invited the public to create a group story on a giant chalk board and decorate cookies so they could “eat their words.”

Out in the community we’ve co-sponsored readings with the Jewish Community Center, held in the JCC’s art gallery. It was also great pleasure and honor for Lit Youngstown to collaborate with the YWCA on Slice of Life Stories and Dessert. One of the story tellers at the event, Davita Fitzgerald, told a serious story about love and partnership that was also rich with humor. The event helped to raise money for books for the Y’s children’s library. A heartfelt thank you to Flutterby Books Ltd and our donors for supporting the purchase of new books. Read on, young ones! Soon we’ll see you as writers with many stories of your own.

LitYoungstown also sponsored a dramatic monologue writing contest through The Strand Project; we received hundreds of submissions. The only local production of its kind, The Strand Project is a collaboration between Selah Dessert Theatre and Lit Youngstown. It is a selection of original dramatic monologues, each piece revealing something about the speaker: inspirations, bad choices, personality quirks, fears, hopes, regrets, dreams, and secrets. The show will run at Selah Dinner Theater at 130 South Bridge Street in Struthers, OH 44471 for two evenings, June 3 and June 4, 2016. Each performance will be followed by refreshments and a talk back with the production team, cast, and writers who are able to attend.

In Fall 2015, Lit Youngstown ran a successful crowdfunding to raise resources to take our next steps. We are using the donations to bring in more writers, form collaborations between writers and visual artists, begin community outreach writing, and other engaging projects. If you’d like to donate, click here.

LitYoungstown hit the ground at a sprint in 2015, and we have no intention of slowing down in 2016. Let us know if you want to join our newsletter mailing list which is now more than 500 literary folks strong.  Just email us at Thanks for your support. Let’s grow LitYoungstown!



Because It’s Fun!

Why do people take our workshops?



So many reasons. To meet interesting people. To try something new and creative. To become better writers.


“Our instructor really took a lot of time to give critical feedback about the stories that we wrote. He had a lot of good ideas and certainly spent much more time with us than was expected. He encouraged others to share their thoughts about the stories. I felt he was able to help me personally. I have written quite a bit, but mostly related to travel. He helped me connect the dots in the story line. I ended up with a much better story, I believe.”


Who takes our workshops?

prose poetry workshop

People of diverse ages, lives, writing experience.

“Group was friendly and congenial.”


Where are the workshops?

playwrighting workshop

At coffee shops and restaurants, churches, libraries, schools, even a theater. We are grateful for our generous community hosts.

“The location was the perfect environment for a class about writing for the stage. I wouldn’t want it anywhere else.”


How much do the workshops cost?

storytelling workshop

For a six-week course, $25.00; for a one day “short,” $15.00. Our mission is to both keep our programming affordable, and to create economic opportunity for the experienced writers in our region.

What’s in it for you?

“Low key. No pressure. Friendly atmosphere.”

“Positive atmosphere encouraged risk taking. Teaching strategies were solid and deft keeping structure and form clearly defined.”

“The class was structured so that there was no stress about writing or presenting work. It was up to each individual to get as much benefit from the class as desired, i.e. to put in as much effort as one had time and energy for without any pressure to do more. Critiques were positive and encouraging.”

“What I liked least about the class? That it had to end.”


Outsiders, artists, and adventurers: youth dispatches from the rust belt

Lit Youngstown presents Outsiders, artists, and adventurers: youth dispatches from the rust belt: an evening with Chris Jennings, Canfield High School Students & David Giffels.

Typically, our big reading takes place on the first Wednesday of the month, but we are moving this terrific event to MONDAY, March 7, 7:00, Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts, 32 N. Phelps St.

Chris JenningsChris Jennings currently teaches English at Canfield High School where he also advises the journalism program, the student council, and is a Speech & Debate coach. Jennings was a speaker at TEDx Youngstown in 2015 and currently serves on the committee for TEDx Youngstown. Jennings has been teaching for nine years and is currently a resident of downtown Youngstown.

Chris is bringing some of his talented and insightful  Canfield high school students: Marie Messuri, Alec Kan, Carson Markley, Annie Vallas, Chayla Regano, Nick Palermo, Rachel Gobep, British Wagner, Maddy Urig, Lennon Sackela, & Cooper Johnson.


David Giffels is the author of The Hard Way on Purpose (Scribner, 2014), a collection of linked essays about the quirky, hardbitten cultural landscape of America’s Rust Belt.

An assistant professor of English at University of Akron, Giffels teaches creative nonfiction in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program. Giffels’ previous book, All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2008), is a memoir of growing into young fatherhood while trying to reclaim a ramshackle mansion. The book received widespread acclaim, from the New York Times, which described it as “sweet and funny” to the Los Angeles Times, which called it “a truly wonderful book” to Oprah’s O at Home magazine, where it topped the “Fantastic Summer Reads” list.

Giffels is coauthor of Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (SAF Publishing, 2003), and Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron (University of Akron Press, 1998). He was a longtime columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and a contributing commentator and essayist on National Public Radio station WKSU.

His essays appear in the anthology Rust Belt Chic (RBC Publishing, 2012); The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana University Press, 2006); The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier (Random House, 2004); and West Point Market Cookbook (University of Akron Press, 2008).

He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Grantland, Redbook and many other publications. He also was a writer for the MTV series Beavis and Butt-Head.

Giffels’ recent awards include the Cleveland Arts Prize for literature, the Ohioana Book Award, the Associated Press’ “Best News Writer in Ohio” award, and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for general excellence.

JCC Gallery Reading Sun. Feb. 21

Lit Youngstown writers Paula Clarke, Bill Koch & Jordan McNeil will read in the Thomases Family Gallery Sun. Feb. 21 at 3:00, amid an installation of portraits by local artist Charlene Galose. Writers are invited to engage with the paintings, or bring work from other inspirations.

The Jewish Community Center is at 505 Gypsy Lane, across from the Northside Hospital. There is free parking on the east side of the building.

Paula Clarke was a long-time resident of the North Side of Youngstown. She grew up and was nourished in that enlightened environment. Opportunities came along to live in China and Spain for many years, and from those places she has traveled widely and written as she went. Much of her writing explores Eastern ideas. Is life a dream? How do fate and destiny combine to form one’s life? How can we find the silence under everything? Her favorite quote is from Lao Tzu: If I can let go of what I am, I will become what I might be.

Bill Koch was born the last year the Browns were NFL champions. He likes walks on the beach and world peace, and he doesn’t like pina coladas.

Jordan McNeil has been writing for an awfully long time. She recently earned her B.A. in Professional and Technical Writing from Youngstown State University, and is currently enrolled in the NEOMFA program for fiction. She’s the head editor of the online lit mag Jenny Magazine, and has her work previously published in the Penguin Review, Jenny, and The Jambar, YSU’s student newspaper.


Galose 1       Galose_3

Lynn Lurie: an Excerpt from Quick Kills


One of our February featured readers was Lynn Lurie, who read from her novel Quick Kills (Etruscan Press). We asked Lynn for an excerpt, and also for her thoughts about why she chose this piece to read. She is a mentor for Girls Write Now in NYC, and we asked her to tell us a bit about that, as well.

Excerpt from Quick Kills

I am limp in his arms as he rushes me inside. So many stingers the nurses lose count. I hear the sound of their rubber-soled shoes as they move across the linoleum. I am unable to open my eyes. Maybe they closed them the way I have seen in the movies. I want no one to see me, not even when I am dead.

He takes me from the emergency room to my parent’s house. I bend over for the spare key my parents keep under the WELCOME mat and feel how swollen my face is. The Photographer waits on the front stoop while I go inside.

Flickering candles on the dining room table turn the seated guests into shadows that rise and fall across the raised velvet wallpaper. Mother sees me first and gasps.

Hornets, I say slowly. Maybe wasps. My mouth is swollen shut on the left side.

Where were you?

The Photographer, he knew what to do.

Father does not look up from his conversation with the woman to his left.

I was going to tell them he is no savior but the maids were serving dessert.

I’m ok, really, I am. On my way to the stairs I stop at the front door and waive the Photographer on his way.

Mother and Father didn’t even know I was out. I hear the Photographer’s car turn the corner and the last sound I am able to make out before I fall asleep is Mother’s high-pitched giggle, the one she uses when she isn’t amused, then, I hear everyone’s laughter.

For the next year an allergist threads tiny needles beneath the skin on my inner wrist, injecting dozens of allergens. I ask if this is necessary, after all I know what caused it– wasps or hornets—I saw the hive.

Eventually the doctor says I am desensitized.


Tell us about your decision to read the opening.

I always want to ask authors if the first chapters are actually ever the first chapters written? It never is the case with me. The first chapter is such a challenge. It needs to do so many things but it especially needs to be convince me that I have in fact begun and I am committed to the story. I like to read the first chapter of Quick Kills out loud because of how it sounds. The book strives to be about language as much as it is about the story.

Tell us about Girls Write Now.

Girls Write Now in NYC is a writing program for underserved high school girls, who have an ability and desire to write as well as a yearning to become part of a writing community. Girls are paired with a mentor who is woman in the community involved in some sort of writing. Mentees and mentors meet one time  a week during the school year. The girls also attend workshops one Saturday of each month where they are introduced to different kinds of writing and to published authors. The workshops also allow the girls to listen to one another’s ideas and work.  At the end of the year an anthology of their work is published and the girls present a piece to an audience. It is an extraordinary showcase of talent and each year I am awed by them.


Thomas Sabatini Opens the Mic

One of the pleasures of having interns on board is their fresh ideas. Sam recently suggested we videotape our open mic sessions, and invite a reader to offer more reflection on the writing and reading of their piece.

From the January reading, we feature Thomas Sabatini, who also hosted our open mic. Our featured presenter was historian Bill Lawson, who talked to us about Michael McGovern, a poet and ironworker in Youngstown’s early history, whose verse is about the plight of laborers.

We invited Thomas to emcee the open mic, as he is also a historian, and has been working to improve labor conditions of the part-time faculty at YSU.

We asked him some questions about the piece he wrote and read that night.

What inspired you to write the poem you read?

Honestly, I’m not sure I’d call the bit I read a poem, but the occasion for it’s compoSabatinisition was most assuredly the reading of Michael McGovern’s poetry.

Do you feel that poetry was a good fit for the subject matter?

Poetry is an ideal form of expression for labor issues because verse is the language of toil, especially when sung or recited.  Work songs are as old as work.  Word play is often the language of work and those who are good at it are prized coworkers who bring joy to our daily drudgery.  Besides, one cannot compose a 300-page novel while bussing tables or emptying trash cans.  One can easily compose a ditty or a stanza, however.
I think we all know this, but we do not often elevate this to the level of “proper” expression.  And while it may or may not be accurately classified as poetry, this work is creative and often quite good.

Michael McGovern-a poet who wrote on working class issues-solely used the page to raise awareness; while Staughton Lynd not only wrote about working class issues, he is also an activist, and legal champion.  What do you feel is the role of writing in labor issues?

I am not sure that I would agree that McGovern used the page solely to raise awareness because I am not comfortable with the easy opposition between art and activism.  I hear in McGovern’s voice a perspective that was common to workers of the his day, that factory workers were the modern peasantry and owners an industrial aristocracy.  An audience of his fellow workers would have quickly cheered in agreement, I reckon, and this view animated their overtly political work.
I hope I do not seem pedantic on this point because I see it as important:  language, work, and creativity is what makes us human.  The cat sleeping next to me as I write this has a very different orientation to the world around it.  Other animals share language, cooperate, and use tools, but the degree to which we humans objectify our world in language, plan and coordinate our activities, and shape our planet through technology and work is truly on another scale.  We shape our very nature through the societies we create.
The bit that I read at Lit Youngstown’s January 2016 open mic tries to get at this exactly:  work is what we do to survive.  If we are honest in our understanding of the toil that we do to survive, we suddenly see verses of parents, of prostitutes, of neighbors helping each other out, as verses by workers.
The notion that writing about labor is somehow unique or set apart other writing is quite common and probably says something about the politics of the twentieth century.  We often see “labor” as limited to factory production, probably because so much art by and for workers in the last 150 years served the political cause of radical and organized labor.  In the United States, at least, the decline of manufacturing and unions in the last forty years or so, has rendered as anachronistic the idea of worker’s art, even the identity of worker.
So what’s the role of labor writing today?  It is the same as that which defines the best writing at any time or place.  It serves our subjective need to declare our existence and significance.  It develops our capacity for empathy and deepens our understanding of the world.  It is a chronicle of our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows.  But because it talks about the creation of wealth, more than other art, the art of labor chronicles injustice and calls us to action.  “Rich man sitting in the shade / Counting all the money that I ain’t made.”

Here is the text of Thomas’s reading.

Apologia of a Labor Historian

As someone who might be called a labor historian, I feel a bit sheepish.

In some way I stand here as a representative of the portrait historians have painted of workers and their art.

In broad strokes and primary colors,
angular forms,
usually masculinist and white, even when proclaiming
“We Can Win!” or “Black and White, Unite and Fight!”

And it’s mostly in red,
or red, white, and blue —
depending on your politics.

And, to be honest, there is grey,

lots of it —
dull-sooty and

It’s an impressive trick, really. Labor historians have taken all that social realist imagery, all that everyman-heroism, to conjure baseline levels of interest.

I offer, as antidote, this observation.

Almost all of us will work for most of our lives, be that work formally enumerated in the market, or in informal economies.

Is forced labor and impressment not work?
What of children and women toiling
in the family business
or in reproducing tomorrow’s
Bankers or day laborers, venture capitalists or drug dealers
slinging mortgages, 8-balls, and eighths to chip-in for school supplies
or college tuition or whatever marks someone as a person of significance in a
consumer society?

More than concealing so much of the work we do, limiting our understanding of labor to the concerns of unionizable — contracts, wages, seniority, benefits — erases precisely what the industrial workplace has to teach us about being human in our epoch.

Born of an unprecedented ferment of conquest, slavery, empire, and revolution, industrial capitalism combined, engineered, and commodified the world’s labor and resources in fewer than 150 years.

This feat seemed to be governed by a surreal physics.

The deeper the mines went, the taller cities became,
mountains melting into luminous towers.
As communication and transportation technologies collapsed time and space,
the countryside and city grew apart.
Recently imagined differences of nation and race became hulking leviathans
invoking unfathomable material and human destruction.

Workers found themselves cast far from home and as actors in absurdist theaters:

in mines, docks, corporate farms, shop floors,
sorted by every exploitable difference,
pit against each other by the work-process itself
even as they cooperated, on an historically unprecedented scale,
to quite literally remake the world.

The Fortune workers created engineered the very impoverishment of labor as it scripted our fellow actors as nightmarish threats.

Happily, this is not the whole of it.

As machines stole the art from work, workers created art from machine.

Laborers riding the rails from job to job and or spending their live on assembly lines
transmogrified the violent din the train and factory into music,
the harmonica a wailing steam whistle,
the banjo roll a gnashing of pistons,
and Johnny B. Goode took with him, beside the tracks, steel wires, composite
magnets, and copper windings to keep time:
time on his guitar and time for himself.

Herein lies the great dilemma of the Modern. Can we salvage our humanity from the machine?

The world we created — one of unprecedented dislocation and inequality, containing a latent capacity for unprecedented security and cooperation — appears as a menagerie of existential threats from which only obedience to nation and conventional ambition can save us.

Will we fall in line, punch the clock, and bite the backs of each other?
Or will we use our artistic capacity to see ourselves in the Other?
Will we be cowed by the wolf at our door?
Or will we be brave enough to see the world a canvass awaiting all subtle colors and shapes of a future designed, not for profit or personal advantage, but to fulfill human needs?

This is a recording of Thomas reading his piece.


Thomas Sabatini is an historian who has been teaching in colleges and universities since the mid–1990s.  He received his Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Minnesota in 2006.  Throughout his adult life he has been active in the antiwar movement, the movement against police brutality and mass incarceration, and has fought for fairness in the workplace and social equality.  He is currently active in the YSU Adjunct Faculty Association, working to win a union for adjunct faculty at Youngstown State University.