NEA Big Read Book Talk, Potluck & Stories Sept. 17

urrea_northWe are so excited to invite you to the official kick-off of our NEA Big Read! Many thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown for being wonderful hosts. Please bring a food or drink to share, and join us at this free event. If you haven’t yet read the book, don’t worry. If you have, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

We are thrilled to welcome the Wick Poetry Center to talk about some of their incredible work in the community, using poetry to create bridges of understanding. And profound thank you to our international friends for sharing their stories.

An Evening of Immigrant Narratives

Tues. Sept. 17 Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown 1105 Elm St.

5:30 Food for Thought Book discussion, Into the Beautiful North (please note the change of date & time from our usual book discussion arrangements)
6:30 Ethnic foods potluck (please bring a dish or drink to share)
7:00 Traveling Stanzas Writing Across Borders, Wick Poetry Center
8:00 Youngstown Immigrant Narratives: Violeta Aguirre, Mia Catherine Allonby, Lidia Cornelio & Ana Marie Wetzl

October First Wednesday Features Cleveland Writers

Hope to see you at our October reading, featuring E.F. Schraeder & Michelle R. Smith. Wednesday October 2 at 7:00 at the Soap Gallery, 117 S.Champion St. Open mic to follow, emceed by Christopher Lesko. In honor of World Farm Animals Day, we invite you to bring a vegan food to share if you feel so inspired.



Ethicist, poet, and speculative fiction writer E. F. Schraeder holds an interdisciplinary doctorate emphasizing applied ethics and social justice issues. Dr. Schraeder has taught widely in gender studies, humanities, and philosophy, and has also worked in the nonprofit sector, fundraising for grassroots organizations. Schraeder serves as a sometimes-contributing editor at an animal advocacy webcomic and facilitates writing workshops.

Michelle R. Smith is a writer, educator, cultural facilitator, and niche writing entrepreneur. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals, anthologies and other venues.

Summer in America

Sarah Davis took a break during her summer internship for Lit Youngstown to be a counselor in the Summer in America program at Youngstown State. We asked her to tell us about her experiences.

Summer in America, a program hosted by Youngstown State University’s International Programs Office, was held from July 12th to August 2nd, 2019 and invited students from other countries to live on campus and experience life in the United States. This year, the program saw an increase in participants from 14 to 68 students and faculty members from China and Taiwan. My time with Summer in America is one that I will truly never forget I got to meet a lot of students who I really connected and became friends with that I will miss dearly.

I moved into YSU’s Kilcawley House just two days before the start of the camp, a bit nervous and filled with a bit of dread because I was still a bit unsure of what to expect from working at the camp for three weeks. My coworker, Devin, and I unpacked and started to make sure the rooms were ready for the students’ arrival just a couple days later. These two days leading up to the students’ arrival were filled with various tasks to ensure that the agenda was set and the program’s events would proceed as planned. Admittedly it was a lot for three people, myself, Devin, and our interim coordinator, Leah, to have on our plates. Nevertheless, everything that needed doing got done and we let no challenge trip us up. Be it going on multiple shopping trips for pillows, or reserving spaces for meals or activities for our massive group, we did everything we could to make sure the camp was ready and welcoming. We very quickly became an unstoppable team, adapting to this new challenge together.

Once the students arrived, my experience changed. My dread disappeared and I wasn’t as unsure, but I was still nervous. From July 12th to 15th we welcomed groups of students as they arrived, some later than intended due to flight delays and cancellations. This meant some late nights for me and Devin, checking in some groups that didn’t get to the campus until after 1 am. Then we had to make sure to get everyone up for breakfast at 8 am. The two of us spent those first few nights busy and tired beyond belief but we had each other’s backs the whole time which made it all so much more doable.

When all the craziness of waiting and checking in had finally passed, that’s when the program had truly begun for all of us. The events were kicking in and we finally had time to actually get to know the participants (the highlight of my experience without a doubt). With each event, I got to spend time with the students and form wonderful new friendships. Our first big activity together was a trip to Niagara Falls. It was the first time I’d ever been and it was even more incredible than I could have imagined. We were up and on the buses bright and early and got back late at night that day. But that wasn’t the only group trip they had planned for us. We also took trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh that gave everyone time to shop and see the sights and highlights of each city. So we got used to spending a lot of time on buses, often sleeping.

Our life in the residence hall became almost routine. Each day was packed with almost back to back activities in the hopes of really letting the participants take advantage of their time here. They got a chance to see what YSU had to offer in each of its departments, along with Youngstown as a whole. And afterwards, each night, we’d go back to Kilcawley House where they all had free time. They would do things like go shopping, swimming, to the REC, or explore downtown. Meanwhile, Devin and I, along with our honorary student worker, Rose, would get to hang out with the participants which meant getting to chat, play games, join them on outings, bake cookies, tie dye shirts, and so many other activities. It was a blast and a wonderful cultural exchange. I feel like I learned almost as much about their cultures as they learned about ours.

An experience like this made me realize how, in no time at all, anything can become routine. For me, it did. Waking up at 7:20 to be ready for breakfast at 8 am. Going to English and American Culture classes. Meals at the dining hall, and those free times in the evenings. The end result was a cultural exchange that I will never forget. I made friends that I have kept in contact with since their return home, even with the 12 hour time difference. The other workers and I miss getting to spend time with them here. But we can all agree that we’ve created memories that we will always hold dear. As much of a learning experience as Summer in America was, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I know the program will only continue to get better from here.


Thoughts on Pursuing an MFA

Sometimes in a workshop or other setting, a writer will bring up the question of the MFA, Master of Fine Arts, in creative writing. It’s a big commitment of time, and often, money, so we asked our intern Sarah Davis to share some thoughts with us about her experience in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA).

One of the questions I’ve received the most while working towards my MFA is “what are you going to do when you finish school.” But for me, it’s not as much about what I’m going to do after as it is with what I’m doing now. I have found great value in pursuing my MFA in creative writing as it has allowed me to expand my craft and knowledge of the creative writing world.

I realized in the middle of my undergrad that creative writing was a major interest of mine and one that I wanted to pursue, so I designed my own creative writing program using the Individualized Curriculum program offered at Youngstown State. With this, I was able to work with my department to create a creative writing major. After graduation I knew I wanted to continue my education and work towards earning my masters and so I applied and was accepted to the NEOMFA program. Thankfully, I was able to secure a graduate assistantship to get me through the program. I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.

At first, I was very intimidated when I entered the program. There were many other students at the time and, admittedly, even though the reality was less scary, I felt like a little fish in a big pond. Right from my first semester I found myself in classes with them where I got to read their work. My incoming class was so small and I immediately felt lost in it all. But as with anything, time and practice made that better. I learned a lot from the instructors and the other students. I don’t know if they knew it, but their confidence was catching, it seemed.

I definitely didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing but I thought my classmates, who had been in the program longer than me, did. This was mainly an issue in classes where we had to workshop or when we talked about submitting our work for publication. All of it was very intimidating. “What if my feedback is wrong?” was one of my biggest concerns. But then came my turn to get feedback and I started to understand the system. Nothing anybody says is gospel. A writer doesn’t have to use every bit of feedback thrown their way, but they can use it to understand how other people view their work. For me, that was the point, during my first semester where the program became less scary. My classmates left me with a round of applause for having made it through my first MFA workshop and I was ready to encounter many more. And that is just a small example of how my MFA program has taught me how to consider my work more carefully. It’s something I’m definitely still no expert at, but am working on. I learned how to take criticism and implement changes as need to improve my writing, even if it means “killing my darlings,” as they say.

I’ve also learned how to be a better reader and offer useful criticism to other writers, something that I was never good at before. When you’re new to critiquing, it can be hard to come up with what to say other than, “this is good,” or “I liked this thing.” But what I had to realize was that just because someone offers a suggestion for someone’s writing, doesn’t mean they’re being mean or insulting the writer. It takes practice but giving constructive feedback is a useful skill that’s meant to help rather than hurt. But the benefit of being in an MFA program is that I got a lot of practice with this and learned how to workshop in a meaningful way.

Not only did I get to practice these skills, but the group of writers I got to spend my time with in the program were also wonderful. Whether we were sharing horror stories of past workshops gone wrong or coordinating carpools for upcoming events or classes, our experiences were often shared. I learned quickly that despite what I’d originally thought, being in the MFA program meant I wasn’t alone in my aspirations and that there were so many others that shared similar interests and were willing to support me.

All in all, I don’t regret my decision to enter an MFA program for a second. It’s a type of program I recommend especially if you can get the funding like I did with my assistantship. Writing is interesting, creative, and freeing. Its range of uses is so wide and depending on what you want to do with it, maybe an MFA doesn’t sound right for you. Maybe it does. That will be up for you to decide.

A Night to Remember

Join us for a truly wonderful evening of sidewalk poetry dedication, elegant dining, great conversation, an incredible reading by George Ella Lyon, our Fall Literary Festival keynote reader, and an open mic. Come for any part and stay as long as you like; all are free and open to the public with the exception of dinner (reservations required by September 15).

4:30-5:30 Behind St. John’s Episcopal Church, 323 Wick Ave. & the corner of Walnut & E. Federal St., downtown Youngstown
Dedication: Words Made Visible Sidewalk Project
6-6:45 Dinner, Hilton DoubleTree Ballroom
7:00 Hilton DoubleTree 2nd Floor Lounge
Reading of NEA Big Read Teen & Open Contest Short Short Fiction Winners
Fall Literary Festival Keynote Reading George Ella Lyon
8:30 Open Mic

At 4:30 we will meet behind St. John’s Episcopal Church to dedicate poetry excerpts stamped into sidewalk squares. The featured poets are David Lee Garrison of Dayton and Jeffrey Murphy of Youngstown. We have purchased a white oak to be planted near the poetry. Poetry stamps were designed and created by Michael Staaf of Steel Valley Signs.

From St. John’s we will walk downtown to Walnut St., outside the Commerce Building, to dedicate poetry-in-sidewalk-squares by Jeanne Bryner of Newton Falls and Laura Grace Weldon of Litchfield. The sidewalk poetry is part of Words Made Visible, a literary-visual art collaboration that received funding from the Ohio Arts Council.
67224313_1397599427045100_5850719895037149184_nFrom the Commerce Building we will walk to the Hilton DoubleTree in the historic Stambaugh Building where we will dine in the 12th floor ballroom. The elegant meal will include avocado Caesar salad,  cheesecake and coffee, and choice of brown sugar bbq salmon or cauliflower-kale pasta. There will be a cash bar in the ballroom. It is not required to register for the Fall Literary Festival to purchase dinner; however, please make reservations by September 15 ($25 per plate).

After dinner, we will meet in the 2nd floor lounge for a reading by the winners of the teen and open Short Short Fiction contests for adults and teens. This contest is a tip of the hat to our Big Read author Luis Alberto Urrea, who, a few years ago, judged the NPR 3-Minute Fiction contest, and read the story of local writer Nin Andrews on the air. This is one of murrea_northany Big Read events. Mr. Urrea will visit Youngstown October 15.

Our keynote reader is highly acclaimed and awarded poet and writer George Ella Lyon. You may have heard of her poetry project Where I’m From, which by now includes entries from all over the world. You can tell she is wonderful, because the picture she sent to us includes her fourth grade teacher. Her books will be for sale at the reading. Please join us in thanking Ohio Humanities for the funding to bring this important writer to the Valley.

george ella lyon

George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015-2016), has published in many genres, including poetry, picture books, novels, short stories, and a memoir. Her poem “Where I’m From” has gone around the world as a writing model. Recent collections include She Let Herself Go (LSU, 2012) and Many-Storied House (University Press of Kentucky, 2013). Lyon makes her living as a freelance writer and teacher. She and her husband, musician and writer Steve Lyon, have two grown sons.

After Ms. Lyon’s reading, we will take a break, replenish our drinks, and begin the open mic. Readers are welcome to read one poem or prose excerpt, two pages maximum.

Please join us! This will be one of the most memorable Lit Youngstown events of the year.


O Autumn Fruitfulness!

September and October are filling up so richly, we’re going to dedicate a square to all that’s going on, between the NEA Big Read (centered around Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea), the Fall Literary Festival, a reading by poet and native Youngstowner Ross Gay, and our usual Lit Yo activities.NEA Big Read

We’ll add to this calendar as pieces come together. All events are free and open to the public with no reservation required, unless otherwise indicated.

This is a partial list of Big Read activities; please visit the calendar of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County for the whole beautiful thing!

*Until August 31. Winners will be announced in September.
Short Short Fiction Contest

*Wed. Sept. 4 7:00 Soap Gallery, 117 S. Champion St.
First Wednesday Series Reading: Clint Elston & Brandon Noel, open mic emceed by Elizabeth Burnette

*Tues. Sept. 10 6:30-8:00 Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts, 34 N. Phelps St.
City Club of the Mahoning Valley, “Separation of Roots and State: Where are They Now?”

Mexican immigration occupies a complex position in U.S. public opinion. Immigration law has oscillated throughout the 20th century between welcoming Mexican immigrants and vehemently rejecting them. What happens to the country they left behind? What about the loved ones unable to make the dangerous trek to America?


  • Violeta Aguirre (Vi)
    Coordinadora del Alcance Comunitario para Hispanos (Hispanic Outreach Coordinator), Catholic Charities
  • Erin Phemester
    Programming and Youth Services Director, Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County


  • Nicole Pettitt, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor / K-12 TESOL Endorsement Coordinator; Chair, Refugee Concerns Interest Section – TESOL, International Department of English, Youngstown State University

*Tues. Sept. 17 First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown 1105 Elm St.
An Evening of Immigrant Narratives
5:30 Food for Thought Book discussion, Into the Beautiful North *(change of date & time!)
6:30 Ethnic foods potluck (please bring a dish or drink to share)
7:00 Traveling Stanzas Writing Across Borders, Wick Poetry Center
8:00 Youngstown Immigrant Narratives: Violeta Aguirre, Mia Catherine Allonby, Lidia Cornelio & Ana Marie Wetzl


*Sat. Sept. 21 3:30 YSU Ward Beecher Planetarium
The Sky We Share
Our constellations mainly come from the Greeks, so why do they have Latin names? And what’s up with those Arabic star names, anyway? In this live presentation of the night sky, we will journey through the stars and explore the different ways they take shape across cultures and the ages. Learn of the importance of the stars for navigation, time-keeping, and storytelling.

*Tues. Oct. 1 7:00 St. John’s Episcopal Church, 323 Wick Ave.
Book discussion, Into the Beautiful North

*Wed. Oct. 2 7:00 Soap Gallery, 117 S. Champion St.
Lit Youngstown First Wednesday Series Reading: EF Schroeder & Michelle Smith, open mic emceed by Christopher Lesko

*Thurs. Oct. 3 6:00 Main Library, 305 Wick Ave.
NEA Big Read Film Series: Magnificent Seven, introduced by Dr. Laura Beadling

*Thurs. Oct. 3 7:00 Downtown Hilton DoubleTree, 44 E. Federal Plaza, 2nd floor lounge
Fall Literary Festival gathering in, registration and conversation

*Fri. Oct. 4 Fall Literary Festival
9:00-4:00 YSU Kilcawley Center registration/fee required
5:00-6:30 Dinner, St. John’s Episcopal Church registration/fee required
7:00-8:30 Reading: Steven Caumo, winner of Lou Yuhasz Memorial Scholarship
Erica Cardwell & Philip Metres, free and open to the publicLiterary Festival Logo Design

*Sat. Oct. 5 Fall Literary Festival
9:00-4:00 YSU Kilcawley Center registration/fee required
4:30 Dedication Words Made Visible sidewalk project
6:00-6:45 Dinner, Downtown Hilton DoubleTree Ballroom registration/fee required
7:00 Reading, winner, short short fiction contest
Keynote George Ella Lyon, free and open to the public

*Mon. Oct. 7 6:30 Casa Ramirez, 1578 Mahoning Ave.
Hands-on demonstration: making sopes
Free with registration

*Wed. Oct. 9 6:00 Main Library, 305 Wick Ave.
NEA Big Read Film Series: Stand and Deliver
(Food for Thought book discussion cancelled)

*Thurs. Oct. 10 5:00-7:00 3rd Floor Maag Library, YSURoss Gay Flyer
Crossings: NEA Big Read YSU Student Art Show Opening
Exhibit Oct. 10-27

*Fri. Oct. 11 7:30 St. John’s Episcopal Church, 323 Wick Ave.
Reading: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts hosts Ross Gay & Jason Harris

*Sun. Oct. 13 2:30 Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane
Staged Reading of Into the Beautiful North
Directed by Denise Sculli

*Tues. Oct. 15 Main Library, 305 Wick Ave.
NEA Big Read author Luis Alberto Urreawysu
Special Guests The Labra Brothers

5:00 -5:45 Book signing
6:00 Reading, Q&A with Dr. Timothy Francisco
This author visit is co-sponsored by WYSU.

*Thurs. Oct. 17 6:00 Main Library, 305 Wick Ave.
NEA Big Read Film Series: The Bronze Screen, introduced by Dr. Laura Beadling
(Third Thursday Writers Circle canceled)

Early Bird Starts to Pack

Many of you have heard the call of the early bird, not for worms, but for the affordable registration rate of only 40 bucks at the Fall Literary Festival, for two days of fantastic readings, craft talks and panel discussions and book fair. But, alas, the early bird is packing up, her tiny calendar marked “fly” on July 31.

Literary Festival Logo Design

Many of you told us you’d expect to pay a lot more, but you know where our heart is: keeping it real for our folks in the Valley. Those of you who have a bit of extra have been generous in making gifts to support our work. Thank you.

If you’re a writer, be sure to get in on this. If you’re a reader, look it over. The quality of writers coming in, the eight featured writers and fifty presenters from the Valley, region, and throughout the Eastern U.S., is something we’re proud to crow about.

With sponsors like this, you know we’re in good company. Please join us in thanking them: the Nathalie & James Andrews Foundation, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Nancy Beeghly, Marion Boyer, Barbara Brothers, the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, Liz Hill, the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, Purple Cat, St. John’s Episcopal Church,  Sojourn to the Past, the Youngstown Foundation, Youngstown State University College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Youngstown State University English Department, Youngstown State University Women & Gender Studies

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Scene and Summary Writing Workshop

“Show, Don’t Tell” but also “Less is More”: Using Scene and Summary in Short Story Writing

Most narratives rely on plot to engage readers, and most plots rely on scenes in order to create a solid structure. Scenes can control the pace of a story and introduce character development. However, while scene is very powerful, there is another tool writers can use: summary. Summary can be used in place of scene to accomplish many of the same things, but summary can also be used to influence characters within the story, or the readers themselves.

In this workshop, we will examine several short stories to look for successful examples of using both scene and summary. Writers can bring in their own drafts with the goal of revising them, or will be able to generate drafts.  Writers in this workshop will find their own happy mediums between “show, don’t tell,” and “less is more.”

Meet the teaching artist: Specializing in fiction through the NEOMFA program, Bridgid Cassin has worked as writer and editor for Youngstown State University’s New Frontiers research publication while also serving on the staff of the Jenny literary magazine. She has led workshops for Lit Youngstown, Winter Wheat, and the Hoyt Center for the Arts in Newcastle, PA. Bridgid has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and attended the Juniper Summer Writing Institute in 2018. Bridgid previously earned Master’s in English from St. John’s University, and also completed a certificate in Children’s and YA Literature at YSU.

Using Scene and Summary in Short Story Writing. Teens & Adults. All experience levels welcome. Wednesday, August 14, 7-9:00 p.m., St. John’s Episcopal Church,  323 Wick Ave. Course fee: $15 (pay at workshop). Need-based scholarships are available. Register here: Deadline August 10.