Category Archives: Outreach

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

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.

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)

Where Sidewalks End

Healthy Community Partnerships:
Where Sidewalks End

Lit Youngstown is proud to be a partner in this Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley initiative that will bring awareness of the intersection of public infrastructure and community health. The project will include photography and community narratives. Visit Where Sidewalks End for more information, including upcoming calls for submissions.