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Bringing the Fire: Neighborhood Voices Anthology Launches

On Saturday, November 14, nearly 100 attendees joined the virtual launch party for Neighborhood Voices, a city-wide writing program and joint project of Cleveland Public Library and Literary Cleveland. The event celebrated the publication of the program’s digital anthology, which features poetry, essays, and memoir pieces penned by 65 writers across the city of Cleveland to honor community, storytelling, neighborhood history and culture, and the art of writing.

“Because of the pandemic, we’re more isolated than ever before,” said Matt Weinkam, Executive Director of Literary Cleveland. “This program was able to do what writing can do—which is engage the community in meaningful work at a tough time, process and reflect on our experiences in this year, and connect us.”

Two men in park playing chess
Photograph by Da’Shaunae Jackson. Photograph featured in the Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland exhibition.

Over the summer, Literary Cleveland and the Library partnered to offer free, online Neighborhood Voices writing workshops across Cleveland. Instructors in six regions throughout the city encouraged participants to write about their experiences in 2020, share what makes their neighborhoods unique, and form a stronger sense of community. Neighborhood Voices complements the Library’s other recent projects that document contemporary life, people, and places in the city: Cleveland 20/20, a community photography project, and the CPL150 Storytelling Project, an oral history project.

“This anthology is a magnificent snapshot of time,” said Aaron Mason, Director of Community Engagement at Cleveland Public Library. “It shines a light on the unique experiences of Clevelanders.”

“For a lot of us, this is our first time being published, so give yourselves a round of applause,” added poet and writer D.L. Ware, an instructor for Neighborhood Voices and the anthology editor. “Now, during COVID-19, the most important thing we can be doing is reading, writing, creating work, and getting out of all this fear. Thank you to all those who are here today.”

Photograph by Diana Hlywiak. Photograph featured in the Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland exhibition.

Following the opening remarks, launch party attendees were separated into breakout rooms to hear readings from some of the anthology contributors based on location and to engage in small-group discussion. Afterward, everyone came together again to hear readings from contributors Jeffrey Bowen, Bruce Checefsky, Danielle Dixon, Joanne Lozar Glenn, Victoria Johnson, and Anita R. Tobin, whose work represents just a fraction of the writing in the anthology.

During the launch event, journalist, writer, teacher, and Neighborhood Voices contributor Charlotte Morgan said this project made her recognize the power of writing about the ordinariness of life. “I learned that when you give people an opportunity to write, those who step up are the people who are destined to step up,” Morgan said. “I always say the twigs await the fire—and there were people in our group who brought the fire.”

Community line dancing outside
Photograph by Bridget Caswell. Photograph featured in the Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland exhibition.

Neighborhood Voices features the work of 65 local writers. In addition to Ware, instructors included Jason Harris, Philip Metres, Darlene Montonaro, Vince Robinson, and Stephanie Ginese. The online anthology is organized into three regions—Southeast, Northeast, and West—to allow readers to explore writing based on neighborhood. All corners of the city are represented in these powerful works to create a layered expression of the voices of Cleveland.

“The pieces in this anthology are beautiful and sad and raw and funny and through them, we see the unique people, places, voices, and sounds that make up our city,” Weinkam said. “We’re so excited to share this with you.”

Read the online anthology at https://voices.cpl.org. A print anthology, made possible thanks to a partnership with Belt Publishing, is expected to be available for sale in the new year.