Lit Youngstown began with Karen Schubert convening a conversation with a dozen community members around a table at Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts in January, 2015. Co-founders Karen and Liz Hill built a team that has engaged thousands of people through workshops, reading series, conferences, public art projects and community events. The Lit community continues to grow with nearly 2,000 e-newsletter subscribers, 2,600 followers on Facebook, 2,000 on Twitter, 700 on Instagram and 200 on YouTube.
Our major programs include a monthly reading series featuring local and regional authors and an open mic; the annual Fall Literary Festival, bringing highly awarded writers to Youngstown; the Winter Writing Camp, a multi-generational day of writing activities with teaching artists from the region; and online and in-person workshops on many aspects of writing and publishing, taught by experienced writers.
We have partnered with many community organizations; most memorably, the National Council of Negro Women Youngstown Chapter on an oral history project culminating in the book Phenomenal Women: Twelve Youngstown Stories, featuring Youngstown women between the ages of 64 and 101. In conjunction with literary-visual art project Words Made Visible, we stamped excerpts of poems into sidewalk squares on Walnut St. downtown. We partnered with the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County on an NEA Big Read grant, and coordinated dozens of events throughout the City relating to the novel Into the Beautiful North, including a visit from author Luis Alberto Urrea. With the Hopewell Theatre, we presented a staged performance of the poetry and prose of Walt Whitman.
Our community presence broadened in 2020-2021 with the Andrews Ave. Memory Mural. Under the guidance of YSU painting professor Dragana Crnjak, students conceptualized and installed impressionist images of memories sent to us by community members.
Lit Youngstown introduced more programming focused on youth in 2020, including writing with teens at Akron Children’s Hospital and hosting monthly teen writing workshops. During the Pandemic we adapted much of our programming to an online format, including the 2020 Fall Literary Festival. Additionally, we hosted New Book News readings for authors of books released during the pandemic. The archived readings have thousands of views on our YouTube channel.
To help provide enrichment to area children, we purchased books for nearly 1000 kids enrolled in Alta Head Start and YSU Project Pass. In 2021, Outreach Coordinator Cassandra Lawton developed and led a workshop with cancer survivors at Yellow Brick Place.
An Ohio Arts Council Arts Resiliency Grant Special Community Projects award in 2022 allowed us to host three artists-in-residency. Quartez Harris and Mike Geither of Cleveland and Manuel Iris of Cincinnati visited schools, led readings, talk and workshops, and were key participants in a Black history tour, theater stakeholders roundtable and Hispanic cultural celebration, respectively.
Our creative team continues to explore ways to serve and engage residents of the Mahoning Valley and readers and writers everywhere.