We asked one of our YSU interns, Sam Amazing, to report on the reading at Suzie’s on Monday March 7. The evening was planned by Chris Jennings, journalism teacher at Canfield High, and his students. They invited author David Giffels to join them because they had been using his book The Hard Way on Purpose, in their studies. Here’s Sam’s reflection. I’d gotten used to the energy of Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts. Like its hotdogs, the energy is a mix of contrasts that somehow work despite themselves. So when I came in, letting the energy wash over me, I was surprised when things felt different.
My first thought was that it was the warm weather, which allowed Suzie’s to open its front windows. But as I looked around for an empty seat, I realized there were many new faces in the restaurant. They were teenagers. Some were eating, most were talking, and some were practicing.
Our featured reader was Chris Jennings, a teacher at Canfield high school who has spoken at TEDX Youngstown, and the teenagers were from his journalism class. It was their youthful energy-some of it nervous-that gave Suzie’s a different spin. Even Karen Schubert and Liz Hill, usually giving off an air of having everything well in hand, were part of that new energy; it was filled with anticipation.
I’m not going to lie, half of me wondered if this might be a disaster, so I added my own nervous energy to the mix. Still, half of me wondered what I was about to see.
Kris Harrington came to the stage to start off the proceedings, and a hush came over Suzie’s. That’s unique in my experience with Lit Youngstown readings; we always have plenty of people attending, but usually there’s a table or two of people who have no idea what’s going on, and continue their conversation. Monday night every face turned to the stage as Chris Jennings stepped behind the microphone.
Chris introduced his students and explained how things were going to go. Over the next two hours—oh yes, it was an epic event—what unfolded was inspirational. Those present, friends and family, heard from a dozen students, Chris Jennings, and David Gifflels, who read from his book The Hard Way on Purpose.
We heard from students about the history, both personal and industrial, of Youngstown. They knew more than I did, and part of me was angry at myself for not knowing more about where I’ve lived all my life. We heard from students about the future of Youngstown, a place with a rich history that needs help to keep it, and the people unable to give up on it, going.
It was clear by what Jennings shared with us at the reading that he cares dearly for Youngstown, its past and its future. It’s also clear that he’s shared his passion for the city and its people with his students. Their program communicated that passion through their writing. For those two hours, we heard stories of grandmothers who worked in steel mills, a debate that provided facts about how Youngstown could survive and statistics to prove it wouldn’t, the misadventures of two girls as they came to love the rust belt more because of the trouble they had seeing it, someone sympathetically telling us why she decided to leave the area for college, the history of polka (oh yeah), and finally a call to arms to save the city. These students showed us Youngstown, soot covered imperfections and all, and asked us to love it anyway, as only a family could.
And in the end, that’s what we at Suzie’s felt like: family.