The Writing Life in Cleveland

Before I moved to the Cleveland area, everything I knew about the city came from The Drew Carey Show. I also knew about Jacobs Field from my baseball addiction but – living in California – even that was not strong enough incentive to visit.

Now here we are. I heard Cleveland jokes before in passing but now it feels like the city is the punchline to every joke. Last year, I went to a play in Columbus that made a joke about Cleveland. Even the archetypal, boring, Midwestern city of Columbus makes fun of its neighbor.

What’s most disheartening, though, is the chip on the shoulder of those who’ve lived here for a long time.

I’ve been to two big events now – one for communicators in the business world and one for writers – and at both, speakers talked about what Cleveland had to offer in terms of business leaders and the creative arts. But the tone of the speakers was not bragging. It was more like justifying and whining.

The idea that Cleveland is a “loser city” seems to be as ingrained in Clevelanders as it is in those who couldn’t find Ohio on a map.

The Lit: Cleveland's Literary Center

Cleveland is the eternal Jan Brady.

But there is no reason for this. Yes, Cleveland often ranks number 1 on the so-called “misery index” of places to live. But I’ve lived in many cities in many states and, let me tell you, there is plenty of misery to go around.

Coming from the outside, I knew what out-of-staters thought about Cleveland. I didn’t know that the residents believed it as well.

I went to a great event the other night, The Lantern Awards, held by The Lit, Cleveland’s Literary Center. This inaugural event celebrated the best writing in northeast Ohio. It was wonderful to see so many writers celebrating their own work and that of their writing community. I am anxious to become part of it.

But I was somewhat letdown.  In their acceptance speeches, winners would often say something to the effect, “See, we have good writing here! We’re a real city, too, with real art!”

Sometimes the lady doth protest too much. Better to show the world, and ourselves, what Cleveland has to offer rather than try to convince them.

In essence: Show, Don’t tell.

P.S. Check out these Cleveland area writers, all winners of a Lantern Award. At the event, I was happy to be able to tell Thrity Umrigar how much I enjoyed her novel, The Weight of Heaven. A lifetime achievement award for Harvey Pekar, who passed away in July, was accepted by his wife, Joyce Brabner. Interesting to see her in person after watching American Splendor so many times.

8 thoughts on “The Writing Life in Cleveland

  1. Hi Jen,
    I’m originally from PA – went to college in Ohio, lived in Alliiance, Ohio, did some college partying in Cleveland. I agree that Cleveland gets a bad rap, and I don’t get it. My husband and I (he’s a native NJ boy) enjoy spending time in Ohio when we come back home. So, keep spreading the good news about the Buckeye State!

  2. Allow me to be an exception to the “Clevelanders don’t like Cleveland, either” rule. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I love it. I’m also a writer, but one very new to trying to do it as a career. I’ll admit I don’t have much experience in what Cleveland has to offer on that front, but I’m hopeful!

    How long ago did you come to Cleveland?

  3. Hi Josh! I’ve been here almost 2 1/2 years, was in Columbus for about 1 1/2 years before there. This post was written about 2 years ago and I’m happy to say I’ve really found the writing world here very welcoming and encouraging. Thanks for subscribing to the blog. What do you write?

    • Yeah, I noticed the date on the entry after I commented.

      I write all sorts of things, and right now I’m trying to figure out on what to focus. I had thought my area was fiction, but after writing a thesis last semester I realized that writing itself is the thing about which I’m really passionate. I’ve also done some food writing for a blog in the past.

      Other than some freelance prospects and something I’m working on with a graphic designer friend of mine, my biggest project at the moment is my blog Burning River Writing, about trying to make it as a writer in Cleveland. (It’s only one entry old at the moment…)

      I only just found your blog, and haven’t been able to spend as much time exploring as I hope to. What do you write?

      • I write almost exclusively fiction (some screenplays too but nothing has come from them). Here’s some info:

        My first book – a collection of short stories – was just published in February by a medium-size press out of North Carolina. It’s been thrilling.

        I’ll be joining a bunch of other Cleveland area authors at the Loganberry Book’s Author Alley next Sat in Shaker Heights. Come by if you can!

        Please give me the link to your blog, I’d love to follow it….

      • What would you say has impeded your screenplays? Has it been a matter of getting them into the right hands?

        I’m partway through Welcome, Anybody (24% according to my Kindle). I’m loving it so far!

        I think I can make it to Author’s Alley. That sounds really neat.

        My blog is at — thanks for checking it out!

  4. Thanks for the kind words – I’m glad you are enjoying it! I like your blog. Good feel. Rememer, a writer writes. Period. That’s the definition of a writer, whether or not you get paid.

    I look at it this way – You can’t control anything but your writing, so keep your eye on that. Anything else is gravy!

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