by Melanie Anderson
The best stories of any given place are told by the people who have lived there. They’re the people who breathe its air, who know the best restaurants and the shadiest bars, who can retell stories of haunted places and who can relay the deepest emotions of a city in the face of change.
That’s what’s so special about The Akron Anthology, the latest in a series of city-based anthologies published by Belt Publishing. Previous volumes in the series have focused on other Rust Belt cities, such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, and have attempted to reveal the true stories of these cities by the people who call them home. According to Belt Publishing, “the essays, photographs, and poems that comprise the final product are impassioned, emotional, visceral tales of individual lives lived in places that have been too often overlooked, stereotyped, and misrepresented elsewhere.”
The Akron Anthology takes the same route. It brings together the many diverse voices of Akron to paint a colorful image of the city that many of us call home.
“Like all our city-based anthologies, we aim with this book to offer a nuanced, multifaceted look at life in Akron— one that goes beyond popular narratives of industrial decay and, lately, LeBron James (though we do of course have a LeBron piece in the book)” says Martha Bayne, Senior Editor at Belt.
David Giffels, author of The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt and associate professor of English at the University of Akron, adds that while each of the stories help to piece together a shared experience, each one has its own personal center. This makes the book feel uniquely organic, say Giffels, who wrote the introduction to the anthology.
“No collection of writers can tell a city’s story better than those at the ground level,” says Giffels. “Those stories need to be shared. The essays in this collection each reflect a writer’s unique niche of expertise or experience.”
Stories of Akron are told in moving photographs of daily life, in introspective essays, and in humorous real-life stories which reflect a wide variety of experiences. There are accounts of Akron’s booming immigrant community, of distinctly recognizable Akron features such as the Goodyear Blimp and Archie the Snowman and of colorful characters in a shady Akron bar. The reflections come from a wide range of voices, ranging from budding writers show as Kyle Cochrun, a student in the NEOMFA program at the University of Akron, to well-known voices such as Rita Dove, the former poet-laureate of the United States. The collection also includes a reflection by State Representative Emilia Sykes about finding her way back to Akron.
“There’s a kind of shared experience and landscape that’s gathered here, in tangible and surprising ways,” says Giffels. “Writing like this, having it collected in this way, is vitally important for a sense of community.”
Readers will definitely feel this sense of community as they turn through the pages of The Akron Anthology and find stories and images of the places they know so well. Martha Bayne says, “What sets this book apart is that it is truly a product of Akron, for Akronites and the people who love them.”
Melanie is an aspiring writer with a love for all things literary. Melanie came to Akron almost three years ago and loves learning more about the city by writing about it.