A Youngstown Anthology

Youngstown State University’s Student Literary Art Association brainstormed the theme for this semester’s Jenny magazine, from the “Eddie Loves Debbie” graffiti that appears all over Youngstown. Photo by Taylor Phillips/The Jambar.
Youngstown State University’s Student Literary Art Association brainstormed the theme for this semester’s Jenny magazine, from the “Eddie Loves Debbie” graffiti that appears all over Youngstown. Photo by Taylor Phillips/The Jambar.

Since fall 2010, Jenny, the online magazine created by Youngstown State University’s Student Literary Arts Association, has welcomed and encouraged students to sharpen their pencils and to take a break from their respective fields of study to submit their most creative and unique clips.

Chris Lettera, an adjunct English professor at YSU, helped turn the idea of the Jenny into a reality in 2010.

“The idea was born out of the shared interests everyone in SLAA had,” Lettera said. “We really, really liked the idea of showcasing other writers’ work and decided to make a lit mag on a whim. We were literally sitting on the back porch of a local bar — maybe eight, 10 of us, hanging out after a meeting — and we asked, ‘Why not make a literary magazine?’”

The name of the magazine was derived from the nickname of the old Jeannette Blast Furnace that was one of two blast furnaces located at Youngstown Iron Sheet and Tube Company. The plant workers from the furnace started to refer to it as “Jenny” and the name stuck.

Lettera said that using the nickname of the blast furnace for the magazine is a way to pay homage towards Youngstown’s industrial past.

“Many of us have parents and/or grandparents who worked in the mills prior to deindustrialization, or at least we’re familiar with the idea of Youngstown as a former steel-making hub and the current perception of Youngstown as a depressed city,” Lettera said. “By publishing poetry, fiction, nonfiction and visual art, it was a way for us as young people to prove that Youngstown is still a place where works — of art as opposed to steel in this case — are made.”

Each year, SLAA publishes two editions of Jenny — one in the fall and one in the spring that include categories in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

On Thursday, SLAA members will be debuting a different kind of issue, “Eddie loves Debbie: The Youngstown Anthology,” at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center from 7-9 p.m.

Couri Johnson, President of SLAA, said the theme was chosen because of a synonymous saying written throughout downtown Youngstown.

“We took the name from the ‘Eddie loves Debbie’ graffiti that appears all over Youngstown,” she said. “No one knows the exact story behind who wrote it and why, but the people of Youngstown took to it and it’s been written everywhere by many different hands over spans of years.”

Johnson said another reason the organization picked the theme was because the saying was associated with Youngstown as a city, which was also a main component of this semester’s issue.

“Since its inception, it has always been SLAA’s goal to make Jenny an example of the creative force that still exists in Youngstown,” Johnson said. “We chose to do a an all-Youngstown-centered theme to show that even though Youngstown has suffered a lot of loss in the past with the steel industry shutting down and the loss of jobs, of people, of places, that we still have a vibrant culture striving to be heard, that we’re still a place where great things can be accomplished.”

Featured authors from the Youngstown area have also submit excerpts from novels they have written as well as short stories they have worked on specifically for the issue.

Bill Soldan, fiction editor for Jenny, said that having featured authors and artists in the magazine shows how far Youngstown natives have gone and that their creativity has had an influence not just only on this area, but also the world.

“We really want people to support the arts more in our community,” Soldan said. “Many people from around the area get published all over the world and hopefully by reading the magazine more people can realize how far Youngstown has come.”

Instead of the usual online issue, SLAA will also be selling hardcopies at the premiere party. Soldan said that he is glad that the organization decided to sell a hardcopy this semester.

“This is something new we are trying,” Soldan said. “We are publishing samples online instead of usually putting the whole issue online. That way, more people will hopefully want to buy the hardcopy.”

Although the students keep thinking of ways to better their publication, the staff will always be brainstorming ideas for what is next.

Johnson said that one of the main goal of Jenny is for students to be able to express themselves and create stories that will intrigue an audience and also help them develop skills for their future in writing.

“Its nice to have the Jenny because it draws national attention to Youngstown, to YSU, and to the stories we tell here,” Johnson said. “We don’t just publish YSU students, but everyone — authors who already have established names alongside authors who are just starting to write — and people from all over. We’ve even had authors come from as far away as Hawaii to read at our premiere party. It gives Youngstown and the people published within a lot of exposure.”