By C. Aileen Blaine
In a small gallery with white walls bearing artwork and scuffed wooden floors home to sculptures, writers and readers will mingle to share their love of books and poetry in this weekend’s Fall Literary Festival.
Karen Schubert, director of Lit Youngstown, said she is excited about the diversity of sessions, topics and experiences shared.
“I’m most looking forward to the convergence of writers and educators and publishers — people who are all really excited about the written word,” she said.
The conference will feature writers from across the country, with some traveling to the Mahoning Valley specifically for the festival. Others will use videoconferencing systems in this year’s hybrid of in-person and virtual sessions.
“All of our presentations are unique, they’re different year-to-year,” Schubert said.
A special recurring event is a poetry reading and writing award in honor of Lou Yuhasz, a Youngstown State University student who died of cancer several years ago. There also will be a multitude of workshops, seminars and readings to get those creative juices flowing. Topics will cover a broad range, from writing children’s books and humorous pieces to understanding Indigenous perspectives and exploring grief in written word.
“I really get a lot of energy from people coming together around this — around these ideas,” Schubert said. “Because when people write, they’re understanding the world, they’re writing about their own experiences … all of those different voices are very distinct.”
Nikki Ericksen, an adjunct English instructor at YSU and children’s literature author, will host a workshop to help writers improve their “worldbuilding” skills within their works.
“I touch on religion, government, geography, irrigation, agriculture and technology, along with many other aspects of worldbuilding,” Ericksen said. “My workshop is intended to help writers nail down details in their world before they need them in their works.”
Chris Dum, a sociology professor at Kent State University, will host a session exploring incarcerated individuals’ experiences and perspectives through their writings.
“Being able to be among people who care so much about literature and writing,” he said, “that’s a cool opportunity, especially for the writers with us, who have been incarcerated.”
Though Dum said his knowledge is more focused in sociology than creative writing, he is excited to discuss his ideas in an open setting.
“The really exciting thing is to be able to talk about [incarcerated voices] with people who are experts about writing — just to hear the perspectives, get some feedback and share this with people,” Dum said.
YSU undergraduate students are free to register for workshops, and the evening readings and receptions are free and open to the public. Sessions will occur at locations in and around downtown Youngstown, such as the St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Soap Gallery, where the festival will conclude.
“[The conference] is really available for all experience levels,” Schubert said. “We have incredible, accomplished writers coming in, and those sessions will be appreciated by both somebody who’s just getting started and somebody who is pretty well along the way.”
If anything else, the conference is a way to socialize after over a year of virtual events.
“It’s so nice to hear what others have been working on,” Ericksen said. “Writers work in solitude so often that sharing with actual people is great.”
For those interested in learning more about workshops and featured authors, or to register, visit www.lityoungstown.org