The book is available for purchase here: https://beltmag.com/youngstown-anthology
Sinkin’ Down in Youngstown: An Introduction
Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson began reporting Journey to Nowhere, their 1985 work on the new American underclass, in Youngstown, by exploring the ruins with ex-steelworkers and chronicling their hopelessness and despair.
With that book, Maharidge and Williamson declared Youngstown dead. Industry built the city, and industry buried it. This became Youngstown’s dominant narrative. It begins in iron and steel, and ends in flames and decay, sometimes with a subplot driven by violent mobsters and corrupt politicians.
Over the past four decades, however, this story has not been told by residents as much as it has been told to them. The people of Youngstown continued to live in and near the city, to work as well as they could. They raised their children to become not just survivors but competitors. In many cases, they raised their children to leave Youngstown, and their children left as best as they could. But there is something magnetic about Youngstown to those of us who once lived there, an invisible pull that is as hard to describe as it is for outsiders to believe.
In these pages, we try.
Don’t be fooled by the cover; this book is not about Youngstown’s industrial past.
Don’t be fooled by the title; this book is not about Youngstown crime or nostalgia.
This is a book about Youngstown experiences, told by the people who lived them.
Our 45 contributors span seven decades in age. Some shout and some whisper. Some make you want to devour an Alberini’s pepperoni roll. There is no definitive Youngstown experience expressed here because there is no definitive Youngstown experience. There are only experiences: love, hardship, hang-ups, defeat, joy, kindness, devotion — you will find all of these and more. This is a book about life as it was, is, and will be lived in the Mahoning Valley.
Our title encompasses the best and the worst representations of our city. The car bomb, once called a “Youngstown tune-up,” is the worst. It was the execution method of choice by mobsters here at one time. It became obsolete when they did. The cookie table, as discussed by author Nikki Trautman Baszynski, is one of the best. The tradition began at the weddings of families too poor to buy wedding cakes. The guests brought cookies instead. This tradition still exists, though Youngstown bakeries often provide the cookies now (as well as scrumptious wedding cakes).
The memories in these pages, however, aren’t all so sweet. Though some of our contributors have made rebuilding the city’s narrative their personal or professional missions, this isn’t a work of boosterism. You may get angry reading this book. In the Mahoning Valley, memory is “a significant source of conflict,” according to Sherry Lee Linkon and John Russo in Steeltown U.S.A.: Work & Memory in Youngstown, a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the city. Since the 1800s, residents have been both proud of their area’s past industrial prominence and consumed with establishing their place within it. Collectively proud of their city but ethnically, racially, and socioeconomically divided, Youngstown residents fought those in power and sometimes one another. As Linkon and Russo remind us, workers were often segregated in the mills. In the 1910s and 20s, for instance, the Irish worked in transportation, the Italians in masonry, and Hungarians and Slovaks in the open hearth. African-Americans worked general labor, often in the dirtiest jobs in the plant. Native-born Americans were supervisors. This ethnic and class segregation existed in the neighborhoods as well, resulting in nothing like a community.
But decades have passed since the mills closed. Through words and images expressed honestly and fearlessly, we find healing—and meaning. This book will do more than relay stories; it will help those of us who consider ourselves part of Youngstown nation understand our past, so we can move thoughtfully into our futures. We also hope to make you smile. (See the original story by Youngstown’s favorite actor, Ed O’Neill.)
Some of our authors are national figures, such as short story writer and novelist Christopher Barzak and the Rust Belt poet Rochelle Hurt. Others are publishing their debut works in this volume. Some stories are told in narrative form, others in verse, essay, illustration, or documentary photography. All are loosely grouped by theme: Loss, Family, Work, Transcendence. You will find snapshots and musings, profiles and history. Again, this is not a book of nostalgia, nor is it a manifesto or a lament. It is a confrontation.
Maharidge and Williamson said they chose Youngstown for their study of the struggles of the 1980s underclass because it typified “the agony of dozens of American cities”– but Youngtown does not exist to be “typical.” Youngstown can teach. It can transcend. This book is for the people of Youngstown, past, present, and future; for their parents and their parents’ parents, for their children and their children’s children, but mostly it is for themselves. It is an examination of memory and conscience, sometimes a celebration, always a mirror. From hard hats to cookie tables, black lungs to football glory, the Valley of our pasts is in these pages. My sweet Jenny, we’re sinkin’ down. It is the only way through.
St. Augustine, Florida
Car Bombs To Cookie Tables: The Youngstown Anthology edited by Jacqueline Marino & Will Miller is available for purchase here: https://beltmag.com/youngstown-anthology