By Zan McQuade

Editor’s Note: Below is the introduction to The Cincinnati Anthology, with essays by Katie Laur, Curtis Sittenfeld, David Falk, Sam LeCure, Michael Wilson, John Curley, Scott Devendorf and others. 


Nestled deep within one of the wings of the Cincinnati Museum Center in Union Terminal, just off of the glowing sunrise of the lobby’s deco dome, is a miniature model of Cincinnati, a moving diorama of the city through various points in its history. The first time I visited, I fell hopelessly in love with the scaled model, its moving parts, the winding pathways and plexiglass windows through which you could spy on the lives of the miniature city below: Crosley Field, the Zoo, Music Hall. I watched as the lights suspended over the city took it from day—with delivery trucks dashing through city streets past warehouses and shops with striped awnings—to night—with windows of the Italianate houses high on the hills glowing golden above the slow lumbering shift of the long-gone trolleys up the Mount Adams incline. I knew that I could stay on the other side of that plexiglass forever, imagining the stories behind each lit window, wondering how those streets may have changed since the model was built, how the people who lived there have changed, what parts of Cincinnati’s history were preserved by the model, what stories could be imagined in its future.

Wouldn’t it be a great thing to try to gather these stories in one place, I thought, to bind them together and send them out into the world for everyone to see? To consider Cincinnati for what existed beyond its stereotype, behind those windows, as a collection of experiences, both good and bad? Wouldn’t that be a thing.

[blocktext align=”left”]I had landed in the midst of a sort of Renaissance, a seismic shift, and I wanted to pin something of this feeling down, etch it into the city’s collective memory, reserving some of what inspired me to move here in the first place.[/blocktext]I moved to Cincinnati for the first time in 2011 (I grew up just north of the city, but hardly knew it then, and spent most of my adult life on the east coast), lured here by the thrum of the city rumbling under the hills, the exciting energy of progress bubbling up from the river basin. I could feel that something was happening here, something I could be a part of; it was what everyone was talking about. I saw a city full of potential and ideas; everyone I met seemed to have a full-time job and a full-time passion project. What was happening was the revitalization of downtown and Over-the-Rhine, restaurants blossoming across the city, breweries and flea markets and music festivals, contentious construction projects and neighborhood battles. I had landed in the midst of a sort of Renaissance, a seismic shift, and I wanted to pin something of this feeling down, etch it into the city’s collective memory, reserving some of what inspired me to move here in the first place.

That is my intent here with the gathered pages you now hold in your hands: to preserve, to etch, to pin.

Much of what you will see in these pages represents the visions of those who have fallen madly in love with the city of Cincinnati, either for the first time or all over again. These are the stories belonging to some of the city’s most legendary citizens, many of those who have passed through one way or another, and many of those who are here to stay. These are the sights of the city that take our breath away: the bridges, the architecture, the ghost signs, the hills, the people we pass on the street corner. These are stories and images both of transition and of immutable sentiments.

The essays in these pages aren’t all love letters; each of us can acknowledge that there are faults and cracks in the facade of this city, some that run deep: vast swaths of vacant buildings that could do with saving, hills that need shoring up, lingering racial and neighborhood tensions that need to be massaged out with a more progressive dialogue. An anthology purporting to represent an entire city would not be a fair assembly of ideas if it didn’t include criticism, or if it didn’t highlight the more challenging parts of living here. I hope that while we’re sitting here in Cincinnati on the precipice of great things, we won’t neglect to consider that every city is born of change, and that we must consider what change is still necessary to make this city as great as we want it to be.

To tell the story of Cincinnati—a story of every life lived here, of every sight seen—would take more than a handful of essays and photographs, but I hope this anthology will serve as a miniature glimpse of some of the great thoughts this city brings about in us, some of the stories it has created through its past and its present. This beautiful and sometimes troubled city that fosters creative endeavors, that makes us acknowledge race and gentrification, that makes us ponder the view of sky and bridge and brick wall and cobbled street, this city that makes us stop and look around at what’s being built and what’s being destroyed, at what potential might be around the corner: this is a great and unique city, and this anthology is a window through which you might view the collective greatness that this city can inspire.

Zan McQuade is the Editor of The Cincinnati Anthology.