Lit Youngstown book focuses on 12 ‘Phenomenal’ local women


Staff report

YOUNGSTOWN

The lives of 12 local African-American women are profiled in “Phenomenal Women: Twelve Youngstown Stories.”

The book is the first to be published by Lit Youngstown, which will celebrate its release at a reception Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, 201 Wick Ave. The event, free and open to the public, will include a staged reading of the first-person stories from the book.

“Phenomenal Women” is the result of a collaborative project, partially funded by a grant from the Raymond John Wean Foundation’s Neighborhood SUCCESS Program.

Lit Youngstown interviewed 12 African-American women between the age of 64 and 101 about their lives and memories of Youngstown. The group taped these conversations then worked with student interns from Youngstown State University, Lit Youngstown writers, and the women themselves to create the narratives for the book.

The stories are intended to capture the speaking voices of the women. Six of the women interviewed are members of the Youngstown Section of the National Council of Negro Women, a national service organization founded in 1935 to strengthen and improve the economic and social status of black women and their families.

Tuesday’s reception will include readings of excerpts from the stories, adapted by Kris Harrington and performed by Davita Fitzgerald, Sierra McCorvey and Kim Voeks.

The 12 women interviewed are Estella Bender, Frances Carter, Pamela Collins, Joyce Davidson, Carol Donnelly, June Ewing, Audrey Gillian, Ollie McCurdy, Josephine North, Louise Payne, Mildred Payne and Bobbe Reynolds.

“These women were incredibly generous in telling their wise and moving stories,” said Liz Hill, Lit Youngstown co-director and coordinator of this project. “We asked them to reflect on their lives and to offer advice to the youth of today. They talked openly about their experiences, and it was an honor to work with each of them.”

“The history of African-Americans in Youngstown is largely an unwritten one,” said Sean T. Posey, a historian who wrote the foreword to the book. “The individual voices of these women present a complex and important web of experiences, all of which have the power to illuminate the past and light a path forward for our city.”

The Wean Foundation Neighborhood SUCCESS grant covered the cost of printing 100 books, which will be distributed to schools, libraries and other community groups, as well as photography for the book and creation of a video about the project. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the reception.

“This project was funded because it has all of the ‘right’ ingredients: resident engagement, collaboration, leveraging resources, acknowledging and lifting up the assets of this community, and most importantly, human capital,” said Jennifer Roller, president of The Raymond John Wean Foundation. “The decision of the Resident Council to fund this effort was a good one.”

“Often in the community, I see someone and think, ‘I would love to hear your story,’” said Lit Youngstown founder and co-director Karen Schubert. “I find these narratives so interesting. I hope people will be inspired to seek out stories of those around them.”

For information about purchasing the book, or to RSVP to attend Tuesday’s reception, email lityoungstown@gmail.com or call 330-333-1619.

Lit Youngstown is a nonprofit literary arts organization founded in 2015. It offers programs and events focused on many aspects of the literary arts, including classes, and a monthly prose and poetry reading. For information, go to lityoungstown.org.

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