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Issue Date: March 2014 Issue


Corner Bard

Akron author David Giffels chronicles Rust Belt life in his new essay collection.
by Barry Goodrich

Where some see the unsightly remnants of urban decay, David Giffels sees an attractive patina of possibility. That’s especially true in his hometown of Akron, where the rubber met the road until names such as Firestone and BFGoodrich became footnotes to a sad story of an industrial implosion.

“We’ve been called dying but haven’t died,” writes Giffels in his new Rust Belt-centric essay collection, The Hard Way on Purpose (Scribner, $15).

“There is desperation for identity in a place that has lost its identity,” says Giffels, a University of Akron English professor and former Akron Beacon Journal columnist. “It’s insecurity in a way, but it’s also a survival instinct.”

We chipped away at the oxidized metal with the six-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, who will read from his book March 20 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Main Library.

  On the Rust belt  
“We shouldn’t be ashamed of being in the Rust Belt. We should embrace it. There’s a negative connotation. … I totally understand people who don’t like it and don’t want to be defined by it. I’m proud of it. You make it part of what you are and where you’ve been. We have a connection to the Rust Belt, thematically and aesthetically.”

  on his inspiration  
“This is one of those books that couldn’t be avoided — it chose me rather than me choosing it. These stories are a part of my daily thinking and conversations. It’s really about getting past the confusion and heartbreak of losing our industries.”

  on akron  
“I’ve lived here and went to high school and college here. I explored downtown Akron when it was at its worst. For my friends and me, it was like a playground with all the old buildings and canals. To me, it was full of possibilities. I like buildings that show a century of soot. They are very rustic and real.”

  on cleveland  
“I have never made that much of a distinction between Akron and Cleveland. The old joke is that it’s 30 minutes from Akron to Cleveland, but it’s two hours from Cleveland to Akron. I don’t know if it’s a rivalry, but it’s a big brother, little brother kind of a thing. I look at Cleveland as an extension of my region.”


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