Andrea Goodman, a junior creative writing major and intern for the Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature, recaps her experiences during the Center’s recent community reading program, Reading the Rust Belt. The Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature at Hiram College, directed by Kirsten Parkinson, Ph.D., professor of English, offers diverse co-curricular experiences for students across all disciplines. Through readings and visits by acclaimed authors, interdisciplinary projects, writing contests, and faculty mentorship the Center encourages students to understand the art of effective expression. Additionally, community reading programs foster connections between Hiram College and the wider community, promoting shared literary exploration.  

Reading the Rust Belt is a community reading program hosted by the Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature intended to build connections and community. This year, the main community reading book was a collection of short stories, American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I had the privilege to eat lunch with Bonnie Jo Campbell and listen to her speak about her book and how she came up with stories as poignant and meaningful as these. The collection of short stories is set in Michigan, but are recognizable from any point in the Rust Belt region.  

The first event I attended was the campus kick-off meant to showcase the history of the Rust Belt area and what the future may look like for the region. The event featured a reading by author Phil Christman, event tables hosted by students, and a cookie table. Christman read from and discussed his book Midwest Futures, which reflected on the past, present, and the future of the Midwest and what the region may need to grow and prosper.  

The student participants from Dr. Kirsten Parkinson’s ENGL 10600: Telling Stories course created short games such as bingo, trivia, and interactive posters for guests to interact with, which all connected to themes of the Rust Belt. One station had a board game similar to Monopoly, but you played as the CEO of a steel factory. You then would pull cards and try to survive, but the game was intentionally rigged so that your factory goes bankrupt no matter the moves you make. This outcome reflected real-world events in the Rust Belt area.  

The cookie table featured ten types of cookies with a short description of the history of cookie tables and the cookies on it. Some classics on the menu were peanut butter blossoms, lady locks, and snowball cookies. Cookie tables are commonly featured at weddings in the Pittsburgh and Youngstown regions, with the practice originating in Italy.

The Reading the Rust Belt kick-off event was an informative and fun experience with a healthy dose of history and learning.  

The second event I attended was a do-it-yourself event at Reed Memorial Library in Ravenna. There, we took leftover containers and cardboard boxes to make desk organizers and decorated them with washi tape, ribbon, and stickers. This event was based on the idea of salvaging something good out of the things we would otherwise throw away. It tied back into the community reading through the theme of finding something useful and meaningful in objects that people discard or think are useless.  

I also attended a reading from Bonnie Jo Campbell herself.  Campbell answered questions about her writing and what inspires her. She mentioned that many of the short stories in her book were framed after fairy tales and were inspired by real people’s experiences. When asked about how she found what to write about, she  told us to let our obsessions  lead us to what we want to write. 

The Rust Belt is a term I hear a lot from my home in West Virginia, but I never thought of myself as actively living there until I read more about it. I learned how the economic struggle I witnessed in West Virginia was centered around coal, while in Ohio it was centered around manufacturing plants and steel production. The community reading program allowed me to further understand the complicated lives of people in the Rust Belt, something I hadn’t considered before, and what their success and failure meant to the nation as a whole. I enjoyed all of the events I attended throughout the Lindsay-Crane Center’s Community Reading Program.