Chris Barzak, SLAA advisor
Welcome to Jenny, a product of Youngstown State University’s Literary Arts Association. The Literary Arts Association is a student group I began several years ago, which has up until recently organized and promoted the YSU-Ytown Reading Series, a literary reading series that has brought us award winning novelists, poets, and memoirists from both the local region as well as the wider world. Our aim in creating the Ytown Reading Series was to create a space where people can come together through celebration of language and its many ways of exploring the world. Be it via imagined stories, through the magic of a villanelle, or by way of rendered memories, the Ytown Reading Series has filled a gap in the cultural landscape of Youngstown through the power of words, spoken and written.
This year, the Literary Arts Association wanted to make something new, to fill yet another gap in our cultural landscape. Many of the members wanted to put together their own magazine, to create something spectacular and worthy of a wide readership, and to make a magazine that would not be grounded by physical location. In the end, we realized the quickest way to connect is through the internet, and soon we were on to making an online literary magazine, one that will hopefully serve to bridge our local world with the wider world we belong to, a magazine for the 21st century.
A lot goes into putting together a magazine, more than people might initially expect. You have to create the foundation for the magazine to rest on, and soon we found ourselves creating a team of people who would build a website for the magazine, create a mission statement, development guidelines for submission, and an aesthetic sensibility that would distinguish the magazine from others. After this sort of initial organizing, there was then reaching out to writers and artists and musicians, to invite others to give us their very best work, even though this is a fledgling operation, and then the very hard task of reading through so many submissions that did come to us, from local writers as well as those who are living in faraway places like Korea.
It was gratifying to see these submissions, these voices, come into our inbox, because it was a show of faith that others, both near and far, found our venture worth supporting. Selecting our first issue’s table of contents was not an easy task, despite the pleasure that was taken in creating it. It is a strong table of contents, one that I admittedly was surprisingly impressed with. It’s not easy starting up a new magazine, trying to get quality writing from the get-go, but we have been very fortunate to attract so many good writers for Jenny’s first issue. And we look forward to bringing more forward in the spring, with our second issue.
Please take your time and look around these pages. The selections have great range as well as depth. I hope you will find this endeavor worthy of talking about to your friends, and that we’ll see you here again come this spring.
Chris Lettera, SLAA President
As a kid, I’d heard stories about what Youngstown used to be. I grew up in Liberty. For me, Youngstown was the place I’d drive through on my way to the Southern Park Mall. I didn’t know what to make of the place and its ghosts.
Around the time I got my license, I picked up a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s great, great 1995 record “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” And so I did what I did at the time. I twisted the keys in the Impala ignition, slid a CD in, and I drove. And I listened. Springsteen sang, “My sweet Jenny I’m sinkin down, here darling in Youngstown.” My folks told me about Jenny, the Jeanette blast furnace, and about how Youngstown used to be alive, how it used to be a place where people went, where steel was made and lives were built and lived.
Seven Youngstown years down the line, I found myself raising questions alongside my fellow students, my fellow friends, my fellow community members. How do we honor the city of our birth? How do we honor the past and honor the sacrifice of our mothers and fathers? How do we make something out of what this place is and can be rather than what it was?
The answer came easily. Youngstown is filled to its Rustbelt brim with creators, writers, painters, singers, makers, movers and determined shakers. As an English major at Youngstown State University, I’ve had the chance to see and feel this firsthand. When I came together with my fellow students to found YSU SLAA (Student Literary Arts Association) under the guidance of local author and instructor Christopher Barzak, we decided early on that we wanted to be an active part of this city’s beating heart and soul.
And so it’s with great pride and excitement and with the love and support of our family and friends that SLAA presents this first issue of Jenny. You’ll find fire in the pages: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, the beautiful, haunting photography of Sean Posey, insight and wisdom in interviews from YSU instructors William Greenway and Sherry Linkon, and so much more. And there’s more to come. We’ve established a partnership with SMARTS (Students Motivated By The Arts) to work with and learn alongside local youth interested in the power of the creative arts.
This magazine is the product of not only this place but the good faith and power of the dedicated people in it.
About a year back, after an afternoon fiction workshop class, I found myself at University Pizzeria with Christopher Barzak and some fellow students. And he asked us if we’d ever seen downtown. And he said, “Let’s take a walk.” And after all that driving through the city I’d done, after all that listening and seeing and witnessing, I found myself walking down the hill, past the beautiful old churches, past the Steel Museum with its steelworker statues and the strength they convey, and downtown, to Federal Street, where there was stillness and lights and the soft harmony of a city at life. Alive.
All across one of the buildings were painted faces of men and women who lived in Youngstown’s storied past. The paint was chipped. But the faces and the stories in em – they were as alive as ever. And at one point in the night, I reached out with my hand and touched these pictures. I tried to summon and feel the weight of their lives, their stories. And most of us that night, we went home and we wrote. We tried to bridge that gap between past and present, and we tried to build a future. And now, together as students, as artists, and as a community, we’ve built Jenny.
We’re making a new story.
Dave Drogowski, Web Editor
When we first started discussions about building a literary magazine, the name “Jenny” struck me as particularly strange. I initially wondered exactly what the name would really say about the magazine, and how it would be received among readers and within the community.
My reluctance was dispelled within the first two weeks, and for a good variety of reasons. Tom Pugh and Chris Lettera of the SLAA took the flyers out on the town for a day, showing off our designs and our call for submissions. The reactions were overwhelming. Just the name “Jenny” itself struck a resonant chord with the community. It was perhaps bigger and more relevant to these people’s lives and histories than we initially had appreciated.
As the weeks went further on and submissions arrived, and as our readers sorted and sifted through over four-hundred pages of submissions, the meaning of “Jenny” began to change for me. I began to realize that despite Jenny’s dismantling and destruction in the mid-90’s, the spirit of Jenny is still very much alive in the work we do as storytellers, as artists, as musicians, and as people at large.
The Jeanette blast furnace was much more than a structure, more than a tool for industry, and more than the epicenter of our former steel capital. It is the ultimate representation and manifestation of the process of creation: into the core of this structure went the guts of the earth, raw and ancient metals mined from the depths of the earth, and out came something energized and fiercely hot and malleable that was used to build and create. The essence of Jenny is the process of refinement, the transformation of the old into the fresh and invigorated new.
It did not escape me that all of these years later, when we of the Student Literary Arts Association were running advertisements with questions like “Where is Jenny?” or “What is Jenny?” that the answer was particularly close by. Any time we pour ourselves and our world into the process of creation, we are Jenny. When we are the means by which our world is made animate by the pen, or by the musical instrument, or by the paintbrush, by needle and thread, or by the lens of a camera, we are that Jeanette furnace.
You can level the whole works and bar the gates on our industrial past, but you can never stop this region and this city from being enamored with the process of creation. I am here to say that Jenny lives.