New Anthology Shines Spotlight on How Race Has Impacted Cleveland's Past, Present, and Future

Race has been the shaping force for Cleveland’s modern history, steering the civic course in the 20th century and forcing the 21st to wrestle with the leftovers. Hell, we’re obviously still dealing with race today, whether we’re talking about hyper-segregation or charter schools or murder rates or even why the East Bank of the Flats looks like Las Vegas while parts of E. 138th and Superior look like the Third World. But Cleveland has always been honest about race (for the most part); while other cities – or at least the ones I’ve lived in – tiptoe around the minefield, we stroll out there, explosions be damned.

Which is why a new tag-team project from the City Club of Cleveland and GTK Press is both in line with Cleveland’s tradition of open discourse and also a wonderful new gift to the city. A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts From a Segregated City is 274 pages of essays and poems and thoughts and jeremiads and hopes, all spinning around race in Northeast Ohio. Edited by the City Club’s Dan Moulthrop and RA Washington from GTK Press and the Guide to Kulchur bookstore, the volume has hit the shelves in recent weeks. And it really should be on your bookshelf. (I’m not just saying this because I contributed a piece to the collection. Granted, I'm biased, but go buy it.)

Just the combo of those two backing parties should pique your interest enough for the price of admission. Here you have the City Club, one of Cleveland's noblest and oldest civic institutions, paired with an independent bookslinger and print shop committed to edgy and bold writing. But it's a perfect match, peanut butter and jelly.

"The book came out of a desire to continue the dialogues we were having at the City Club," Moulthrop told me recently in an email. "When you’ve got [novelist] Marlon James and [Rev.] Otis Moss and others discussing this stuff, you want it to live on a little."

Flipping through the book, what struck me was how the editors pulled no punches with the pieces they selected — you won't find many bromides or spoonfuls of sugar within the anthology's pages. Moulthrop was aware of this.

"[T]hese problems that we’re dealing with, that the writers wrestle with—they’re not getting better on their own," he wrote. "We have to get ok with having the really tough conversations about structural racism and white privilege. And we have to listen to one another and honor and recognize lived experience that is different from our own."

The anthology is also filled with voices — mostly new, mostly with something new to say. Just a taste: you've got front-line dispatches from the protests following the Tamir Rice verdict; an essay about balancing an Asian identity in time of Black Lives Matter; raw poems; snatches of City Club forums with figures like Louis Stokes and Marlon James; and a history lesson on the 1960s fight to stop a freeway that would have bulldozed large swathes of the East Side. The anthology is caboosed by an absolute emotional wrecking ball from co-editor RA Washington, a poem and prose mashup.

"I’m really proud of it," Moulthrop told me. "It’s a total Cleveland project—the writers are almost all Clevelanders, the content from the City Club is stuff we all helped to create, GTK is printing the thing right on West 59th and Detroit and now we’re all having these conversations together."

My last thought on the anthology, besides again urging you to pick it up, is that the writing in here gives you a sense of the course Cleveland may be cutting in the future. The volume shows you how Clevelanders are grappling with the city's defining issues, how they're ducking or embracing the anger, unknotting the complexities, pointing fingers at the Powers That Be and themselves. Dan and RA should be cheered for delivering this baby, considering all the love, affection and effort needed for such a project.

You can pick up your own copy of the anthology here as well as at Guide to Kulchur.

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