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Youngstown

By Dorie Chevlen

From the Faculty Nominator, Kathy Flann

Like a lot of students, when Dorie Chevlen enrolled in my Frontiers Creative Nonfiction Workshop, she probably didn't know how much self-exploration would be involved. Many people think that writing memoir simply involves reporting the events of one's life. As the students quickly learn, this isn't so. Memoir would be easy if it were straight reportage. What makes it so hard is that it relies on the writer's ability to examine his or her life. Why did I do the things I did? Why did I think the things I thought? And why does any of it matter? The most successful memoirists never flinch. They are willing to present themselves in ways that aren't necessarily flattering in order to unearth real answers. Dorie Chevlen faces the demands of memoir without flinching. She tells the truth, not only about the easy stuff (the facts), but also about the complexity of her internal world. Her honesty probably comes as a relief to most readers. You feel things like this? I thought I was the only one. She offers the greatest gift of memoir -- the ally we didn't even know we craved.

From the author, Dorie Chevlen:

One of the earliest assignments of my freshman frontiers course, Creative Nonfiction, was to write a piece about a place. Any place. As long as we'd been there, we were free to write about it. Of course this launched me into total panic. Every book of creative writing stresses the importance of writing about what you know about. But what places did I know about? I was not well-travelled, and my hometown was far from the exciting, glamorous places from which my classmates hailed. Unlike fabulous New York, or Chicago, or L.A., my hometown was barely capable of eliciting even a grunt of recognition from my peers.

I didn't have to write about Youngstown, Ohio. I had travelled to other places, and any one of them could have made for an interesting topic. But I couldn't stop thinking about Youngstown, about my home. Being far from Youngstown forced me to consider it even more closely than I had on that long ago summer day when, still teetering on the cusp of adolescence, my sister first told me we lived in a shithole. Now, as well as then, I find that description insufficient. It's not that Youngstown isn't a shithole. It's just that Youngstown is so much more than a shithole. It's more than its skeletal buildings and its pockmarked roads. It's more than just a place of poverty or crime, or rust: It's a place of magic. It's my home.

Read: Youngstown

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