Over the last few years, Cleveland has gotten its fair share of the national spotlight with publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Salon trying to define what makes Cleveland ”cool” again.
Some articles have credited a perceived Cleveland aesthetic, calling it “rust belt chic” - hijacking a phrase Joyce Brabner coined in the 90s to mock the condescension of New Yorkers and MTV at the time.
And while the recent attention is a win from a tourism and public relations point-of-view, two Clevelanders debated it was time we took the narrative back into our own hands.
So Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek – one a Cleveland-born Westsider, the other a transplant Eastsider – put out a call for Clevelanders to tell the story of Cleveland.
The result is this month’s CLE Read: Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, a compilation of 38 essays that tell our city’s story from “the inside-out.”
Grouped into themes that frequently come up when talking Cleveland (music, culture, history, conflict, returning home), the essays reveal a city undergoing a renewal – albeit a precarious one, as some writers remind us it’s gone through this cycle times before.
In one essay, Connie Schultz recounts how a discussion on the service industry reaffirmed her love for a city that always reaches bigger despite its bruises. While in Cleveland’s Little Iraq, Huda Al-Marashi tells her journey to find a sense of cultural belonging after moving from Queens.
On the other hand, Jimi Izrael’s Not a Love Letter shares his perspective that Cleveland is a cruel and unforgiving place, “reluctant family that I’d deny if I could, but I can’t.” And Eric Anderson’s Pretty Things to Hang on the Wall tells of a native artist’s struggles and a disdain for when out-of-town artists say they’ve moved here because it’s easier to practice their art.
Michael Ruhlman delves a bit into Cleveland history in Unstoppable Houses on Changeless Terrain; as Douglas Trattner’s How We Arrived at Braised Beef Cheek Pierogis waxes on the explosion of Cleveland’s culinary scene.
Elizabeth Weinstein memorializes Cleveland’s legendary rock journalist Jane Scott, “a perfect blend of Rust Belt values…soft-spoken and humble, passionate about rock and roll, and unflinchingly determined to be the best in her field.”
And “boomerang” Joe Baur shares why you shouldn’t call him that since he never really connected with Cleveland until he moved away. Joe, who eventually did move back after time in LA and Chicago, is an excellent example of how you can strike a balance between being both an enthusiast of the city and a critic, championing civic causes such as the OurCLE campaign against the Tower City-Casino walkway.
Photographs from Bob Perkoski and an installment from the Cleveland-based Apama comic complement the essays.
Each piece in Rust Belt Chic shares a unique perspective on Cleveland – some may be similar to your own experiences, others strange and new. But when taken altogether, they tell the balanced story of our city.
It’s an authentic account that for me demonstrated there is a place for criticism, just as there is a place for optimism and cheerleading.
Regardless of whether you agree with all of the opinions in Rust Belt Chic, if it truly comes from someone’s experience it deserves to be heard. Because it is through this balanced approach that we can work towards a revitalization based on an honest understanding of who we are and what sets us apart.
You can buy Rust Belt Chic online for $20 and no shipping. It’s also available in a number of local bookstores, retailers like Evie Lou, and the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Museum Store. Find the full list of shops here.
Readers with a Kindle, Nook or iPad can enjoy the expanded Rust Belt Chic e-book featuring a bonus 12 essays.
This is the latest in my CLE Reads series. Check out my previous installments:
If you’ve read Rust Belt Chic or have a suggestion for a Cleveland book I should clue into, leave a comment or send me an email at clueintocleveland (at) gmail (dot) com.
I’ll be back next month with Damn Right I’m From Cleveland.