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CSU Student Captures Prestigious Cleveland Arts Prize

Dream becomes reality for lifelong writer

As a young girl, Stephanie Ginese one day dreamed of following in the footsteps of her late poet-writing great-grandmother.

Although they met once, there’s no doubt she’s smiling down on her now.

Writer and comedian Ginese was named the recipient of the Emerging Artist 2023 Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, an award given to the best of the best. Her debut collection of poems, “Unto Dogs,” is touted as a “faithful pursuit of agency under imperial rule” and was released in July of 2022.

First started in 1960 and established by the Women’s City Club, the Cleveland Arts Prize honors those in Northeast Ohio working in design, literature, music, photography and visual art.

Ginese, who won in the field of literature, received $10,000 and was celebrated in a ceremony on October 26 at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“It honestly feels crazy. This is a very prestigious award that has previously honored some of my writing heroes, like Toni Morrison and Kisha Nicole Foster, and I don’t take that lightly,” she said. “Truthfully, it feels quite validating, especially given that the content of my work focuses on such controversial themes; it also feels right in line with how I envisioned my journey as a writer and artist going.”

To understand that journey, one must review Ginese’s past, which included knowing at a young age that it was almost a predestined plan that she would grow up and be a writer.

“I read A LOT as a kid and took an interest in the details of famous writers’ practices, like what they would eat while they wrote,” she said. “There’s a photo of me at about 9 or 10 years old where I’m sitting on the floor in my room, writing a story, and I can remember exactly what story I was writing in that photo too; all of this to say, it feels like it was destined for me before I even knew it.”

Writing is just one part of this story, though. Ginese is not only a mother of two but works full-time and is attending CSU and working toward a bachelor’s in English and a minor in history. Professor of English and Africana Studies and Arts and Humanities Ambassador Jeff Karem says her work ethic is exceptional, and she sets an amazing example for others with her insights and thoughtful contributions.

“Besides her outstanding work as a writer, she works hard to promote creativity and art in the community in multiple venues,” he said. “As arts and humanities ambassador, I work with a wide range of community partners, and almost everyone has worked with Stephanie; she is a genuine leader in community outreach, education, and the promotion of the literal arts.”

Ginese said her time at CSU has been highly beneficial, allowing her the time, space, and accountability to write while also enabling her to continue toward her goal of earning dual degrees.

“Since my practice takes a great deal of inspiration from history, I can take classes that interest me where I can research topics I want to explore creatively,” she said. “Last year, I began working on a new collection of poems while taking a poetry workshop at CSU [which] has also aided in opportunities to connect with professors and other students who have taken an interest in my work and vice versa.”

The award is just the beginning for Ginese, who is currently in the process of writing another collection of poems centered around her hometown of South Lorain and the conditions around migration and labor in Puerto Rico that have led to an influx of Puerto Ricans in Lorain and musings on growing up in the aftermath of it all. If that isn’t enough, she is also creating a collection of short stories playing with images of American diner culture, punk music, and working-class women of color.

But wait, there’s more!

“I am always most excited to talk about my endeavors in the arts community, which includes a variety show I host on Sunday nights with my co-host, musician, and comedian, TJ “Peachcurls” Maclin,” said Ginese. “The show is called Con Tu, and it happens every Sunday at 10 p.m. at Dunlap’s Corner Bar, where every week TJ and I feature a different comedian, writer, and musician that we love and are excited about.”

She continued:

“It’s a great show with incredible talent, which we have so much of in this city; that’s really my mission, to highlight the brilliance and legacy of artists in the city of Cleveland, which I believe winning this award will only help strengthen that mission.”