Treasure trove of literary works nestled in the heart of campus
The importance of a press right at the center of a University campus cannot be understated, but when it is associated with one of the most prestigious names in poetry, that’s really where the magic happens.
Founded in 1962 by Lewis Turco and tucked away in room 415 of historic Rhodes Tower, the CSU Poetry Center is a 60-year-old small press and literary arts center that publishes contemporary poetry books, essays, and translations.
It also boasts a one-of-a-kind “teaching lab” where Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students, undergraduates, and occasional volunteers can learn all about arts administration, book production, event planning, and promotion.
Participants also can read through manuscripts during acquisition periods, allowing those the unique opportunity to weigh in on what the Poetry Center chooses to publish.
“The CSU Poetry Center is one of the only teaching presses in the nation, and we are proud of the ways alumni have transferred the professional and literary skills they have learned at the press into jobs in editing, teaching, and nonprofit work,” said Caryl Pagel, Director of the CSU Poetry Center.
“We hope that the CSU Poetry Center helps cultivate an inclusive and empowering sense of what publishing is or might be.”
Beyond publishing poetry, there is so much more to get excited about when it comes to the six-decade mainstay. An annual creative writing reading series curated by Associate Director of the CSU Poetry Center Hilary Plum, Lighthouse Reading Series, takes center stage each year, bringing together eight poets and essayists to the campus.
Another series called the NEOMFA Writers at Work Colloquium offers students the unique opportunity to hear from well-known contemporary writers about their experiences ranging from editing and arts administration to journalism, all while providing an expansive definition of literary work and where it takes place.
“These two series strengthen student and community ties to the CSU Poetry Center and Cleveland State, acting as a regular gathering place for [both] writers and readers,” said Pagel. “We also frequently partner with local organizations such as Lit Cleveland, Lake Erie Ink, The Refugee Response Center, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, and Cleveland Review of Books on events and programming.”
But wait, there’s more!
According to Pagel, the CSU Poetry Center’s significant digital presence aims to invite a student, city-wide, and national audience into the literary work they do, work that the Poetry Center has been recognized and widely known for the last half a century.
“Exclamation’s Gauntlet includes writing and conversations about small press practice, difficulty in literature, and the politics of publishing,” said Pagel. “We also recently launched a new podcast, Index for Continuance, hosted by Hilary Plum and our managing editor, Zach Peckham, which feature conversations with editors, writers, publishers, critics, booksellers, and organizers involved in independent, small press, DIY, and community literary work.”
The collaboration between CSU and the Anisfield-Wolf Fellowship in Writing and Publishing began in 2019; named for and supported by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which honors literature that confronts racism and explores the rich diversity of human cultures. “They are administered through the Cleveland Foundation,” noted Pagel of the Fellowship. “We have been lucky to work with Karen Long for the past five years.”
The creation of the Fellowship enables the opportunity to collaboratively support writers from backgrounds and with perspectives historically underrepresented in publishing and the teaching of creative writing.
“By providing teaching experience and professional development, this fellowship aims to help address the longstanding lack of diversity in the US publishing, editing, and academic workforces,” said Pagel.
Enter Joseph Earl Thomas, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and newcomer to Cleveland, who writes across all genres and was selected as the newest fellow for 2022-2024. Thomas has various insights into video games, Black studies, fantasy and sci-fi, digital life, realities of race, and economic equality. His new memoir, SINK, was released in February by Grand Central Publishing. He is currently working on the novel God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer, and a collection of stories, Leviathan Beach.
“In fall 2022, we were lucky to have Thomas teaching CSU’s Literary Editing and Publishing course, an undergrad/grad class that combines hands-on work in small press, magazine, and DIY literary settings with a comprehensive study of the structures and issues that characterize contemporary publishing,” said Pagel.
In December, Thomas participated in an Exclamation’s Gauntlet interview. He said one of the influences in writing his debut memoir, SINK, was spurred on by the African American Literacy tradition. “Nonfiction and narratives about one’s own life experiences have always been important…so there’s one reason why it seemed a natural choice,” Thomas said during the interview. “I don’t think there is anything you can’t say or do in nonfiction, though I think maybe the politics and readership are a bit different from genre to genre.”
Thomas said he always has enjoyed theatre and is looking forward to seeing all of the great things the City of Cleveland has to offer.
“The theatre scene in Cleveland is a lot, and way more accessible than anywhere else I have ever been,” he said. “I would like to see as many plays as possible in the years to come.”
To read the full interview, click here.
Looking ahead, things are bright for the CSU Poetry Center, which is planning a party for its 60th anniversary on April 14 at Bottlehouse in Cleveland Heights, which Pagel calls an evening of “poetry, prose, raffles and an overall small press celebration.” The doors open at 5:30 p.m., and will feature Joseph Earl Thomas reading excerpts from his memoir, SINK, along with Poetry Center author Lauren Shapiro, who wrote Arena, named a 2020 “best book of poetry” by The New York Times.
If the first 60 years are any indication of how successful it’s been, the next 60 are setting up quite nicely. “This past fall, we published Michael Joseph Walsh’s first book of poetry, Innocence, which the Harvard Review describes as a collection “exploring the remnants of an ecological, effective, and civil disaster” that’s both “radically optimistic” and “as ambitious as it is carefully crafted,” said Pagel.
“We also published works from the controversial Colombian poet Raúl Gómez Jattin’s Almost Obscene (translated by Katherine M. Hedeen & Olivia Lott), whose witty, disturbing poems the Poetry Foundation called ‘radically contemporary,’ evincing an ‘awareness of their transgressiveness’,” she added. “We are in awe of both books and the positive reception from critics, readers, poets, and students so far.”
To learn more about the CSU Poetry Center, please visit http://www.csupoetrycenter.com/
For more information on the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, please visit https://www.anisfield-wolf.org/