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Voices from the Rust Belt - Politics and Prose at The Wharf

Politics and Prose at The Wharf
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Please join us for a conversation with Anne Trubek, editor of the essay collection "Voices from the Rust Belt," and contributor Ben Gwin, moderated by Thomas Frank.

FROM PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: Trubek, the founder of Belt Publishing, presents 24 essays by current and former residents of the Rust Belt states that explore the region’s postindustrial decline, as well as its resilience. One writer vividly recalls white flight to the suburbs in Detroit in the 1960s, and a present-day Flint, Mich., resident describes the cold dread of bathing a child in contaminated water. In a heartbreaking and urgent take on the opioid crisis, a Pennsylvania writer chronicles his efforts to gain custody of his daughter from her heroin-addicted mother. More than one essayist upbraids urban gentrifiers—the “armies of confused Williamsburg rejects” who elevate rents and push longtime (often older, nonwhite) residents out of their neighborhoods. In a moment of modest celebration, an Ohio resident chooses to elaborate on the state’s gritty reputation with an ode to the dingiest gay bar in Cincinnati. These essays go a long way toward expanding the narrative about the Rust Belt in that they refute stereotypes, explore a vastly varied series of experiences, and provide a valuable history lesson on industrialism

ANNE TRUBEK is the founder and director of Belt Publishing. She is the author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting and A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses, and the co-editor of Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology.

The essays in Voices from the Rust Belt "address segregated schools, rural childhoods, suburban ennui, lead poisoning, opiate addiction, and job loss. They reflect upon happy childhoods, successful community ventures, warm refuges for outsiders, and hidden oases of natural beauty. But mainly they are stories drawn from uniquely personal experiences: A girl has her bike stolen. A social worker in Pittsburgh makes calls on clients. A journalist from Buffalo moves away, and misses home.... A father gives his daughter a bath in the lead-contaminated water of Flint, Michigan" (from the introduction).
Where is America's Rust Belt? It's not quite a geographic region but a linguistic one, first introduced as a concept in 1984 by Walter Mondale. In the modern vernacular, it's closely associated with the "Post-Industrial Midwest," and includes Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as parts of Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York. The region reflects the country's manufacturing center, which, over the past forty years, has been in decline. In the 2016 election, the Rust Belt's economic woes became a political talking point, and helped pave the way for a Donald Trump victory.
But the region is neither monolithic nor easily understood. The truth is much more nuanced. Voices from the Rust Belt pulls together a distinct variety of voices from people who call the region home. Voices that emerge from familiar Rust Belt cities―Detroit, Cleveland, Flint, and Buffalo, among other places―and observe, with grace and sensitivity, the changing economic and cultural realities for generations of Americans.

"Stop fantasizing about the “heartland” and its values and start listening to it instead. Here is the true voice of the America we like to imagine as the repository of national virtue. How different from what we expect, and yet how trenchant it is." --Thomas Frank, Bestselling Author of What's the Matter with Kansas?

“Timely . . . [the collection] paints intimate portraits of neglected places that are often used as political talking points. A good companion piece to J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.”―Booklist