If Cleveland officials need a poster child to help promote the city as a modern metropolis rather than a community trapped in its industrial past, they need look no further than Sean Santa.
So enamored is Santa with this Midwestern city that he has written a book to express his feelings about the place that has been his home since childhood.
Down and Out And… prose poetry and stories from Cleveland (2007, RoseDog Books, Pittsburgh, Pa.) describes the good, the bad and the hopeful about Cleveland. Santa, in his curt, pointed way, uses gritty language and deft details to depict the people he's known, the neighborhoods he's frequented and the experiences that he's had. He wrote much of the contents while he was an undergraduate at Case Western Reserve University.
He admits that some of the material is loosely based on class assignments. Most are a culmination of three years worth of writing and revising. His favorite, "I should have said yes, Cleveland," became a one-act play that he revised with his brother, Ryan. "It was performed at Case Western Reserve two years ago. That is my fondest memory of being an undergraduate."
Santa majored in English and political science and says he "absolutely loved everything about Case." His mother, Paula, works in Advancement Services. He welcomed the chance to study under professor-authors Mary Grimm and Thrity Umrigar and to take law classes from Emory Lee and Laura Tartakoff. He earned his degree in May 2007.
He says he chose to write about Cleveland because "this is where all of my firsts are from. The first lake I saw was Lake Erie. I lost my virginity in a busted-down house in Euclid. My first car accident was on Mayfield Road. My parents both grew up here."
More importantly, he says that he writes about Cleveland because no one else does. "I don't mean 'no one' literally of course, but that people think that there are grander places in America: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Every city in America is great, but people need to see God in the places they are from," he says. "Cleveland's a tough town; people need to stop worrying about leaving and start telling its story."
As one pages through the book it becomes clear how fond he is of the city. He moves from the city's mainstream to its counterculture, writing about girls, drugs, family, politics, favorite haunts and common people he deems interesting. He considers "Cleveland, do you snow?" among his best entries.
"I think it's one of the most mature pieces in the book. It certainly exposes Cleveland for what it is: a bully, rich with a long history of screw-ups, a mother with too many mouths to feed," he says.
He hopes that non-Clevelanders will look beyond the literary genre, read about Cleveland in a new way and see the city for what it is: an honest place where people love and hate each other with the same intensity. Moreover—that Cleveland is really the next New York. For homegrown readers, he hopes the book will inspire them to go beyond the familiar and experience the people and places that are underneath the surface of the city.
"Going to a sporting event with your friends downtown is wonderful, but what story can the hot dog man on Prospect Avenue tell you? What can you learn from visiting the East 55th and Marginal bay with your best friend, just looking at the lake and the smoke stacks, spitting in the water, not talking?"
Santa is presently studying creative writing at American University in Washington, D.C., pursing an M.F.A. Although he is comfortable writing poetry and fiction, the courses and workshops he's taken in graduate school shows he may have a predilection for poetry. He has high regards for Cleveland poet d.a. levy and enjoys the work of Timothy Lieu, Joe Bolton and Hayan Charara.
He's at work on another collection of poems, this time focusing on American patriotism and what it means to be male, with the hope of writing material that speaks to men -- readers who tend to avoid poetry. He also plans to attain his doctorate in American literature and teach at the university level. Whether or not Cleveland will become his home again after graduate school is still a toss up. "I'd love to live in Cleveland; it was a good place to be raised. And it's cheap."
"I don’t think I could live further than five or six hours away, since all my family is there [Cleveland area]," he says. "The real answer is yes, I hope to live there but I’m old enough to know that some things are out of my control."
For information about the book, contact RoseDog Books.
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