“The Hard Way on Purpose” is not only the title of his new book, it’s what author David Giffels says living in Akron is all about.
Rooting for the Cleveland Browns or Cavaliers, enduring long, harsh winters, embracing the shut down, run-down factories, and staying in Northeast Ohio is doing the hard way on purpose. And Giffels’ book is about embracing the Akron area of the Rust Belt — its history, its present and its future.
A graduate of The University of Akron, Giffels spent several years as a columnist at the Akron Beacon Journal and currently writes books and teaches at The University of Akron in the North East Ohio Master in Fine Arts Creative Writing Program. This book’s concept morphed from what he learned from his children to one about place and identity.
“All those themes of place and belonging and what’s unique about living here, good and bad, were always there, and it just sort of came out that way,” he says. “And that’s my favorite thing about writing: when something seems inevitable that you don’t realize until you start writing it.”
Born and raised in Akron, Giffels always knew he wanted to write, although he didn’t know exactly what that meant until he graduated from college and applied for a job at the Medina County Gazette. For 18 years, he wrote for newspapers and realized writing “is not primarily about being artistic with words, but is about human nature, and the only way to understand human nature is to engage. [I] really am thankful Akron people allowed me to get into their lives for a long time, and I think that’s why this book came so naturally. That’s really what being in Akron and listening to people here is.”
“The Hard Way on Purpose” is a series of serious and humorous essays cataloguing Giffels’ experiences growing up and living in Akron.
“I was born at the very end of the whole Akron identity as the Rubber Capital of the World, and by the time I was even aware of where I was, we were in the Rust Belt,” he says. “There’s a whole, vast population in the Rust Belt of people in my generation who have committed their lives to a place that everybody said you had to leave.” But, he says, it’s the stories of the population that stayed that he wants to tell.
In recent years, however, Akron has been about reinvention, and Giffels says that’s something Akron embodies as much as anyone. “I love that, because it’s not just a reinvention, it’s not just ‘Clear the slate and do something new,’ but it's ‘Build on what you’re about and what your authentic themes and foundations are,’” he says.
Giffels says the purpose of the book is “to give a voice and give one version of the identity of people who’ve lived through the Rust Belt cycle, and understand it in ways I don’t think the rest of the country does.
“I don’t ever want to write about myself to write about myself. If I’m going to write about myself, it’s to connect with people who’ve had the same experience or present it to an audience that needs to understand that experience.”
Staying in Akron wasn’t something Giffels always had planned. Most of his friends and family had moved away because there was little opportunity for them, or they just wanted to get away from their roots. However, as he started to establish a career and grow creatively and personally, he learned there really was no reason to leave.
“Everyone thought you had to leave to find all of this, and [I] found it here,” he says. “[I] kind of felt like [I] had a more authentic identity of where [I was]. You face the kind of challenges that make you more alive.”
Giffels takes pride in what Akron was and what it’s becoming.
“There aren’t as many authentic places left in America, and this is one of them,” Giffels says. “Part of the reason is because it’s scarred, and [Akron’s] scars are there and evident, and there’s a personality in that. It’s not about happy and easy; it’s about something real. There’s a natural gravitation toward that but there aren’t many of those places left to gravitate to. So I think America needs to move to Akron.”
Readers can look forward to another book from Giffels, but for now, he’s taking Akron on the road with his book tour.
/ Writer Caitlyn Callahan is a senior at KSU working on her bachelor’s in magazine journalism.
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