Literary Cleveland is introducing a new online anthology titled, “Breaking the Silence: Queer Self, Life and Love in Northeast Ohio,” aimed at giving voice to LGBTQ2+ experiences in Greater Cleveland.
The release will be celebrated at a virtual launch party and reading on Friday, April 9 at 7 pm. The online anthology is composed of original works, poems and essays, by 14 local writers who were chosen through a submission process. Ten of the 14 writers will be share their works at Friday’s reading.
“Breaking the Silence” is a part of Literary Cleveland’s new Amplify Projects series. The goal of the series is to celebrate and empower different communities, those who have been silenced or blocked out of the literary arts, by granting them a platform to tell their own stories, on their own terms.
“There is power in sharing our stories because our stories make a difference,” said Alexander Saint Franqui, Literary Cleveland intern, Oberlin College and Observatory student and the creator of “Breaking the Silence,” in a press release. “From pain, to fear, to pleasure, to God, this anthology resists the temptation to reduce our community to a single narrative because there isn’t one. We struggle, but we also follow our passions, we find ourselves, we live, we love, we do it all in Northeast Ohio.”
In a Zoom interview, Franqui, who wrote the introduction to the anthology on the website, said, “I think the most exciting part about this project is just having something tangible to show people, being like ‘oh look, there are queer people in Ohio,’ and it’s not all doom and gloom all the time.”
Matt Weinkam, executive director of Literary Cleveland, described this experience as “two-fold.” While the individual writers can be empowered and have their voice reach a new platform, along with a bigger audience, the rest of the community can learn from their the writers’ experience. “The production is fabulous, it’s just really well-written,” he said.
The National Day of Silence, an annual day of action and student-led protest against the harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ2 students in schools, fueled Franqui’s inspiration to create “Breaking the Silence.” Students take a vow of silence for an entire day, to symbolize the voices lost when the members of the LGBTQ2 community are forced to silence themselves. When the day is over, the participants “Break the Silence” by attending numerous rallies and events to share their stories. The National Day of Silence usually occurs on the second Friday of April, which is April 9 this year.
Although the event is a celebration, the Literary Cleveland press release also described the anthology’s release as “unfortunately timely,” because of events that recently took place last year. On record, 2020 was the “deadliest year” for trans and gender non-confirming people, according to data from the Human Rights Campaign.
Eliana Turan of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland wrote in an op-ed in Cleveland Scene, “Cleveland is an epicenter for the transgender murder crisis.” Literary Cleveland’s press release briefly described challenges the LGBTQ2 community deals with. On top of the pandemic, LGBTQ2 community members also face other crises, such as public health, mental health, isolation, and loss of community centers. This serves as a possible sneak peek to what the 14 writers will speak about, during the reading on April 9.
Certain selections from “Breaking the Silence” will also be featured in The Buckeye Flame and The Cleveland Street Chronicle. Additional project partners include GLSEN Northeast Ohio and TransFamily Cleveland.
“Saint and I talked a lot about how a value of an anthology or project like this is that, you don’t just hear one experience of what it’s like to be queer or trans in Northeast Ohio, you get 14 different experiences that give you the range of how different it can be, how nuanced it is,” said Weinkam. “As Saint put it, ‘it’s not just doom or gloom, it’s also joy and community, and pleasure, and experience.’ All those things make the entire literary community more vibrant.”
Check out the new ‘Breaking the Silence’ online anthology here.
Shermayne Dixon is a senior at Cleveland State University interning with The Land.