Voices from the Rust Belt

The borders of the U.S. Rust Belt are not defined, writes author and editor Anne Trubek (The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting), but "anywhere an economy was previously based on manufacturing and has since been losing population can be part of the gang." Her new anthology, Voices from the Rust Belt, aims to scrape some popular stereotypes off these places.

Trubek is founder and editor of Belt Publishing, and many of these 24 essays have appeared in Belt magazine and in Belt's city-themed anthologies. They are all by writers with personal, often life-long knowledge of their particular communities. They tell stories of their childhoods, work lives and night life, of desperate poverty in Pittsburgh, the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and the crummiest gay bar in Cincinnati. An Iraqi-American woman moves to Cleveland with her family and finds the warm Arab community she never had before. An Ohio professor teaches local ecology in parking lots: "I grew up with young forests and orange creeks because my own family had created them.... I give students a similar sense: This is the place where we live, that we have shaped and continue to shape. This is the place where our children will live." Several compare the history of white flight from their cities with the return of white liberals who praise diversity, but often recharge old injustices.

Oversimplified and whitewashed versions of the Rust Belt have too often been told by flyover journalists to serve preconceived political or cultural narratives. This collection is a welcome and humane antidote. --Sara Catterall

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