The Barbaric Yawp: Lit Youngstown’s First Online Fall Literary Festival

By Douglas M. Campbell 

“I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world,” Walt Whitman’s famous stanza echoed across the internet landscape. Youngstown State University students and writers from the Youngstown area and beyond gathered virtually for Lit Youngstown’s fourth annual Fall Literary Festival. 

Karen Schubert, co-founder and director of Lit Youngstown, reflects on this year’s festival theme, “In Many Tongues: Constituents of the Barbaric Yawp,” and its connection to writing.

“I don’t hear just one voice, but I hear the multitudes: a raw, guttural, expressive and beautiful noise. With each sound adding to the commotion,” Schubert said.

The festival focused not only on writing but also readings, craft talks, workshops and panel discussions on various aspects of the writing process.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s festival was held via Zoom Sept. 24-26, with five concurrent sessions and 40 individual events over the course of two days. Some sessions live-streamed on YouTube. Attendance was free for YSU students and $45 for outside attendees, with a reduced price of  $10 for adjunct faculty and graduate students.

Student artwork was also highlighted at the festival. The presenters were asked to submit poems and stories.

Artwork such as “Withdrawal” by Nick Gardner, a Master of Fine Arts student in creative writing at Bowling Green University was highlighted at the festival. Photo courtesy of Lit Youngstown.

Every Zoom session was run with a few committee members assigned to moderate them, watch the chat board and admit attendees from the waiting room.

Laura Beadling, associate professor of English, is new to Lit Youngstown’s board. She was assigned to the role of managing the festival’s Zoom meetings.

“I log in early, check that everyone’s sound and cameras are working. If someone doesn’t know how to work Zoom or their lighting is really bad, I work with them to get everything set up,” Beadling said. 

Schubert said they wanted to recreate the feeling of physically attending the conference. These efforts included rooms in the Zoom meeting where attendees could talk to each other directly.

“We want to provide a conference experience. Especially [for] undergraduates who have never been to a conference before,” she said.

Highlighted guest writers included Cynthia Atkins, Quincy Flowers, David Giffels and Janet Wong at this year’s festival.

“Almost all of our presenters made it, which we are so grateful for,” she said.

Amanda Miller, an adjunct English professor, previously volunteered at the festival but this year read her own work for attendees.

“I will be reading from one of my stories; I had it initially published in the ‘Penguin Review,’ a grad and undergrad publication. It is like a parody of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’” Miller said.

The story is called “Pierogies” and follows Miller and her friends’ search through Youngstown’s famous fried foods after her friend’s divorce. 

“We kind of talked about life and everything over the Youngstown staples of food. I read the story to people who asked, ‘What are you talking about? Where did you get those foods?’ But if you’ve eaten here, you know what I am talking about,” Miller said.

The live-streamed sessions are available to view on Lit Youngstown’s YouTube channel.

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