YSU English Festival draws crowd

YOUNGSTOWN — Some 2,700 junior high and high school students are descending on the campus of Youngstown State University this week for the 41st annual English Festival.

The students, who come from across northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, prepared for the event by reading books written by young adult authors who provided advice through various lectures and workshops. Students also got the chance to test their writing skills through various contests, games and writing labs.

Neal Shusterman provided the Thomas and Carol Gay lecture each of the three days of the festival. Shusterman’s recent work, “Dry,” which was co-authored with his son Jarrod, was recently purchased by Paramount Pictures to be made into a movie.

During Wednesday’s journalism workshop in which Shusterman held a press conference before about three dozen high school students, the author told about the issues that inspired him to write, including his time living in Mexico City, which he said “made the world more accessible.”

Students were assigned other Shusterman books, including “The Schwa Was Here,” “Scythe,” “Thunderhead” and “Unwind.”

Another guest lecturer was author Steve Sheinkin, whose work “The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights” was assigned reading for all students attending the festival.

“We don’t live in a perfect world, and the problem is the people who think we do have one,” Shusterman said.

Also conducting a press conference during Wednesday’s journalism workshop was YSU President Jim Tressel, who talked about his long career in education, football coaching and now as an administrator and community leader. Tressel, who is in his fifth year as president, gave the students his own definition of a university.

“The word university — and I’m sure this isn’t in the dictionary or on Google or anywhere else — my definition of the word university in my mind is a place where people come together and create unity in diversity, and that’s my university,” Tressel said.

In answering one of the students’ questions, Tressel said he wouldn’t be in favor of a tuition-free university, saying the ultimate loser in that equation would be the student.

Several area students won prizes in Wednesday’s journalism workshop writing contest, including Margaret Weimer of Mineral Ridge High School and Abigail Ann Chernesky, who each finished first place in different tracks; Antony Terranova of Jackson-Milton High School, second place; Isabella Marchionte of Niles McKinley High School, Zach Burns of Bristol High School, Seth Arkwright of Mathews High School and Natalia Kresic of Lordstown High School, all honorable mentions.

Co-chairpersons for the English Festival are Jeff Buchanan, YSU Chair of English, Angela Messenger, writing center director and Gary Salvner, professor emeritus of English.