"Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These are the opening lines to Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. They are not necessarily shocking or revelatory to readers, but instead reveal a central concern that haunts the entire story: the unknown. The novel traffics in secrets — those between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and brothers and sisters that ultimately threaten to erase a family portrait hung crookedly in the eyes of everyone else in society.
Set primarily in Midwestern Ohio during the late 1970s, Everything I Never Told You deftly examines a mixed-race family before and after a young girl is found drowned in a lake. Ng’s prose, graceful yet powerful, follows the characters as they try to make sense out of a family member’s death and their own grief. Within this narrative is a deeper one, a quietly devastating interrogation of identity and the need to belong.
Ng, who will give a reading at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Thursday at 7
p.m., spoke with me about diversity in diversity, the challenges of writing her
first novel and the metaphors to be found in hidden garbage.
This post is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with local and visiting authors.
CityBeat: How did the idea for Everything I Never Told You unfold? Did it turn out to be the same story you thought it would be when you first started writing it?
Celeste Ng: I didn’t expect culture to be such a big part of it. It wasn’t until I started to look at the family. I had an idea about a family tragedy that would happen, and when I started to write about the family I knew that they were a mixed-race family. That was sort of surprising to me.
CB: One thing I enjoyed about the novel was how you took a mystery framework to explore more literary themes of identity and race. Can you talk about that choice of exploring your topics with that aspect of crime/thriller genre?
CN: I never intended to write a mystery or a thriller. What I’ve always been interested in with my fiction is family relationships, and how families react to each other. How parents and children get each other, don’t get each other, drive each other crazy. It’s that idea that introduced that mystery element into it — I wanted to look at how a family might deal with a tragedy.
CB: What kind of research did you do for the novel?
CN: In terms of getting the details right, I grew up in the early ’80s so a lot of things came from memory — the telephone cords and the record player that skips a little, all that sort of stuff. I researched the history of interracial marriage and about how it’s become more common. That’s when I learned that it wasn’t legal in the United States until 1967, which was a real surprise to me. For the characters themselves, I did the kind of research that writers do, which is just digging deeper and deeper into the characters, writing them until I felt like I knew what they would do or say.
CB: Another thing I noticed throughout the book was how adept you were at weaving between past and present tenses. You begin the novel at the middle, with Lydia’s death, and that’s what everything else in the story orbits. Was this challenging?
CN: I’m glad you mentioned that, because it was actually the main thing that I struggled with in writing the novel. I wrote four drafts of the novel, but the story basically stayed the same throughout — what really changed was the structure. The past imbues the present and the present echoes the past, and so I knew that there was a lot in the family’s background that I wanted to explore, and that was part of the story just as much as the story of what happened after Lydia’s death. And so I had to figure out a way to fuse this together so that the reader could see the connections between present and past. It took a lot of experimenting and restructuring and revising.
CB: Why did you set the story in the past, in ’70s Midwestern Ohio? How would the story be different today, with technology and more access to books like yours?
CN: As I was getting to know the family and the issues they were facing, I found the ’70s was a period that encapsulated that. It was a period where women would see their daughters getting opportunities that they themselves had missed out on. I don’t know if this a story that couldn’t happen today. I would like to think so — I think we’ve made a lot of progress — but another thing I researched was how public attitudes toward interracial marriage had been changing, and it was only very recently — I think in 1997 that a majority of people felt OK with interracial marriage, which is kind of mind-blowing to me, because I remember 1997, you know. I would like to think that things would be a lot different for the family now, but a lot of the issues about viewing cultures and balancing personal life and dreams with children — these are still issues that are with us.
CB: Is your recent success validating to you as a writer, and do you think it might change the way you write? Do you feel the need to keep or appeal to a wider audience now that you’ve reached this level of recognition?
CN: That’s a great question. The answer to how it feels to get all of this is probably surreal — that’s the best adjective I can come up with. I work alone, in my house or in the corner in the library and I write these things from my head, not knowing if anyone else will believe them or will ever connect with them, and so to have the book go out into the world and have a lot of people connect with it has been really amazing and kind of mind-blowing. I say to my husband, ‘Is it possible that I am having a very, very vivid waking dream, and I’m just hallucinating this?’ and he very nicely says, ‘It’s possible, but seems unlikely that that’s happening.’ I’m just kind of touched and thrilled, and that sounds very boring and cliché but it’s true. If it’s changing my writing, I don’t know yet. I’ve started to work on another novel but it’s on pause at the moment while I’m on book tour. But I’m thinking about it a lot, and I have to see if it changes my writing style. I like to think that it won’t, but that just having written a book will have taught me something.
CB: In 2010, before publishing your novel, you wrote an essay published in Huffington Post titled “Why I Don’t Want to be the Next Amy Tan.” After publishing the book, have people seen you as the next Amy Tan, or have things changed?
CN: You know what, no one has made that comparison, and I don’t know if that’s because they went and Googled me and they found that and decided not to do it or not. Amy Tan and I are both Chinese-American women writers and we write about families, but we write very different kinds of books. We have different subjects, even if broadly speaking we are writing about the same thing — families. When you get into particulars, we’re very different authors, and so I would rather be compared to Tan in terms of language style and technique, but I don’t think our books are a lot alike. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve been very encouraged in the past few years to see that people have been moving away from that kind of comparison — that there is Amy Tan and then she will be replaced by the next Amy Tan. That there can be diversity within diversity, that there can be lots of Asian American voices, and they can all be somewhat different from each other. That it something that is more possible now that wasn’t even an issue up for discussion a few years ago.
CB: Who are your general influences in storytelling, literary or not?
CN: There are some readers I love to read as a writer to study, but I also read because I love their work. Toni Morrison is one of them — I think she does an amazing job at writing about really big important subjects and always keeping it on a human level and making the writing beautiful. There’s a book called The God of Small Things by an Indian writer named Arundhati Roy, which again I love as a reader and teach from it. I pick it up to find passages I want to give to my students and I just end up reading it at the bookshelf because I love it so much. She handles language in such an amazing way and she moves through time in away that was an inspiration for the book. I looked at that a lot as a touchstone to figure out — how do I weave together past and present? I watch a lot of TV, so I like seeing some of the long form TV shows that have developed over a long season. I’m a huge Downtown Abbey fan — it’s so soapy, but it’s on PBS and so you feel very virtuous when you’re watching it. There’s something about watching characters develop in that long arc in shows like Mad Men or Sopranos. Writers tend to sort of downplay TV as an insulin, but I feel that film and TV do influence the way I tell a story in the way you cut back and forth between characters or in the way that you show things. So that’s an influence for sure.
CB: You mentioned a book you were working on earlier, can you talk more about that project?
CN: I think it’s going to be another family story, set in my hometown of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. It’s very pretty, there are lots of trees and beautiful houses, and they like it that way. What comes along with all that beauty and trying to be progressive and consciously working to be diverse is that there’s also a lot of focus on appearance and worry about what other people will think. They have these tiny little golf-cart sized garbage trucks that drive down every driveway to pick up the garbage in the back and bring it up to the truck in the front. There’s never garbage in the front, and I feel like that’s really metaphorically rich, that you have to keep your garbage hidden. So I think it’s going to involve a family that’s living in this community and then a mother and daughter come in from outside and have secrets, and about the way those two families get kind of intertwined and tangled.
CB: That whole environment sort of reminds me of Twin Peaks, going back to that TV influence.
CN: Exactly — there are other things too, like you were only allowed to paint your house certain colors so that the entire street could be harmonious aesthetically. They don’t do that anymore, but there’s still a lot of things like that there.
CB: Is there a question you wish someone would ask you about your work that hasn’t been asked yet?
CN: One question I was asked in an interview and then I was sad that they cut it was after being asked if there would be a movie of my book, who would I want to be in it? I can tell you the news that was just made official about a week and a half ago — the film rights have sold to Relativity Media, a studio in L.A. So I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. One of the things that excites me a lot about the fact that the book might become a movie — besides the fact that that’s cool — there would be roles for Asian Americans and mixed Asian actors, and I feel that right now those people are on the sidelines as extras, or maybe the sidekick. And so it would be really cool for someone like John Cho to play James the father. That’s what I’m excited about — the idea that maybe this could be a place where Asian American or mixed Asian actors could get roles, that there would be a spotlight for them.
CB: The whole prospect must be terrifying and wonderful, having your film in someone else’s hands.
CN: It is, but I’m trying to think of it as its own thing. I love film adaptations, and what I love about them the most is when they take the opportunity to make a slightly different thing. It’s like when you cover a song: it’s better when they don’t try to sound exactly like the original. When they do something completely different with it, that’s when I think it’s cool, and so I think of the movie as its own thing. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it.
Celeste Ng will read at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on June 4 at 7 p.m.
Morning Cincinnati. The sun has apparently caught whatever terrible cold I had last week and is off sick for a couple days. It feels like October outside, which would be cool if we got Halloween and colorful leaves. But actually we just get coldness which isn’t that great. Anyway, news time.
More city-police chief news is afoot. City Manager Harry Black has given Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell until Friday to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city. Black says the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings. Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal. The Friday deadline for Blackwell comes as questions swirl around resignation papers drawn up by the city manager’s office for Blackwell. Mayor John Cranley and the city manager both say they want Blackwell to stay and that he initiated conversations about his resignation last week. Blackwell says he’s not going anywhere and wants to remain chief. He’s been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.
• Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee voted yesterday to purchase a four-mile stretch of rail right of way for the Wasson Way bike trail. The city will purchase the land sometime in the next two years for $11.75 million from Norfolk Southern Railways. The bike trail will stretch from Mariemont to Evanston, with a proposed extension into Avondale. The deal goes before a full council vote Wednesday.
• Great news: Whether the Reds win or, you know, do that other thing they’ve been doing a lot lately, Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for baseball fans. That’s according to a new study by WalletHub.com. The website looked at 11 factors in deciding its rankings of 272 cities, including how well each city’s professional or college team does, how expensive tickets are, stadium amenities and other criteria. Cincinnati did well — we’re the third best city in the country when it comes to baseball. But here’s the not so great part. Numbers one and two are St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. You win some, you lose some…
• Former Mason mayor and Warren County State Rep. Pete Beck was found guilty today on 17 counts of fraud and corruption. Beck was accused of cheating a local company out of millions of dollars and originally faced more than 60 counts of fraud and corruption. Some of those charges were reduced, and he was found not guilty on another 21 counts today. Some of the guilty verdict covered serious felony charges. No sentencing date has been announced yet.
• When you think of hip up and coming cities, what places pop into your head? I’ll wait while you write out a list. Did that list include Columbus? Mine didn’t, but hey, what do I know? Here’s a funny article in national magazine Mother Jones about how Ohio’s capital is marketing itself to the young and hip. It's kind of unclear if the author visited the flat, gray city, but the piece asks some intriguing questions. Is it the next Brooklyn? Hm. Probably not. It is, as the article puts it, vanilla ice cream in a world of exotic gelato. But it’s like, cheap, and stuff, so there’s that. Oh, and OSU. It also has that going for it.
• Finally, more Rand Paul stuff. Turns out all those stands Paul is taking against the NSA and foreign intervention aren’t endearing the U.S. Senator from Kentucky to big Republican donors. In the toss-up race for the Republican presidential nomination, big GOP donors are spreading money around to any number of hopefuls: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other potential front runners. Pretty much everyone but Paul. That will certainly hobble the libertarian’s chances of spreading his message with TV ads and the like as the primary race heats up. But it may also further endear him to his anti-establishment libertarian base and may entice some voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican into the fold.
There were diamonds everywhere at Bogart’s this past Friday (May 29), about 1,500 of them. Marina and the Diamonds is not a band, but the artistic umbrella for Welsh singer/songwriter Marina Diamandis. She says she created the solo-guise “band” moniker because she didn’t want to be seen as a solo Pop star, and wanted to “involve people” with a name that didn't make anyone feel excluded. So, you see, we are all diamonds. Most of the diamonds at her Cincinnati show were teenage to college-age girls with a smattering of parents in tow. Many had travelled a few hours to see their hero. It was a sadly homogenous audience, given the scope and talent of Diamandis and her three-album catalog, but an enthusiastic lot nonetheless.
Her set started with “Bubblegum Bitch,” the power cut from her second album Electra Heart, and from there the party never stopped. The latest single, “Forget,” followed before she and her touring backing band launched into “Mowgli’s Road.” After that trio of songs, Diamandis chatted with the crowd telling them how happy she was to finally make it to Cincinnati. Though she was preaching to the converted, Diamandis proved to be no-less charming and engaging.
“I am Not a Robot,” a U.K. Top 40 hit from 2010, followed and, as with the entire set, Diamandis’ voice soared effortlessly as she glided across the stage. About half way through, an additional keyboard was brought on stage. Diamandis proceeded to take a seat at it and play “Happy,” whilst her backing Diamonds looked on. It was a nice respite before the title track from her current album, Froot.
While every song received a loud cheer, it was the two biggest hits that really got the diamonds in attendance particularly fired up. “Hollywood” (a No. 12 hit in the U.K.) was her breakthrough single in the in 2010 and is based on her observations of the U.S. “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America,” she sings, though it’s not meant to be a criticism. (“It was written way before I got signed," she told me in an interview a few years ago. "It's funny because I wouldn't describe my relationship with America as love or hate. Anything that has an element of illusion naturally fascinates people. I absolutely love America.”) Live, the song was keyboarded-up nicely, though the album version echoes the synth sound of the ’80s effectively. Her guitar player strummed an acoustic guitar, providing a nice counterbalance.
“Primadonna,” her other big single came next, and it too had a brighter and livelier sound on stage, sounding a little like an EDM track in spots, but not too heavily. Sadly, “Teen Idle,” a stand-out track from Electra Heart was left off the set list. “How to be a Heartbreaker,” finished the encore-less set, but the crowd seemed quite satisfied with the performance as Marina bade farewell to her diamonds to thunderous applause.
Oddly, professional photographers were not allowed to take pictures of Diamandis (as is customary for just about any concert review), something that wasn’t revealed until just before the doors opened. It is unclear who made that decision. (Primadonna indeed?)
Hey y’all. Oh boy, did some news happen since last time we talked.
First, as I told you about on Friday, the city has finalized a deal to purchase right of way along the Wasson Way rail line from Norfolk Southern. If council approves the deal, the city will pay $11. 75 million for the right of way need to build a 7.5 mile bike path from Mariemont to Evanston. The city is currently applying for millions in federal grants to help pay for the path.
• Did the city make moves to sack the police chief? Or was he thinking about quitting? The City of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. Both Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to dismiss the chief, have said that the documents were drawn up after Blackwell inquired about resigning. Blackwell didn’t sign those documents, and has since said he’s not planning on going anywhere. Some, including Councilman Wendell Young, a former police officer, have said they think the papers are a sign that Blackwell was about to be pushed out. Cranley and Black, however, both say they didn’t want Blackwell to leave. The resignation letter comes to light as the city receives accolades from across the country for its community-based policing practices, but also struggles with a recent wave of gun violence that has shootings at a ten-year high.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is still hustling to make the case that he, not former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, is best Democrat to challenge U.S. Sen Rob Portman in 2016. Yesterday, both were in Mason speaking at the Warren County Democratic Party’s annual dinner. There, Sittenfeld found he’s still got his work cut out for him, according to an Enquirer story today. The crowd seemed much warmer to Strickland, the story says, and many weren’t that familiar with Sittenfeld. The 30-year-old has gotten some support for his run, raising a respectable amount of money for his campaign this year, mostly from Cincinnati donors. But 71-year-old Strickland has statewide name recognition and the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton on his side. Top Dems have called for Sittenfeld to step aside, and some at the Warren County dinner last night agreed, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in the race to stay.
• If your bike was stolen from downtown or OTR recently, here’s a quick hit of potentially good news: The Cincinnati Police Department says it located several stolen bikes in the West End this weekend. If you’re missing your ride, you could get a call from the cops soon about that.
• The Ohio Department of Education has finished part of its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools in the state, specifically the organization’s Dayton-based location, where former teachers and administrators say employees allowed sex games between students, tampered with testing attendance data and committed other crimes. The 106 complaints lodged against the school could not be proven, ODE says, though the organization isn’t ruling out action in the future if more evidence comes to light. Other charges of test tampering, including at Horizon Academy in Bond Hill, another Concept school, are still under investigation. Concept says the department’s findings prove that the allegations against the schools were nothing more than a “witch hunt” against charters. Concept is also under a separate white collar crime investigation by the FBI for other business misconduct charges at some of its 18 Ohio schools.
• If you’re really into buying stuff off the internet, here’s a small bit of bad news for you: Amazon will begin charging Ohio sales tax on items it sells online. The company estimates that the move, which comes as Congress works to expand taxes on internet commerce, will put between $150 million to $200 million into the state’s coffers.
• Ohio State University has created a committee to study whether the school’s top administrators make too much money. OSU’s former president Gordon Gee was the highest paid public university president in the country, a fact that has created some controversy as college becomes more and more unaffordable for students. Gee’s replacement, Michael Drake, has pledged to work toward a more affordable college experience for students. The school says it would like its executives — people like Drake as well as athletic coaches and high-profile physicians employed by OSU — to be paid the same as the average position at comparable universities.
• Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, died over the weekend of brain cancer. The younger Biden was the former attorney general of Delaware and a figure many Democrats had once looked to as a rising political star. Biden passed up a chance to run for his father’s Senate seat when the elder Biden became VP in 2008, instead staying in Delaware to continue serving as AG. He had been a favorite to run for governor there in 2016 before his health deteriorated.
• How big a deal is Sen. Bernie Sander’s presidential run? Many have written off the self-professed socialist as a long shot contender for the Democratic nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that’s probably accurate. But Sanders has still been receiving a surprising amount of support and excitement from left-leaning Democrats. As the above New York Times story about the race makes clear, Sanders could at least make things interesting in the primary.
• As we talked about a couple days ago, a key tenet of the U.S. Patriot Act expired yesterday after U.S. Senator Rand Paul led resistance to its renewal. The program allowed the federal government to collect massive amounts of cell phone call data from American citizens, something Paul calls a violation of constitutional rights. The lapse is almost certainly temporary — a compromise bill looks likely to pass the Senate in a few days — but the stand allowed Paul to make a political point and score a few among his libertarian base for his presidential bid.
Fringe is hot and heavy right now. If you’re planning to attend and want to get
the scoop on some shows you might enjoy over the weekend, head to the CityBeat's Fringe hub, where
reviews are being posted by a team of writers that I’m managing. We go to see
the opening performance of each show, write about it overnight and post it the
next day. You won’t find more timely coverage anywhere else. There are several
“Critic’s Picks” so far including METH: a love story, Moonlight After
Midnight and Edgar Allan. With more than 40 productions
available over the course of 12 days, there’s lots of choices. About two-thirds
are up and running already. What are you waiting for?
Speaking of the Fringe, there’s a special event on Sunday evening in Washington Park that’s free and open to the public. It’s a staged concert reading of Cincinnati King, a new work by Playhouse Associate Artist KJ Sanchez. It’s about the history of Cincinnati music, racial equality, music pioneer Syd Nathan and his recording label King Records. The evening starts at 5 p.m. with music and theater activities for kids. At 5:30 the Philip Paul Quartet plays some of King Records’ greatest hits; Paul was a drummer at King Records. The concert reading happens on the stage at the Public Lawn at the north end of the park. All you have to do is show up! More info here.
There are shows elsewhere to be seen, depending on your preferences. Showbiz Players is offering a production of The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy at The Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight and continues through June 7. All your favorite characters from the wacky cartoons of Charles Addams (which inspired the cult TV series that ran from 1964 to 1966) are onstage, singing and dancing: Gomez and Morticia, Wednesday and Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Lurch. Tickets: 859-957-1940
If you want something a little more serious, you might check out Falcon Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins at the Monmouth Theater in Newport. Believe it or not, it features many of the men and women who thought their path to the American dream was to shoot a president. It’s a powerful show about values and motivations, and it features some fascinating melodies by Sondheim, perhaps the greatest musical theater composer of our time. It’s onstage through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783
You can still catch Ensemble Theatre’s charming production of Outside Mullingar this weekend (it has to wrap up on Saturday to make way for ETC’s Fringe production, Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, performed by the theater’s intern company on June 4, 5 and 6). Mullingar features four outstanding actors — Joneal Joplin, Dale Hodges, Brian Isaac Phillips and Jenn Joplin — in a story about spirited Irish parents and children, about love and longing, and about finding a place in the world. Definitely worth seeing. Tickets: 513-421-3555
One other production still running that I recommend you make an effort to see is Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It features five excellent actors playing everyday people in an acting class at a community center. Their efforts to find their talent lead to revelations more profound than any of them initially imagine. Great fun and thoughtful at the same time. Tickets: 512-421-3888
This weekly series discusses the cultural and artistic implications of a selected foreign film.
In many ways, Forough Farrokhzad’s The House Is Black is more of a poem than a film. This may not be particularly surprising, as Farrokhzad today is mostly remembered, if at all in the West, for her modernist poetry, which was controversial, evocative and banned to post-revolution Iran. Yet despite the film’s censorship and Farrokhzad’s tragic death at age 30, she managed to be immensely influential to Iranian cinema, and helped lead the way for the Iranian New Wave that flourished in the late ’60s.
The House Is Black — Farrokhzad’s sole film — is probably a masterpiece. The 21-minute film essay depicts the everyday lives of men, women and children who inhabit a leprosarium in northern Iran. Shot in black and white in a cinema vérité style, a collage of jarring cuts and narrations that often sound like prayer imbue meaning to the film, which shares the same lyrical language and open-ended symbolism as her verse. Farrokhzad seems to write with her camera; she rhymes her visuals and sounds, trading a cohesive narrative for an abstraction of imagery.
Lines culled from
the Koran, the Old Testament and Farrokhzad’s own unforgettable poetry are
stitched together in voiceover to add or subtract context from the onscreen
happenings. An artist whose work relies somewhat on juxtapositions, Farrokhzad
films the sublime moments — children at play, villagers creating music, a woman
brushing a girl’s hair — along with the uncomfortable: bandages being unwrapped,
needles being injected, the blind intuiting their unsure movements.
What emerges is an interrogation of beauty and ugliness, and how those two things coexist in the world. There is, perhaps surprisingly, a lot one can learn by observing the empathy and gratitude that occurs in this Iranian leper colony. In just 20 minutes, The House Is Black is a documentary, a poem and most importantly, a portrait. Of what — a leprosarium or something larger — you decide. The final seconds of the film occur in complete blackness, as Farrokhzad says in a near-whisper: “O overrunning river driven by the force of love, flow to us, flow to us.” It is a plea, both for them and for us.
THE HOUSE IS BLACK is currently screening on YouTube.
Summerfair, NKY Pride 2015!, used book sales, the Fringe Festival, lots of concerts, craft beer parties and more.
Get weird with the CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival — running through June 6 — is celebrating 13 years of theater, creativity and fun. A total of 40 shows (selected by 24 jurors) will be presented during the 12 days of the 2015 Fringe, split almost exactly between shows generated by local creators and productions from elsewhere in the U.S., plus four international acts representing South Africa, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom. Through June 6. cincyfringe.com. Read reviews here.
Hit the Square for MIDPOINT INDIE SUMMER
Fountain Square’s popular, free concert series kicks off this week — a true sign that summer is upon us. The first event in the MidPoint Indie Summer series (held Fridays through early September) is indicative of the strong roster of shows on the Square this year, showcasing a mix of quality touring headliners and some of local music’s finest. Headlining Indie Summer’s opening night is Surfer Blood, the superb, Florida-spawned Indie Pop Rock group that began drawing major attention with its 2010 debut album, Astro Coast. The band has since split with Warner Bros. Records and returned to its DIY roots with the just-released, hyper-melodic 1000 Palms, Surfer Blood’s finest work yet and, fittingly, a perfect melancholic summer album. Three superb local acts round out Friday’s bill: Harbour, Automagik and The Yugos. September’s MidPoint Music Festival sponsors the Indie Summer series, and there will be opportunities to purchase (or win) passes for the 2015 event each week. 7 p.m. Friday. Free. Fountain Square, Fifth and Vine streets, Downtown, myfountainsquare.com.
Show your pride at NKY PRIDE 2015!
Let your pride flag fly with this year’s Northern Kentucky Pride festival, which starts on Thursday and goes through Sunday. The fest will kick off with an ally training and fairness reception for participants to learn about specific LGBTQ issues in the community. Throughout the weekend, you can show your pride with scheduled activities from a pride bike ride with flamingos through MainStrasse’s Goebel Park to a pub crawl and live music headlined by acoustic duo Linda and Taryn. During Saturday’s official Pridefest, chill in the NKY Pride Beer Garden on Sixth Street with local brews, bring your pet to the PetZone (complete with photo booth), attend the pair of afternoon drag shows and, most importantly, help support social equality. Thursday-Sunday. Free. Search NKY Pride 2015! on Facebook for a full event schedule.
Grab a beer and a Filipino snack at CRAFTS AND CRAFTS at Krohn
Take a tropical vacation without leaving town by visiting Krohn Conservatory’s Crafts and Crafts event, bringing together their Butterflies of the Philippines exhibit, a handful of craft vendors and local craft beer. It’s a perfect evening to enjoy the colorful butterfly show while imbibing some adult beverages, including Filipino cocktails and food like roasted pork, chicharrón and fried peanuts. Must be 21. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday. $12; $15 door. Krohn Conservatory, 1501 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, 513-421-4086.
Blend light and sound with OSCILLATORS at Harvest Art Gallery
Intermedio, an ongoing sound-light collaboration between multi-disciplinary designer Eric Blyth and composers/installation artists Sam Ferris-Morris and Justin West, will present a one-night-only exhibition Friday at Harvest Gallery. Together, the three create immersive environments, such as last year’s “Radiate” installation in ParProject’s MakersMobile traveling exhibition, by incorporating digitally processed sound and video to engage their audiences in temporary interactive experiences. 6-10 p.m. Friday. Free. 216 W. 15th St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/intermediodesign.
Get slightly melancholy with MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS at Bogart's
It’s oddly wonderful how sometimes two songwriters will interpret the same concept in diametrically opposed fashions. For example, consider Pharrell Williams and Marina Diamandis, both of whom have very powerful songs called “Happy.” Of course, Williams’ composition is the musical manifestation of exuberance and joy, a bouncy sing-along that almost dares you to remain passive while it jukes and swings. Diamandis’ “Happy,” the opening track on Froot, the third Marina and the Diamonds album, couldn’t be more different. A quietly moving, slightly melancholy reflection on the subject of finding the title emotion in making music, “Happy” — and much of Froot — hovers in the vicinity of Florence + the Machine and Aimee Mann, with wisps of Kate Bush’s ephemeral eccentricity and Annie Lennox’s arty populism creating an Electropop shimmer that could easily appeal to fans of Sara Bareilles or Lady Gaga. See Marina and the Diamonds 7 p.m. Friday at Bogart's. Get more information and purchase tickets here.
Get crafty at SUMMERFAIR
Here in the Queen City, the reopening of Coney Island — the pool, the rides, the food — means one thing: the start of summer. And the annual Summerfair clinches the deal. A Cincinnati tradition since 1967, Summerfair consistently ranks among the top 100 art shows nationally and features more than 300 artists from all around the United States in 12 categories, including painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking and mixed media. There will also be regional performers, including belly dancers, Celtic dancers, musicians and cloggers(!) on stages across the park, plus gourmet food. 2-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. $10 cash at the gate. Coney Island, 6201 Kellogg Ave., California, summerfair.org.
Take your dog to Washington Park for the FURRY FRIENDS FESTIVAL
If dogs are man’s best friend, shouldn’t they be able to have as much fun as we do during the weekend? Washington Park thinks so. Your furry friends are invited to spend a day in the park with other pups of all shapes and sizes, surrounded by tasty grub from Eli’s BBQ and Mazunte, as well as free, live music performed by Bluegrass artists Casey Campbell, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, The Tillers and more. Water will be available for the pups as well as locally brewed beer for the humans. 3-9 p.m. Free. 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, washingtonpark.org.
Buy some local wares at the OAKLEY FANCY FLEA MARKET
Oakley Fancy Flea is a low-key, curated market with high-end locally made wares in the heart of Oakley. Featuring vendors like Alien Pets, which makes knitted felt animals in all manner of shapes and sizes, Loveworn, upcycled clothing made from recycled T-shirts and even treats from Brown Bear Bakery, the Fancy Flea has almost doubled the space they’ll use for the market this year, meaning almost double the amount of stuff to peruse and double the fun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Free. 3047 Madison Road, Oakley, theoffmarket.org.
Check out Stephen Sondheim's dark musical ASSASSINS
Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical about presidential assassins has become a classic since it was first staged in 1990. That was the same year that Falcon Theatre began producing shows in Greater Cincinnati. In 1998, Falcon’s staging of Assassins put the company on local theatergoers’ radar. You know the names: John Wilkes Booth, Squeaky Fromme, Lee Harvey Oswald and more — all disgruntled, unbalanced people whose twisted path to the American Dream involved shooting a president. In this fascinating show they converge, commiserate and conspire, each with music from his or her moment in American history. It’s a strange tour de force. Through June 13. $18-$20. 636 Monmouth St., Newport, 513-479-6783, falcontheater.net.
Catch BUTCH WALKER at Bogart's
No one can accuse Butch Walker of not living up to his potential. For the past three decades, Walker has blazed a unique trail as a member of renowned bands, a critically acclaimed solo artist, a highly regarded producer and a prolific songwriter whose compositions for some of the industry’s biggest names have hit the upper reaches of the charts.Walker’s last three albums — 2010’s I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, 2011’s The Spade and the just-released and patently excellent Afraid of Ghosts — all hit the top spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. As a producer, Walker has worked with an almost schizophrenic range of musical talent, from Pete Yorn, Sevendust and Weezer to Lindsay Lohan, Avril Lavigne, Pink and Taylor Swift. If the music industry is looking to coronate a new man for all seasons, surely the crown would fit comfortably on Butch Walker’s hit-crammed head. See Butch Walker with Jonathan Tyler and The Dove and the Wolf 7 p.m. Saturday at Bogart's. Get more information and purchase tickets here.
Celebrate King Records with a reading of CINCINNATI KING in the park
Washington Park hosts a free staged reading of Cincinnati King, a new play that shares the history of King Records, Cincinnati music and racial equality by Playhouse in the Park Associate Artist KJ Sanchez. The play, meant to ignite dialogue and preserve unique local history, will be read at 7 p.m. A special performance from King Records’ legendary drummer Philip Paul kicks off the evening with a performance and behind-the-scenes stories. 5 p.m. Sunday. Free. 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincyplay.com.
Head to the Cincinnati Art Museum for a screening of AMERICA'S POP COLLECTOR
The Cincinnati Art Museum’s ongoing “Moving Pictures” series of film screenings presents the highly regarded and prescient America’s Pop Collector: Robert C. Scull - Contemporary Art at Auction. The verity-style documentary by John Scott and E. J. Vaughn chronicles the 1973 auction of work collected by Scull, a taxi-company tycoon, which netted more than $2.2 million and forever established the marketplace value of contemporary art. Today, when pieces by contemporary masters routinely bring in millions, the amount raised at the Scull auction may seem small, but it was a watershed moment at the time. 2 p.m. Sunday. Free. Cincinnati Art Museum Fath Auditorium, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
Stock up on summer reading material at the FRIENDS OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY USED BOOK SALE
The Friends of the Public Library Main Library Book Sale returns Saturday for its 43rd annual event (through June 5), offering more than 50,000 used books from every category imaginable, with most prices between $1 and $4. Feel free to casually browse or go on a book-buying spree — there will most likely be something for everybody, whether you’re looking for Alice or Zhivago. On Friday, June 5, indulge your bibliomania by filling up an entire Friends’ bag for only $10 (that’s not a typo). It’s time to hit the books. Begins 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Free. Main Library, 800 Vine St., Downtown, friends.cincinnatilibrary.org.
See more things To Do here.
Each week CityBeat staffers share their weekend plans: from dinner and drinks or special events to out-of-town concerts and stories we're working on. And some of us just watch TV.
Jesse Fox: This weekend I am shooting my first weekend of many summer music festivals. I will be traveling with former CityBeat intern, Catie Viox, to Nelsonville Music Festival to photograph a variety of amazing acts including Built to Spill, Black Lips and St. Vincent. Sunday, when I return, I plan to go by Riverbend to catch my friend Ben playing drums for this little band he's in called Dashboard Confessional.
Jac Kern: Tonight I will be living out my dream of being a hair model while volunteering for the May Festival. With a big, flower-filled 'do courtesy of Parlour, I’ll be greeting patrons as they arrive at the longstanding choral festival beginning at 6:30 p.m. If you see me, say hi! The May Festival closes this weekend with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Other than that, I'll be keeping it 100 percent chill (Read: boring), playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and watching the season premiere of Halt and Catch Fire Sunday.
Emily Begley: I’m heading up to Dayton on Saturday night to check out Wine & Canvas, which advertises itself as “the painting class with cocktails.” Each class lets you try your hand at a different portrait, and this weekend’s project is “Colorful Elephant,” a close-up of a wistful-looking elephant rendered in blues and greens. I’m not the best painter in the world — especially when alcohol is thrown into the mix — so I’ll probably be figuring out where to hang a portrait of an elephantine blob Sunday morning.
Hey all! News time.
First, a couple Cincinnati City Council things. Council yesterday voted to apply for up to $33 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants for the proposed Elmore Street Connector project. The bridge, which would connect Cincinnati State to the West Side after the current I-74 exit there is removed, is expected to cost up to $44 million. Currently, the city and the state would split that cost, but the federal money could lower the burden for both significantly.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is undertaking a years-long reworking of the I-75 corridor, which includes changing interchanges that connect the highway and I-74 to uptown. ODOT’s original plans remove the I-74 exit onto Central Parkway, which carries traffic to Cincinnati State’s doorstep, but wouldn’t replace that exit. That led to proposals for an overpass over I-75 to relink the area with Beekman Street, which runs through South Cumminsville and other neighborhoods on the other side of the Mill Creek Valley. Despite the backing of area employers in the Uptown Consortium, the project has been controversial.
But the bridge won’t cause delays to other parts of the project as previously expected, ODOT now says. Last month, officials said that constructing the bridge, which Cincinnati State President O’Dell Owens has championed, could delay the construction of the Hopple Street ramp until as late as 2020. After the potential delay was revealed and business owners in Camp Washington raised objections, Owens wrote a letter to ODOT requesting that the Hopple project not be delayed by the I-74 bridge. In an email response to that letter yesterday, Ohio Department of Transportation Acting District Deputy Director Gary L. Middleton said that removing the current I-74 interchange and constructing the new bridge would not affect the construction time frame for the Hopple exit.
Owens has said the bridge would provide Cincinnati State students living on the West Side a vital direct link to the school. Economic impact studies touted by Mayor John Cranley’s office and undertaken by the Greater Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research in 2014 suggest that the bridge could have an economic impact worth millions, as well as reconnecting neglected neighborhoods like Millvale and South Cumminsville, which were cut off from the rest of the city by construction of the interstates.
Now, if we could just get some of those millions for more public transit options in Cincinnati….
• A major bike trail on Cincinnati’s East Side could soon be one step closer to reality. The city of Cincinnati hopes to have a deal to present City Council for purchasing the right of way along the mostly unused Wasson Way rail line by Monday, City Manager Harry Black revealed in yesterday’s City Council meeting. The right of way, currently owned by Norfolk Southern, is needed for a proposed 7.5-mile bike path stretching from Mariemont to Xavier University in Evanston. Plans for an extension into Avondale have also been floated. Securing right of way for the trail is a crucial step and one that needs to be taken soon, Black said. The city is in the final stages of applying for a share of $500 million in TIGER grants the U.S. Department of Transportation has made available this year, and owning right of way is an important part of winning those funds.
• The Greater Cincinnati YMCA released big renovation plans for its downtown location yesterday. The building was built in 1917 and is an iconic presence along Central Parkway. The branch closed in December for the work, and now the YMCA is rolling out its detailed plans for what it will look like when finished. Among the big changes: much more natural light in the facility’s two-story fitness center, lounges with 50-inch TVs, new weight-lifting equipment and preservation of the site’s running track. That last one is huge for me. Sign me up when they reopen. I hate treadmills and it’s very difficult to find a good indoor track these days. City Council yesterday voted to approve a tax exemption for the entirety of the improvements made to the property. The project will revamp the entire building and add up to 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The work is expected to cost $27 million. The facility is expected to be open to the public again around this time next year. In the meantime, 12 other branches are open in the West End, Walnut Hills, Northern Kentucky and elsewhere around the area.
• A group of about 50 people gathered at Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine yesterday for a rally organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter in remembrance of unarmed women and trans people of color killed recently in police-related incidents around the country. Among those remembered was Rekia Boyd, who died in 2012 after off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin fired into a dark alley and shot her. Boyd was not involved in an earlier confrontation that led officer Servin to give chase to the group of people he fired at, and a Chicago judge found his actions “beyond reckless.” Servin, who says one of the group pulled something from their waistband and that he feared for his life at the time, was not punished for Boyd’s death. Organizers of yesterday’s rally in OTR said they wanted to highlight Boyd’s story and others as continued attention is paid to the shooting of unarmed men of color like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.
• Finally, Cincinnati isn’t the only Ohio city grabbing on to the tiny house trend. People’s Liberty grant recipient Brad Cooper has gotten a lot of attention lately for his project, which looks to build two 200-square foot houses in Over-the-Rhine. Cooper got $100,000 from People's Liberty to carry out that plan, but Cincy isn't the only city where enthusiasm is growing for the concept. This Cleveland Plain Dealer article details how the small, simple house movement is gathering steam in Cleveland and Toledo, where folks are making big plans to build similar tiny houses in urban areas.
That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with any story tips or just to say hey.
Good morning Cincy. Here’s your news today.
While we’ve all heard the good news that is going down in Cincinnati, there’s one big exception. Some recent serious but mostly non-fatal shootings in Walnut Hills, CUF, West End and other neighborhoods (including a few right outside my house in Mount Auburn) have put gun crimes in Cincinnati at a 10-year high. That’s caused some to call into question the effectiveness of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV. The program has produced good results in the past, though its funding has been uneven. But with gun violence on the rise, detractors like Councilman Charlie Winburn say it might be time to try something else. Winburn suggested getting rid of CIRV during a presentation of crime data at Tuesday’s Cincinnati City Council Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. Others, however, say the program, which relies on a number of methods including civilian peacekeepers, law enforcement home visits to repeat offenders and social service referrals, is doing its job and needs more support. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson suggested at the Tuesday meeting that more emphasis on social services and anti-poverty measures like neighborhood redevelopment might be part of the answer.
• Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 14 years, according to figures released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Companies in the region added nearly 20,000 new jobs in April, the data shows, the biggest increase in the past three years. But the area hasn’t avoided a major pitfall that has accompanied economic recovery around the country — while the overall unemployment rate is down, economists say, so are wages in the region. Meanwhile, underemployment, or people working part-time when they want to be working full time, is up in the Greater Cincinnati area. That dynamic could keep the economy sluggish, experts say.
• A plan to renovate 13 buildings in Covington’s MainStrasse neighborhood for 50 units of low-income housing we told you about in March has run into opposition from some in the community, who are vowing to fight the development. Cincinnati-based Model Group and women’s shelter Welcome House have partnered on the project, which is slated to receive federal low-income housing tax credits through the Kentucky Housing Corp. About half of the buildings have already been green-lighted for those credits, and applications for the rest will be filed later this year. But neighboring property owners are upset about the fact those tax credits require the currently crumbling buildings on Pike Street to remain low-income housing for 30 years after they’re renovated. They say that will dampen private investment in the area and lower the value of their properties, and they’re asking the city to fight the state’s decision to award the credits. However, it’s unclear that Covington officials have any power to challenge the state’s decision.
• Yikes. A sheriff’s deputy in Clark County Ohio, where Springfield is, has been fired after he took to Twitter with some seriously racist thoughts about protests in Baltimore. That city experienced civil unrest last month after a man named Freddie Gray died in police custody under questionable circumstances. “Baltimore the last few days = real life Planet of the Apes,” Clark County Deputy Zachary Davis tweeted April 28. Another tweet that day suggested: “It’s time to start using deadly force in Baltimore. When they start slaying these ignorant young people it’ll send a message.” After the tweets were brought to the attention of Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly yesterday, Davis was immediately fired. “If you’re posting these type of statements then I don’t feel you can serve this community,” Kelly told the Springfield News-Sun yesterday evening. Good for him.
• Two of the most powerful Republicans in Kentucky, and really in the whole country, have been butting heads big time in the Senate. U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who as you probably already know is running for president, has been digging in his heals on a portion of the Patriot Act that allows the National Security Administration to collect so-called meta data on Americans’ cell phone calls. Congress has just days to renew that particular program, as well as other parts of the Patriot Act. Paul and other Senators on both sides of the aisle have refused to allow cloture in the Senate for a bill that would do that unless NSA cell phone surveillance programs are nixed or significantly reformed. Paul and other Senators have used procedural maneuvers to keep that from happening.
That, of course, hasn’t been great for Kentucky’s other Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is charged with getting things passed through the chamber. This is especially awkward since McConnell has endorsed Paul for president. It’s yet another example of the complicated, fractious relationships that the GOP must navigate as it tries to take back the White House in 2016. Paul is playing the NSA card to appeal both to his grassroots, anti-government libertarian base as well as more civil-liberty minded independents. Meanwhile, rank and file Republicans want to see the Patriot Act renewal passed. Politics is awkward and complicated, y’all.