Tonight, we’re celebrating five years of the Writers’ Showcase Reading Series in Scranton. I hear that there will be cupcakes. There will also be featured readers taking the stage to share their work. I’m going to get a little sentimental for a moment. The Writers’ Showcase has undergone three different venue locations. Yes, three! We started out at New Visions Studio and Gallery, a wonderful space in downtown Scranton that closed its doors about two years after we started the reading series. Then, we moved to the Vintage Theater, also downtown. Unfortunately, that venue closed a few months after we relocated. Last year, we found a new venue, the Olde Brick Theatre. They have been incredibly supportive of everything we do.
Since the series started, we’ve mixed local writers with regional and national writers. We’ve had features come from as far away as Boston and Chicago, yes Chicago, to take part in a reading series in Scranton, of all places. My original co-host and co-organizer, Jason Lucarelli, wanted to start this series with me because there were few reading series in Scranton back in 2011. The city was also in MUCH worse financial condition than it is now. At the time, Scranton made national headlines because the mayor had to temporarily pay city workers minimum wage, due to the city’s debt and distressed status. Now, five years later, the city is almost out of distressed status, in part, because it sold off a lot of its assets, including the Parking Authority and Sewer Authority. There are no more headlines on NPR or Fox News about the city’s crisis, thank goodness.
Perhaps more importantly, the downtown has a different look. Back in 2011, there were entire blocks of downtown with vacant storefronts, especially on Lackawanna Avenue. Now, most of those empty storefronts have been filled. Last night, after I had a reading during the First Friday Art Walk, I marveled at how many boutiques have spread through the downtown, from Penn Avenue to Spruce Street. I also took a moment to feel grateful that a poetry reading on a Friday night had so many people at it. Even more people flooded a holiday market held at the location of a former popular department store, The Globe. This says something about the potential this city has.
Scranton’s future still has yet to be determined. It still has many obstacles to overcome, namely matters of long-term employment prospects for young people, but the city has changed since the Writers’ Showcase Reading Series started five years ago. The downtown has more businesses and restaurants. There is a community of young artists trying to create something here. The city is moving forward with paying off its debts and getting out of its distressed status.
Tonight, we’re going to celebrate five years of a reading series that has connected national writers with local ones. We’re also going to celebrate the progress the city has made.