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Joanna Connors

Joanna Connors
How did you get introduced to your craft?

My father was a journalist with the Miami Herald when I was in elementary school; later he edited magazines. He and my mother were always reading, and he was a writer, so reading and writing were just part of life for our family. Then I had a wonderful teacher in high school who was a poet and really encouraged me to write. So first I wanted to be a poet, of course.

What made you choose it as a profession?

When I went to college I kind of resisted the idea of journalism, mostly because I was 17 and resisting anything my father did or said or even thought. I went to the University of Minnesota to be a theater major, a choice guaranteed to rile my father. Around the time I realized I was not cut out for acting, in any way, someone told me that the reporters at the Minnesota Daily, the campus newspaper, actually got paid. Being paid to write sounded swell. When I went into the subterranean newsroom to check it out, I found my tribe and discovered how much fun it is to work for a newspaper.

What are some things that have influenced you or your work?

I still work at a newspaper, the Plain Dealer, and it was there that I learned how to write reported narratives, which goes by different names -- creative nonfiction, nonfiction narrative, etc. -- but means the same thing: applying fictional storytelling techniques to reported, nonfiction material. The Plain Dealer had a great editor, Stuart Warner, who studied the form and helped reporters put together projects and write them. He edited my first few pieces, and then Deborah Van Tassel took over and edited my biggest piece, which I am now turning into a book.
Other influences are the great nonfiction narrative writers, from Truman Capote through Gene Weingarten.

Why have you chosen Cuyahoga County as a place to live and work?

I moved here from Minneapolis to work at the Plain Dealer, thinking I would be leaving within five years for bigger, better cities and newspapers. I stayed because I really like the city and the people, who are friendlier and less pretentious than anywhere I've lived. There's always something going on in arts and entertainment, and it's affordable and accessible, unlike some bigger cities. So is housing; my family in New York can't believe the low prices we pay for really wonderful places.

I also want to say that the community's support for artists, through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the grants given through CPAC, are the envy of artists I know in other cities. They really are astonished by this level of support.

What is your favorite place, event, or “hidden gem” in greater Cleveland?

The Cleveland International Film Festival! It's not a hidden gem by any means, but every year I get such a boost from seeing the huge, huge crowds who come in for this fabulous festival. I used to be the film critic at the Plain Dealer, and went to lots of film festivals in other cities. None are as well-run and creatively programmed as Cleveland.

I also love the Beachland Ballroom and Cain Park for music.