Nina Gibans: Celebrating the Soul of Cleveland
Nina Freedlander Gibans’ book, Celebrating the Soul of Cleveland (ATBOSH Media Ltd, 2018), serves up a smorgasbord of sagacious insights and observations about a place the author has called home for nearly ten decades. In fact, Gibans employs this book to reveal a keen sense of place about her beloved hometown.
She shared most of that life with her husband and soul mate, the late James Gibans, who was a prominent architect and cultural voice in Northeast Ohio. His presence and influence are evident throughout the tome, which contains detailed recollections of favorite places and experiences the two enjoyed for more than 60 years until his death in May Whether it’s the Cleveland Museum of Art, the various iterations of what became the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Shaker Lakes, or the historic bridges of the Flats, many of the places are famous local landmarks; others are personal favorite corners such as the rooftop community gardens at Shaker Towers where the Gibans lived for many years that Jim tended and were once lovingly cared for by Dorothy Fuldheim.
As way to celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary in 2015, the Gibans conceived a series of monthly, small group forums at their home or public venues such as The Happy Dog Euclid Tavern (now closed) with friends and community leaders to discuss books, poems, works of art, architecture, or experiences they had that had influenced the way they saw the world or lived their lives or grew as individuals. At the Happy Dog event, for example, Donita Anderson discussed the growth of the North Union Farmers Markets that she founded throughout the region, and Noelle Celeste talked about her experiences editing her local food publication Edible Cleveland. Nina Gibans moderated.
To furnish an underlying thread for the book, Gibans informs early on that she made Nobel Prize- winning Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions required reading “wherever and whenever” she has taught, as she has done throughout the community for many years.
“Because he jolted our thinking, wonderment, imagination, creativity and said be yourself,” she explains. “These thoughts are the basis for writing this book on the sustainability of life in Cleveland. The resonance.”
In addition to interweaving several or her own poems pertinent to each section throughout the book, such as “Sustainability” or “Cool Color White” about gardens, Gibans includes excerpts from other poets such as Mary Oliver (a mentor), Russell Atkins, and Allan Ginsberg. Similar to the images of artworks or historic sites, each provides a delight that the reader can linger on separately or savor as part of the total reading experience.
One of the simplest, most powerful elements of the book are the long litanies of the “joys of Cleveland” – favorite streets, artworks, artists, bodies of water, parks and green spaces, concert venues, villains, athletes, etc. – that have “sustained and moved” the Gibans through their decades in the city. She also includes lists of “favorites” by other Clevelanders from surveys she conducted.
Possessing the intellect of a university professor and the soul of a poet, Gibans sees the relevance of long-standing places and buildings and how they work in consort with ever-changing artists and influencers on how they impact the city and give its residents ongoing inspiration and evolving reasons to want to live their entire lives here.
“We harvest ideas and impressions every minute of a day (even in our dreams),” Gibans writes. “It is the ones that grow that are important. No matter how old we are. What are the sparks that will generate present and future involvement in this place?”
By the end of the book, Gibans effectively conveys a compendium of all the Cleveland resources, attractions and amenities that have fed her soul that she and her husband fully enjoyed and found restorative. She takes the reader through the decades touching on historical events and characters that have long passed but their remnants contributed to strengthening the soul of Cleveland all the way to the city’s current resurgence as a vibrant urban center loaded with accomplished artists and individuals. In doing so, she cleverly and lucidly ensures that the reader feels comforted and steeled by the fact that they, too, enjoy all of those treasures with more being added each year.
Ultimately, you can’t proclaim a significant Renaissance if you haven’t endured the Dark Ages preceding it. Or if you don’t possess hardy, enduring souls like Nina Freedlander Gibans to grow and sustain it far into the future.