David Giffels, Writer


Spend 20 minutes with David Giffels and you’ll fall in love with his hometown.

A regular kid who grew up in a mid-sized Rust Belt city, Giffels has turned that into a career of setting the record straight on just how charming, vibrant and, well, cool Akron is.

“Everybody I know owns a bowling pin,” Giffels says from the solarium of his renovated Akron home. “In Akron, you can’t just casually bowl; we had to turn it into a profession.”

From the time he was in second grade he wanted to write books. And he followed what seemed like a logical path—a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in creative writing. A counselor told him to get a job as a teacher and he could write his poems in the summer.

He graduated with a goal of not working at a newspaper but wound up doing it anyway to prove to his new in-laws that he could provide for his bride.

Landing a job as the Akron Beacon Journal’s society columnist turned out to be the first in an illogical series of events that has made him an award-winning writer and beloved columnist, book author, occasional television comedy writer, and a professor in the prestigious Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.

The year Giffels graduated from high school Akron lost its title of Rubber Capital of the World. The families who stayed struggled to make sense of who they were, Giffels says. That has become the core of his writing soul.

“You know when you get that feeling that you’re being misunderstood?” he says. “I have the opportunity to set that straight.”

In All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House, Giffels wrote about buying a dilapidated mansion for his young family and renovating it—doing most of the work himself.

He was in the middle of the renovations when he got an offer for a dream job—writing feature stories for a New York City newspaper. But he turned it down.

Giffels reasoned, “Why move to New York when I can do the same kind of work here, in a place where it actually matters,” former colleague Chuck Klosterman says.

From Akron, Giffels penned a few episodes of the animated MTV series Beavis and Butthead—with some inspiration from his brother and a few bottles of beer.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to be the Noel Coward of Beavis and Butthead and write clever double-entendre lines,’” he says.

Series creator Mike Judge told him simply, “Make it stupider. You’re trying too hard.”

Judge reiterated a lesson Giffels learned in journalism—it’s not about you, it’s about the story.

Taking a buyout from the Beacon Journal in late 2008 gave him the chance to pursue book writing more aggressively and start teaching.

“I loved my job,” he says. “But it was a difficult time to love the business.”

This summer he’s working on another book—one about his own coming of age in Akron.

His writing tricks? In the attic office of his home, he plays the guitar to overcome writer’s block. He writes in the morning and reads other authors in the afternoons. (Rick Bragg and Dave Eggers are favorites.)

He says, “Writing is a process of finding out what you didn’t know you already knew.”

—Susan Ruiz Patton

Cleveland Arts Prize
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