It’s not a stretch to say that local author David Giffels embodies Akron. He has devoted his career and life to the city as many of his peers have moved away over the years, and he has championed all things Akron. His new book, “The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt,” has drawn national attention to our fair city and to his distinguished career, and through this, Giffels has shown a large audience just what Akron is made of.
The author drew a packed crowd last week to the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Main Library as part of the Main Event Speaker Series, where he read from his release and fielded questions from the audience.
Giffels read a book excerpt that chronicles his time as a ball boy for the Cleveland Cavaliers — you see, that’s one of a few distinct connections he has with LeBron James, another Akron son: they both went to work for the Cavs right out of high school.
“Among my many professional liabilities was the fact that I was and probably remain the only employee in the history of the National Basketball Association who didn’t actually know anything about basketball,” said Giffels.
During the question and answer session, one attendee brought up the chapter about LeBron James, which is less about basketball and more about Akron. Giffels writes that LeBron James was born around the same time the term Rust Belt was born in one of the quintessential Rust Belt cities.
“We understand LeBron James in a unique way and in a complex way, and it’s a way that says a lot about us,” he said. “I wanted to try to write about why his departure hurt so bad and it didn’t have a lot to do with basketball.”
Giffels also talked about a sensitive subject, his best friend John Puglia, who lost his life to cancer last year. Puglia, the VP of Creative Services for Akron-based Whitespace Creative, came of age with Giffels as they attended college at what was then called “Akron U.” Giffels describes downtown Akron at the time like a set from the movie “Mad Max.,” a “decrepit wasteland that didn’t seem like anything but beauty and possibility.” He and Puglia both got married at the same time and both started careers here, said Giffels. “He and I validated what it means to commit to a place that a lot of other people say is not worth committing to.”
Puglia lost his life to cancer, and Giffels has made it a mission to help carry Puglia’s story forward, and he considers Puglia a collaborator of this book.
Giffels, an English professor at The University of Akron, also spent a number of years as a well-known columnist at The Akron Beacon Journal and is the author of other books, including “All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House.” He also is coauthor of “Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!” and “Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron.”
For more information about the Library’s Main Event Speaker Series, visit www.akronlibrary.org.