The late writer Harvey Pekar, often called Cleveland’s unofficial poet laureate, was celebrated Saturday in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with the dedication of a park in his name.
Located at the northwest corner Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, Harvey Pekar Park was welcomed with a comic festival, jazz music, storytelling and an outdoor screening of American Splendor, featuring an introduction by the writer’s widow Joyce Brabner.
The space is located in Pekar’s old stomping grounds of Coventry Village, which in the 1960s was a center for Cleveland’s counterculture movement.
“For a few years, now, I’ve been asked to endorse installation of a big, permanent ‘Harvey Pekar’ billboard on a wall in my neighborhood: an image of ‘American Splendor’ #1 ‘where it all started,'” Babner wrote explained earlier this month. “I’ve always said no. This year, I saw an opportunity and said I would co-operate if a nearby corner was returned to its earlier, youth/arts-friendly state by removing the big blocky “people bumper” planters that were installed to discourage assembly– and by welcoming back young people, street musicians, storytellers, chess players, etc. to a communal meeting space and encouraging artists, storytellers and comics makers.
“The corner is where (young) Harvey used to try out material on the crowd,” she continued, “as a sort of stand-up comedian who later wrote and published his stories about neighborhood life in his ‘American Splendor’ autobio comic books. The spot had been a haven for nonconformist and creative youth until overblown anxiety about flash mobs and kids hanging around without money to support local business led to curfews and what many felt was repressive ‘rezoning” and redesign.”
As you can see from these photos taken by cartoonist Derf Backderf, the area was ringed by 6-foot banners created by Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland artist Joseph Remnant that, together, tell a complete story. There’s also a permanent plaque (above).
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