by Mike Templeton

In December, Belt Publishing will release The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook, a collection of essays written by people who live in the urban neighborhoods that give Cincinnati its personality. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is especially excited to see the historically Appalachian neighborhoods represented in this collection. Nick Swartsell is the editor for this new guidebook, and I got a chance to speak to him about the book, the contributing writers, and how he came to be the editor of this latest addition to Belt’s Neighborhood Guidebook Series.

The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook is not the ordinary guidebook that offers listings of hotels and restaurants. This guidebook is an in-depth exploration of what makes Cincinnati’s neighborhoods what they are and how they came to be what they are. It is an exploration of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods written by people who call these neighborhoods home and have real insight into the life and culture of the places that give Cincinnati its personality, history, and diverse culture. This is a neighborhood guidebook that springs from that ground up rather than an overview of all that is on the surface. With his experience as a writer for CityBeat and Assistant producer for Cincinnati Edition in WVXU, Nick Swartsell appears to be an ideal editor for this project, even if he did not see it that way himself.

Nick Swartsell is originally from Hamilton, Ohio. He attended the branch campuses of Miami University. He did service with AmeriCorps after graduating from college and went to the University of Texas for graduate school. After a fellowship with the Dallas Morning News in Washington DC, Swartsell returned home and found the cultural life of Cincinnati to be a fertile site to develop as writer. “I covered communities [for CityBeat] that reminded me of life in Hamilton. Lower Price Hill, for example, seemed to have the same feel as part of Hamilton,” Swartsell told me. Perhaps it is his focus on community with a writer’s eye that put him in line to become editor for The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook.

Courtesy of Belt Publishing

Nick Swartsell said he came to this project after “Greg Kornbluth from Downbound Books recommended me to Belt Publishing.” Even with his experience, Swartsell sees himself more as a writer than an editor. “Being an editor is not really in my wheelhouse,” he told me. Still, his selections in The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook are outstanding. Swartsell explained that the writers for the book are people who live in these neighborhoods and are able to get out and speak to residents who represent a long historical view of life in the neighborhood. “These people got out and talked to people who have lived there for years. They have an eye or detail and do not shy away from the things that some people do not like.” I suppose to this end, we can expect The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook to refuse being a sugar-coated and idealized portrait of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.  

The historically Appalachian neighborhoods have at least one of the most important voices from within the UACC orbit. Mike Henson’s essays on Over-the-Rhine and Mt. Washington are rare achievements for this book. Nick Swartsell said he was excited to have Mike Henson offer something for this collection. As he explained, “I have been a fan of Mike Henson’s work ever since I read Ransack [Henson’s novel of life in Over-the-Rhine].” Henson, of course, brings all of his insight and intense style to explorations of two neighborhoods that have seen some of the most profound changes in Cincinnati. That Over-the-Rhine and Mt. Washington are so strikingly different testifies to the scope of what Henson can offer such a project. Mike Henson’s involvement in these neighborhoods includes years of work with the homeless, his work as an addiction counselor, and the insights of one who has witnessed the changes in these neighborhoods from within.

Other contributors include Kathy Y. Wilson who writes about Walnut Hills, another neighborhood that has gone through some profound shifts in the past decade. Readers will recognize Wilson from “Your Negro Tour Guide,” her long-time column in CityBeat. Wilson is a prolific writer and activist who brings the insights of her life in Walnut Hills to the cultural and political engines of change in this neighborhood. In the course of our conversation, Swartsell also mentioned Jocelyn Gibson’s essay on Camp Washington. Her essay on this historically Appalachian neighborhood chronicles another shift in the personality of Cincinnati. Camp Washington has gone from an almost insular urban Appalachian working-class neighborhood to a neighborhood that fell into decay as industry left the area. The neighborhood is now undergoing still more economic and cultural shifts as Camp Washington catches up with the currents of the 21st Century. Other contributors with Urban Appalachian Community Coalition connections include Elissa Yancey writing about the Mill Creek and Pauletta Hansel reflecting on Union Terminal and Queensgate.

The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook is published by Belt Publishing. It will be released in December, but you can pre-order the book from the Belt Publishing website or locally at Downbound Books in Northside. Preorder from Downbound Books and you will be lined up for copy signed by Nick Swartsell. The websites for both are below. Nick Swartsell told me he was a little anxious about what might come when submissions for the book opened. But the response was magnificent. “Every writer in the book demonstrated tremendous insight, and the essays collected all reveal a theme, which is that these neighborhoods are at a pivot point where things are rapidly changing,” Swartsell explained. Swartsell was also emphatic that all the essays collected in this book show a pronounced sympathy and even love for the neighborhoods they know so intimately, many from decades of living there and watching things change for the good and the not so good.

Nick Swartsell has plenty going on as a writer and editor. Readers of The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook may be interested to know that he is developing a podcast on the Crosley Building in Camp Washington. This building is part of the complex history of the role Camp Washington played in the development of Cincinnati and the impact Cincinnati had on the world. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is obviously happy to se the historically Appalachian neighborhoods highlighted as central to the history of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook will be available in December. Preorder from Belt Publishing or from Downbound Bools. Links below.

Nikolas Swartsell’s website can be found here:

To learn more about Belt Publishing and to preorder The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook:

For more information about Downbound Books:

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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