Free Rose Light is the wide-ranging story of the people and community of South Street Ministries, in Akron, Ohio, told in the style of the ministry—improvisational, risky, and present. As much as this is the story of South Street through O’Connor’s experience of the organization, it is also an invitation to the reader by example. There is no set of conclusions or directions provided in this work, save for one: don’t let anyone define your story. You claim your own story.
About the Author
Mary O’Connor is an architect who specialized in public assembly spaces in her twenty-five-year practice in New York City. Prior to becoming an architect, she was an aquatic comedian and hostess at Manhattan Plaza Health Club. Her career came to an abrupt conclusion after a near drowning incident during an act that featured diving off the board in a full evening gown. She moves through the world via seven bicycles in four cities.
O’Connor is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and received a Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in North Macedonia. Free Rose Light was pummeled and shaped into existence through the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program at The University of Akron. Visit her site at www.freeroselight.com.
Advance praise for Free Rose Light
Mary O’Connor came to Akron not intending to stay, she tells us in the opening pages of Free Rose Light. But the landscape and the people and the stories of South Akron and its unlikely evangelists, Duane and Lisa Crabbs, changed her heart. Echoing one of Duane’s favorite Scripture quotes – “Seek the welfare of the city” – these closely observed, poetically tuned essays remind us why all places and all people are worthy of salvation.
—David Giffels, author of Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America and The Hard Way on Purpose
Wait … a Manhattan architect who describes herself as “a lapsed Catholic lesbian” writing a book about a white evangelical pastor who moved his family into the heart of an impoverished neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, to share his passion for “God’s grace”? What kind of equation is that?
It is, improbably, an equation for literary alchemy.
Mary O’Connor claims to be a first-time author. I’m finding that difficult to believe, because much of the writing in Free Rose Light is beautiful. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I backed up and reread a paragraph, not for greater comprehension but merely to revel in the selection, order and pacing of the words.
A troubled O’Connor went in search of herself and found the answers in Akron, mainly by immersing herself in the life of Duane Crabbs, a former firefighter who felt a calling to move his middle-class family into a crime-and-drug infested neighborhood on the eastern edge of Summit Lake. This is not, however, just a compelling story about Crabbs and his initially reluctant wife, Lisa, and their South Street Ministries, or even about poverty and race. It is about all of that, but it is foremost a naked journey into the heart of a unique 58-block area of Akron, past and present, an Akron that O’Connor put under a non-blinking microscope to reveal the inner lives of its occupants, in the process reminding us of universal truths.
—Bob Dyer, retired columnist, Akron Beacon Journal
—Noor Hindi, Dear God. Dear Bones. Dear Yellow.
Free Rose Light: Stories Around South Street is a kaleidoscopic blueprint of a hard-living community spread out for the reader with the point and poetry of an architect. O’Connor’s “fluency in the language of space” and her arresting details like “curled licks of dried oil paint”— reveal the detours in life, played out in the tangible—and always, always coated with a soulful finish like “a combination of confessional and kitchen table.”
O’Connor describes a habitat with its structures, an uncommon ministry and its unlikely congregants—including herself—in a life cycle moving from hope to deep disappointment, back to hope again—very much like that of their river—the Cuyahoga: loved, neglected and abused, and ever-reaching for revival.
A singular love letter of a memoir, celebrating the life of a community embraced by the gritty steadfast “walls” of its South Street Ministry.
—Viki Merrick, Co-producer of The Moth Radio Hour and Senior Editor on the NPR series This I Believe