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Cleveland author compares his fight for survival with the city’s comeback battle

An image of the book, "Octopus Hunting," by Richey Piiparinen.
An image of the book, "Octopus Hunting," by Richey Piiparinen.

Richey Piiparinen has made studying and understanding the economic history, culture and demographic changes of the city of Cleveland and the region his life's work. As founding director of the Center for Population Dynamics at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, he has studied what factors brought Cleveland and the region to its heights and what factors led to its decline and earned the moniker as a “Rust Belt" city.

Cleveland’s fight to stave off decline now mirrors Piiparinen’s own battle for survival against cancer. During the pandemic, doctors diagnosed Piiparinen with a type of cancer known as glioblastoma. This type of cancer is known to be aggressive and it is not curable.

The diagnosis and treatments, Piiparinen says, have forced him to deeply ponder his life and to face death. And in doing so, he says, he found that his path and the path of the city he loves are linked together. Piiparinen describes the book, “Octopus Hunting,” as a collection of essays about "his fight for life in a city that is in of itself fighting for life.”

Piiparinen and the book’s illustrator Liz Maugans, joined host Jenny Hamel on Ideastream Public Media’s radio program, the “Sound of Ideas” to discuss the book.

“I have a story to tell. I want to tell it not just for the public, more so to my children and family,” Piiparinen told Hamel.

The book begins by discussing how an incurable cancer diagnosis forced Piiparinen to contemplate both who he was and what life meant. He says the terminal diagnosis forces those questions right to the front without the benefit of distraction.

“You know when you're not sick you're able to go out and watch Cavs games and, you know, distract yourself. And sometimes it's too much distraction, where you've lacked all awareness or lacked all urge to be aware to what the meaning of life is,” said Piiparinen.

He says the book is about a spiritual journey but he says it’s also a physical journey one that is reflected in Cleveland’s journey back from decline.

“The geography of the city is the geography of the body. It connects into the geography of the body,” said Piiparinen.

“Octopus Hunting,” is available at local bookstores and online retailers.

-Richey Piiparinen, Author, "Octopus Hunting"
-Liz Maugans, Illustrator, "Octopus Hunting"

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”