Photo by Laura Wimbels
Annie Zaleski is arguably one of Cleveland’s most accomplished writers. She has had articles published in little magazines and websites such as Rolling Stone, Billboard, NPR Music, Salon, The Guardian, The A.V. Club, and even a review of a Morrissey concert in The Pirate Press, Rocky River High School’s newspaper.
Annie’s penchant for prose began well before she ever saw Morrisey take the stage. After a memorable writing assignment in second grade, Annie knew she was meant to be a writer. She recalls going above and beyond her eight-year old contemporaries at the time.
“The teacher told us to write a story,” she explains. “I came back with multiple pages and chapters in mine.”
Although she is now primarily a music writer, Annie originally wanted to write about sports. “Baseball is my first love” Annie claims. It wasn’t until high school when copies of Cleveland’s own Alternative Press started making its way into Annie’s hands that she decided to switch her focus.
After graduating from Rocky River High School, Annie attended Harvard University as an English major. She worked on the student newspaper her first year and was a DJ on the college’s radio station.
“They had an overnight rock show on the station called ‘Record Hospital’–we were encouraged to play underground stuff,” Annie recalls. “I remember playing very early The Faint records.”
Annie’s deep dive into little-known electro-punk bands and her articles in the newspaper may have led to her internship at Alternative Press at age 19. Other than working for the magazine that sparked her interest in rock ‘n’ roll journalism, interning for Alternative Press at such a young age helped Annie achieve one of her original goals in writing.
“I was very shy and felt intimidated,” she says. “One of the main reasons I started in journalism was to get over my shyness.”
She also recalls the feeling of seeing her name in print for the first time during those years.
“It’s a giant thrill, almost impossible to explain, like, wow that’s me that’s my name, and people are going to read it.”
After graduating from Harvard, Annie wrote freelance for a few years before accepting a full-time job as an editor and music writer at a St. Louis newspaper, The Riverfront Times. She worked there until she returned back home to Cleveland eight years ago for a job she had dreamed of since a young age: a full-time gig at Alternative Press as its managing editor.
“It was not lost on me that this was a full circle moment in my life,” she admits.
Annie’s job at Alternative Press was a little bit of everything, from writing and editing to answering phones. If it needed to be done, she was on it. There is no room for slackers in professional journalism and Annie’s work ethic and perseverance is what has kept her afloat in an industry where many are here today and gone tomorrow.
Not only was she returning to the publication she interned at so many years ago, Annie had to come face to face with an almost unrecognizable Cleveland from when she left in the ‘90s.
“I can’t believe the food and beer scene here now,” Annie says. “I tell all of my friends from out of town that I am never bored. There is something to do every single night, no matter what you’re into.”
Annie is still very dialed in to the local music scene, as much so as when she wrote her first concert review back in high school. She feels like there is a new level of talent surging through the city’s musicians these days compared to when she left.
“Cleveland is an exciting place to live right now, so much going on on a local level,” she says. “The Masonic is booking shows again the agora looks amazing and The Phantasy seems to be on upswing. It’s a really good time to be a music fan in Cleveland. It elevates everyone in the music scene.”
This June will mark Annie’s 20-year anniversary as a journalist and she shows no signs of slowing down. She’ll have two books released in the upcoming year. The first book chronicles the importance of The B-52s both back in the band’s heyday and now, a passion project of Annie’s for years that is finally seeing the light of day. The second book is a 33 ⅓ release about Duran Duran’s album Rio. The 33 ⅓ series has an open call for writers to write short books about an album of their choosing, and while this was not Annie’s first time applying, it is her first book being published by the Bloomsbury satellite.
“Whatever I did this time, it worked,” Annie says with a laugh.
Being published hundreds of times by some of the most recognizable names in popular culture is a feat for anyone, but Annie has the added challenge of being born with cerebral palsy.
“I walk with a noticeable limp and get tired more easily, and I can’t stand for long periods of time or walk long distances,” she explains.
This is a true testament to Annie’s overwhelmingly positive spirit. Always looking on the bright side, she adds, ”The perks of working at home and being self-employed!”
Annie definitely sees herself staying in Cleveland for the foreseeable future with her husband. The plan as of right now is to focus on writing more books and keep the freelance train rolling. Hopefully, we’ll all be lucky enough to have another 20 years of smart, funny, and informative journalism from this native Clevelander.