Shelley Pearsall

Age: 47

Profession/ Avocation: Author of "Crooked River"

Connection to the river: The Cuyahoga is Pearsall's hometown river. She grew up in the Cleveland area and spent hours boating on the river with her father. Today, she lives in Silver Lake near the scenic part of the river. Pearsall also wrote the book "Crooked River," which details Cleveland's first murder trial of a Chippewa Indian, John Amick, who lived along the river.

Profile: The Cuyahoga River has always been a part of Pearsall's life. Growing up she explored it, but from a personal standpoint she is more interested in the early settlement history around the river and the juxtaposition of settlers and Native Americans living in one area.

She said one can follow this history from the early settlements to when the river infamously caught fire in 1969, something her father witnessed.

"I think it's really a treasure that's been through a lot," Pearsall said.

When Pearsall stumbled across the story of the first murder trial in Cleveland, she was fascinated about trying to figure out what exactly happened. She researched letters and other documents to get a description of the trial. She wanted to create something to teach children about the Native American cultures that used to live in this area.

Pearsall said the cultures have essentially been erased, except for use as place names. She wanted to show children there were people behind those names. In addition, she wanted to teach children about the concept of justice.

"I wanted kids to kind of on a more basic level start to think about that in terms of this trial, did this man get justice? Could he have ever got justice in that particular environment?" Pearsall said. "I want kids to definitely get that out of the story and think about what makes a fair trial and what groups of people even today get justice or don't get justice."

What is your most recent/greatest accomplishment? Pearsall thrives on bringing stories that have been overlooked by history to light. She likes to pick somewhat controversial topics and some controversy surrounds the voices she chooses to write in.

"I want to allow all voices to speak in my writing, not just ones that match me as an author. I think that's the only way you grow as a person and hopefully my readers also see that it's okay to learn about African-American history or to learn about Native American history even if they aren't (of that ethnicity)," Pearsall said. "It's the country's history. It's the state's history."

She doesn't want to leave stories or perspectives out, and she sees making sure all sides are heard as an accomplishment.

What is your favorite cultural aspect of the river? Pearsall loves the name of the river. No one is 100 percent sure what the exact translation of Cuyahoga is, but Pearsall has heard it means "place of the jawbone" and said if you look at the river on a map, it sort of looks like one.

Another translation of the word is "crooked" which Pearsall used as a theme in her book. Just as the river twists and turns, so did the trial of Amik.

Pearsall also loves the culture of the Native Americans who settled along the river. "If you would've visited the river some years ago, 250 years ago, you would've seen these little community groups living on the river," Pearsall said.

One of the cultural aspects Pearsall discovered while researching "Crooked River" was that as Amik headed to his execution, he made a circular motion over his head, which was to summon the thunder beings. To the Chippewa, thunder beings were the most important spirits.

His execution was interrupted by a thunderstorm and, in the story, he disappeared. Pearsall describes this discovery as spine-tingling.

How long have you cared about the river? Pearsall remembers when the Cleveland end of the river was just a cesspool and has cared about it since then. She has seen how the river has progressed and become more healthy.

"It's been nice to see it change and I think really better things lie ahead for it still," Pearsall said. "But it's definitely a different looking river than the one I remember as a child, and I think that's great and hopefully that continues."

Pearsall said she has countless memories of boating on the Cuyahoga, whether it was with her father or on the Goodtime, a ship that provides public cruises on Lake Erie and the river.

What's your first memory or impression of the river? As a child, Pearsall's fascination with the Cuyahoga wasn't in the water, but above it. "I loved all the different types of bridges and passing under them." Pearsall said.

Her love of the bridges carried over into a story she told in schools about different groups disagreeing over bridge construction. There was actually a 'bridge war' between Ohio City and Cleveland after Cleveland built a bridge in the 1830s that diverted traffic away from Ohio City. "It's a fantastic story," Pearsall said.

Favorite feature/place/section thing about the river? Growing up, Pearsall was unaware of the scenic part of the river she now lives near. She only knew the mouth of the river and the Flats area.

"As much as it's the most polluted section, I still love the mouth of the river and the Cleveland skyline there and the lighthouse at the end," Pearsall said.