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Collection of steel town stories in new book written by IU Northwest alumna

Children of Steel provides the world a glimpse into Northwest Indiana life, and beyond

Community Alumni May 28, 2024

A black and white photo of a woman sitting. Gloria McMillan was the President of IU Northwest's science fiction club in 1971. At first glance, Gloria Ptacek McMillan, Indiana University Northwest Class of 1972, and Bianca Roman, IU Northwest Class of 2024, might not seem to have a lot in common.

But look a little deeper, and you’ll find strong feelings that both alumnae have about theregion where they grew up. Their stories, along with tales from additional writers from steel mill towns near and far from Northwest Indiana, have recently been published in a new book, Children of Steel.

The story: from the beginning

When McMillan graduated with a bachelor’s degree from IU Northwest more than 50 years ago, very few kids whose families worked in the steel mills attended college, much less were English literature majors.

“At the time, there were some prejudices against kids from steel mill towns,” McMillan said. “In fact, there were also a lot of prejudices against people from the steel mills, in general. ‘Steel kids,’ if they attended college, tended to major in nursing or business.”

Growing up in East Chicago, Indiana, she soon realized there was much to learn about transitioning from high school to college. “I was the first in my family to go to college and had a lot to learn about what it meant to attend college,” McMillan said.

In college, she said she felt invisible. She didn’t see herself, or her way of life or upbringing reflected in almost any of the authors they studied in her English literature classes.

“I was so unhappy that most of the authors we studied were not from working-class, blue-collar backgrounds,” she said.

She only remembers one author — D.H. Lawrence — who, as the son of a coal miner, was from the working class in early 20th century England.

After McMillan earned her master’s degree at IU Bloomington in 1975, she moved to Arizona and spent several years as an English professor at the University of Arizona. But, despite living across the country, she never forgot the lack of visibility or recognition steelworkers received.

More than 50 years later, she decided to do something about that. She created a project that was the genesis of the book Children of Steel, released in February 2024.

“The history and legacy of steelworkers is still (for the most part) invisible,” McMillan said. “Until now, very little was ever written about the industry and the people that move this industry forward.”

She coordinated with 20 writers from Northwest Indiana and beyond to tell their connection to the steel industry.

She knew of several groups of writers, specifically those focused on the working class, and put the word out about her vision.

Finding connections back ‘home’

McMillan’s outreach led her to Roman, who, like McMillan, is also the first in her family to graduate college. A communications major and English minor, Roman earned her bachelor’s degree in May from IU Northwest.

In a creative fiction English class taught by Dr. Garin Cycholl, Roman was asked to write a story about where she was from. She began to do her own research about literature set in Northwest Indiana and found, much like McMillan already knew, these stories were not very prevalent, or positive.

A women smiling at the camera“I didn’t have a lot of experience outside of this area where I live,” she said. So, she talked to her parents and asked them about what their experiences were, like growing up in East Chicago. The result was a story she titled, “Homebodies,” which explores themes like hometown nostalgia and coming of age.

“My stories are about Latinos in East Chicago,” Roman said. “They are even more invisible than other people who live around here.”

Cycholl knew about McMillan’s call for stories about living in steel mill towns and suggested that Roman enter “Homebodies” for consideration. As both the editor and author of the book, McMillan chose Roman’s story to be included in Children of Steel.

Roman plans to take a gap year and do some research into master’s programs in communications as her next step. She also would like to continue writing, whether it is about her hometown or other subjects.

For McMillan, Children of Steel is her third published book. She also has written and produced several plays. She would love to see the stories in Children of Steel featured in readings on the IU Northwest campus or turned into regional theatrical productions.

McMillan will be returning to Northwest Indiana early this summer and will do a reading at the East Chicago Public Library. She hopes to arrange a reading or other events on campus and possibly meet Roman in person.

If the two do meet, the IU Northwest alumnus will most likely find that they have a great deal in common and much to teach each other about the unique place that they call home.

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