Ohioana Remembers

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Memorial Day weekend has just passed. We hope yours was a safe one. This year was especially poignant as we marked 75 years since the end of World War II and also the devastating effects of COVID-19, which has already taken nearly 100,000 American lives since March.
At this special time of year, Ohioana would like to pay tribute to three gifted Ohio authors who have passed away in recent months.

As Ohioana observes Memorial Day, we’d like to pay tribute to three gifted Ohio authors who have passed away in recent months.

Karen Harper

It was a huge shock for Ohioana when we learned of Karen Harper’s passing on April 13, just a week after her 75th birthday. Less than two months before, Karen had been the guest of the Ohioana Book Club, which read her novel, American Duchess, as their winter selection. They loved the book –and her. We knew then that Karen was battling cancer, but she told us she planned to be at the 2020 Ohioana Book Festival, which we had to reschedule to August 29. Little did we know that book club would be her final public appearance.

Born in Toledo, Karen lived most of her adult life in Columbus, teaching English in high school and college until she turned to a full-time writing career in the 1980s. She became the prolific and award-winning author of more than sixty novels, many of them New York Times and USA Today best-sellers. But Karen was more than that. She was warm, caring, and generous to her author colleagues and her legion of fans, who loved her books and who she loved meeting at events like the Ohioana Book Festival, Books by the Banks, and the Buckeye Book Fair.

Karen was also a great friend of Ohioana. She dedicated two of her Cold Creek Trilogy books to the library. She was a long-time member, and in last year’s spring Ohioana Quarterly, was the guest contributor to our “Why I Support Ohioana” column, in which she wrote:

“I support the Ohioana Library partly because Ohioana supports me, and I don’t mean only because I am a longtime published author. I am also a proud Ohioan and an avid reader. For anyone who cares about Ohio, books, knowledge, and the arts in general, Ohioana is worth supporting.”

The Queen’s Secret, Karen’s latest historical novel—a genre in which she was a master—was released posthumously this month. We are saddened that we’ll never see Karen again, but she will never be forgotten

Janet Hickman

Born in the small village of Kilbourne and a resident of Columbus since 1957, Janet Hickman, who died late in April at the age of 79, was an author, educator, and mentor. As her obituary stated, “Her life’s work was teaching others and learning herself how to use children’s literature to enrich the lives and learning of children and young adults.” Janet was the author of seven

books for young adults. Zoar Blue, a historical novel about two Ohio teens living in the Pacifist community of Zoar during the Civil War, won the 1979 Ohioana Florence Roberts Head Award. In 1995, her novel about growing up in a small town in Ohio, Jericho, won the Ohioana Book Award in juvenile literature and was a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book.

Her long teaching career included more than twenty-five years at The Ohio State University, where she spearheaded the foundation of a children’s literature chair in honor of her mentor, Charlotte Huck. For many years, Janet organized a children’s literature conference in Columbus, bringing together educators and authors.

Janet was also a long-time friend and supporter of the Ohioana Library. She particularly loved following the new authors and books for young readers. Her contributions to that field will be long remembered.

Mike Resnick

Science fiction writer Mike Resnick was born in Chicago in 1942. He moved to Cincinnati in 1976, and made the city his home for the rest of his life. In a remarkable career that spanned nearly sixty years, Mike Resnick wrote more than seventy novels, 250 short stories, two screenplays, and edited more than forty anthologies. He holds the record for the most Hugo Awards—thirty-seven, including five wins; plus the Nebula Award and awards from seven foreign countries.

Mike was a featured author at the 2015 Ohioana Book Festival, our first to be held in downtown Columbus. When he died this past January at the age of 77, he had just completed the second novel in his new Dreamscape Trilogy, The Mistress of Illusions, which was published in April.

His legacy will live on as one of the most successful and influential writers in the science fiction genre of the past fifty years.

Little Fires Everywhere: From Page to Screen

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Promotional poster for Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere miniseries.

Last week saw the release of the final episode in Hulu’s 8-part Little Fires Everywhere miniseries, based on the 2018 Ohioana Award winning novel by Celeste Ng. As big fans of Ng and all things Ohio literature related, the staff at Ohioana were very excited for the show. Ng’s novel, originally released in 2017, takes place in the late 1990s and is set in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Shaker Heights. Upon release, the book became an instant bestseller and was featured on many “best of 2017” end-of-year booklists. The miniseries has now garnered praise and popularity, as illustrated by the concurrent rise of the novel to the become the #1 title on the New York Times fiction best seller list from the weeks of April 12-April 25. Upon watching Hulu’s adaption, it’s not hard to see what people are loving about it – from new viewers to established fans of Ng’s novel.

One of Little Fires Everywhere’s first fans was actor Reese Witherspoon, known for her extensive filmography in movies such as Legally Blond and Gone Girl, and more recently for her starring role in the television adaptation of Big Little Lies. Witherspoon is also an avid reader and hosts a book club online – picking a book each month for fans to read along with her. Little Fires Everywhere was Witherspoon’s pick for September 2017 and on her website she gave it a rave review, saying: “This story of two families in Ohio moved me to tears. Celeste Ng writes with stunning accuracy about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love and the danger of perfection – and the fire that destroys it all. To say I love this book is an understatement!”


Cover of Little Fires Everywhere.

Witherspoon discovered Little Fires Everywhere and began plans for a limited series adaptation before the book’s official publication. It was only a few short months after picking the book for her book club that it was announced on March 2, 2018 that the miniseries was officially in production, with Witherspoon starring. Witherspoon, co-star Kerry Washington, Lauren Neustadter, and Pilar Stone were announced as executive producers of the show, with Liz Tegelaar as writer and showrunner. Celeste Ng was also brought on as a producer and consultant for the show. Joshua Jackson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jade Pettyjohn, Lexi Underwood, Megan Stott, Gavin Lewis and Jordan Elsass were then cast to also star in the series.

The miniseries consists of 8 episodes and makes good use of every minute of that time, giving careful attention to each detail of the story and building a narrative that is emotionally investing and tense. Fans of the book will be happy to find that the miniseries is quite true to the plot and pacing of the novel, with a few key differences. For those who are not familiar with the premise: the story begins when Mia (Washington), an artist and single mother, and her daughter Pearl (Underwood) move to Shaker Heights, Ohio. They rent an apartment from a well-to-do family called the Richardsons – Elena (Witherspoon) and Bill (Jackson) with children Lexie (Pettyjohn), Trip (Elsass), Moody (Lewis), and Izzy (Stott) – who live in the wealthiest part of Shaker Heights. Eventually the members of each family become inextricably tangled in the lives of each other and that of Bebe Chow (Huang Lu), a poor immigrant mother who is trying to win back custody of her daughter who is being adopted by a family friend of Elena’s. The story explores topics of inequality, motherhood, sexuality, immigration, friendship and family relationships.


Celeste Ng with Ohioana Board President Daniel Shuey at the 2018 Ohioana Awards.

Little Fires Everywhere presents a familiar setting – and not just to those of us who are intimately acquainted with Shaker Heights and Ohio. The setting of 1990s suburban Ohio might be enjoyably recognizable to those of us Ohioana who watch it (though the series was actually filmed in California) but the scenarios that take place and the superb acting that bring the characters and story to life are what really give the series its shine. One of the most notable aspects of Ng’s novel was the ensemble-cast style form of storytelling – each character was given sufficient time in the limelight, their story examined and empathized with, their flaws brought into realistic and sometimes uncomfortable clarity.

The miniseries captures this feeling of character study excellently. Witherspoon and Washington are particularly captivating in their leading roles, often acting as opposing forces against each other. Witherspoon as Elena Richardson is fantastic as the upper-class mother of four, shiny and perfect – until she is forced to confront the things she doesn’t want to think about. Kerry Washington plays the creative, headstrong and fiercely loving Mia Warren convincingly – and shows the darker aspects of the character just as authentically.

As mentioned, a few differences do exist in the book versus the miniseries, a choice that can often risk alienating fans of the source material. However, the changes in Little Fires Everywhere truly seem to enhance the themes of the story and were done with Ng’s input and consultation. The first big change is that Mia and Pearl Warren are black, whereas in the book their race was never specified. Ng, who is Asian American, had initially wanted to write Mia and Pearl as people of color, but didn’t feel it was her place to tell that story (Atlantic). Though issues of race are explored in the novel, adding in this detail about the Warrens adds a new aspect that further complicates the relationship between the Warren and Richardson families.


Celeste Ng at the 2018 Ohioana Awards.

The second change that fans of the novel will notice is that the ending of the miniseries diverges significantly. An interesting aspect of this change is that it seems to better set up the series for a continuation of the story. Though the novel has no sequel, and at this time there are no official plans for a second season, the miniseries has gained significant enthusiasm and popularity that indicates that viewers would like to see more. Regardless, the Little Fires Everywhere miniseries proves itself as a beautiful adaptation of Ng’s work that both acts as a companion to the novel and stands alone very well.

Have you watched Little Fires Everywhere? If you’ve read the book, how do you think the miniseries compares? Would you like to see the story continue in a second season? We would love to hear your thoughts! Please share with us in the comments of this blog post or write to us on our social media platforms.

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Sources: https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/03/little-fires-everywhere-hulu-series-pivotal-change-from-novel/609151/