The Ohioana Library Association is excited to announce a new program that will connect readers and Ohio writers and shine the spotlight on Ohio’s unique role in shaping culture and literature worldwide – the Ohio Literary Trail!
Ohioana compiled the trail map with more than 70 sites across the Buckeye state, paying tribute to the authors, poets, illustrators, libraries, and creative influencers of the written word who have called Ohio home. Tourists planning a literary-themed outing, as well as Ohioans who want to discover literary treasures they never knew existed in their own backyard, will find it here.
The Ohio Literary Trail celebrates Ohio’s diversity through an eclectic range of literary greats who influenced feminism and women’s rights, Black history, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, and American culture through literature.
Hosted online by the Ohioana Library Association, the Ohio Literary Trail is organized by the state’s five geographic regions. The downloadable map provides links to every destination, with details, directions, and background information.
For a true literary celebration that unites readers and writers, the Ohio Literary Trail features five annual festivals in each region of the state: the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, Wooster’s Buckeye Book Fair, the Ohio University’s Spring Literary Festival in Athens, and Claire’s Day in Northwest Ohio. These major events feature authors, illustrators, poets, and more with fun activities for everyone. The link to each festival shares schedule updates.
According to Ohioana Executive Director David Weaver, “Ohio’s contributions to literature is something every Ohioan can be proud of. And as Ohio continues to influence the literary world, the Trail map will continue to be updated with new destinations that invite discovery and inspire the next generation of writers.” The Ohio Literary Trail can be accessed at: www.ohioana.org/resources/the-ohio-literary-trail/
It’s that time of year again! The Ohioana Library is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Ohioana Awards. Each year, juried awards are given to books in six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, About Ohio/Ohioan, Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature, and Juvenile Literature. Fans have the opportunity to make their voices heard by selecting the Readers’ Choice Book Award from among all thirty finalists in an online poll. Finally, we present a special prize for emerging writers, the Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant.
Ohioana Book Awards
First given in 1942, the Ohioana Book Awards are the second oldest, and among the most prestigious, state literary prizes in the nation. Nearly every major writer from Ohio in the past 78 years has been honored, from James Thurber to Toni Morrison.
Six of the Ohioana Award winners, as well as the Marvin Grant recipient, were selected by juries. The Readers’ Choice Award was determined by voters in a public online poll. Nearly 3,000 votes were cast for this year’s Readers’ Choice Award.
The 2020 Ohioana Awards ceremony is tentatively scheduled to be held Thursday, October 15, in the Atrium of Ohio’s historic Statehouse in Columbus. Of course, due to COVID-19, we are not certain we’ll be able to have the event live. We will keep you informed on our website and social media.
Listed below are the 2020 Ohioana Book Award winners. Click on the title to learn more about the author and their winning book.
Named for Ohioana’s second director, the Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant is awarded to an Ohio writer age 30 or younger who has not yet published a book. The 2020 Marvin Grant winner is Brendan Curtinrich. A native of Geauga County in northeast Ohio, Brendan studied creative writing at Hiram College and holds an M.F.A. in creative writing and environment from Iowa State University. He has served as a nonfiction editor at Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment and is currently a contributing editor at Split Rock Review. A triple-crown backpacker, he writes primarily about ecological issues, particularly the ways human animals affect and are affected by the world around them. His work is published or forthcoming in Trail Runner magazine, Appalachia, Gigantic Sequins, Sierra, and Footnote.
It’s July 10, and today we celebrate the 115th birthday of one of Ohio’s greatest writers – Mildred Wirt Benson. Her name might not be as familiar to you as some noted Ohio authors, but you’ve certainly heard of her pen name and the beloved fictional character she created – Nancy Drew.
Yes, indeed, “Millie” was the first “Carolyn Keene” – the pseudonym given to all the many writers of the enduringly popular mystery series built around the mythical teen sleuth. And most importantly about Millie – she infused Nancy with many of her own personality traits, talents, and interests. You could almost say that Millie was the REAL Nancy Drew.
She was born Mildred Augustine on this day in 1905 in the small town of Ladora, Iowa. A tomboy from the time she was a child, she excelled at sports. She developed a lifelong love of adventure and travel and was a talented musician.
But writing was her passion. “I always wanted to be a writer from the time I could walk,” she said. “I had no other thought except that I wanted to write.” She began writing stories in grade school; she won her first writing award when she was 14.
At the State University of Iowa, she became the first person in the school’s history to earn a master’s degree in journalism. While there she met and fell in love with Asa Wirt, who worked for the Associated Press. They married in 1928 and settled first in Cleveland, moving later to Toledo. Millie would remain an Ohioan for the rest of her life. Her only child, daughter Peggy, was born in 1937.
In 1927, Millie was hired by Edward Stratemyer as a ghostwriter for his syndicate, which produced popular books for teens, including the enormously successful Hardy Boys series. Ghostwriters worked for a flat fee and did not share in royalties of the books they wrote, which were published under pseudonyms created by the syndicate. They had to sign a confidentiality agreement to not reveal their true identities as authors.
After having Millie write several novels for the Ruth Fielding series (under the pen name Alice B. Emerson), Stratmeyer gave Millie a new assignment: to create an original series about a girl sleuth named Nancy Drew. Stratemeyer provided her with titles and plot outlines for three books. But it was left to Millie to flesh out the character.
And flesh her out she did, creating a character that was smart, self-confident, fearless, and fun-loving. As Millie would say years later, she was trying to make Nancy Drew “a departure from the stereotyped heroine commonly encountered in series books of the day.” Edward Stratemeyer was concerned that Nancy “was too flip,” but when the three books – The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery – were published in April 1930, they were an immediate sensation. Young readers couldn’t get enough of Nancy Drew and “Carolyn Keene.”
Millie would go on to pen 23 of the first 30 Drew novels. And those were just a small part of a huge output that ultimately totaled more than 130 books produced for young readers between 1927 and 1959, both under pseudonyms and her real name. Other than Nancy Drew, Millie’s most popular character (and her own personal favorite) was Penny Parker, the heroine of a series that appeared under her own name, as Mildred A. Wirt.
As an Ohio author, Millie’s books under her own name had begun to be collected by the Ohioana Library almost from the time we were founded in October 1929. In 1957, Millie provided us with a completed biographical form that we could add to our collection.
Interestingly, Millie noted that among her writings were “mystery books published under various pen names.” Remember, as a ghostwriter for Stratemeyer, Millie could not disclose her authorship of the Nancy Drew series, or any of the other books she wrote for them.
That changed in 1980, when a lawsuit was filed over publishing rights to the Stratemeyer syndicate titles. The question of authorship of books came up, and Millie was called to testify. For the first time, 50 years after the first novels had been published, Mildred Wirt Benson was revealed as the original Carolyn Keene, the creator of Nancy Drew.
By that time, Millie had long ceased writing novels for young readers, concentrating instead on a career as a journalist that had begun in the mid-1940s, first for the Toledo Times and then for the Toledo Blade. Millie’s first husband, Asa Wirt, had passed away in 1947. Three years later, she married a second time, to George Benson, editor of the Blade. He died in 1959.
Together, Millie and George traveled a great deal. She particularly loved visiting the Mayan ruins in Central America. Once, while in Guatemala, she was briefly kidnapped. It was like a real-life Nancy Drew adventure! Readers of Millie’s column, On the Go, loved sharing vicariously in her exploits.
Millie loved to fly, earning her pilot’s license in 1964 at age 59. In 1986, she applied to NASA to become the first journalist-in-space. She was 81 at the time.
In 1989, the Ohioana Library honored Millie with a citation “for distinguished service to Ohio in the field of children’s literature.” Informed of the award, Millie said, “So many years have elapsed since I actively wrote children’s books that I doubt I deserve the honor.”
Unable to attend the award ceremony in Columbus because of an injury, Millie was presented her award in Toledo by Ohioana board member Ann Bowers, who fondly remembers Millie’s youthful outlook and optimism.
There would be many other honors in the following years, as more and more people heralded Millie’s achievements, especially in creating Nancy Drew.
Even as she entered her 90s and began suffering from failing health, Millie kept writing. On May 28, 2002, Millie was at her desk at the Blade when she fell ill. She was taken to Toledo Hospital,
where she died that evening. She was 96 years old. News of her death made headlines around the world.
By the time of her death, more than 70 years after the first novels had appeared, notable women in every field had cited Nancy Drew as a role model and inspiration. So much so, that it surprised even Millie, who in an interview the year before she died said, “I always knew the series would be successful. I just never expected it to be the blockbuster that it has been. I’m glad that I had that much influence on people.”
Dozens of writers followed Millie as “Carolyn Keene,” keeping the Nancy Drew series thriving for decades. And it expanded way beyond the books – films, television shows, games, coloring books, puzzles, and more. As Nancy Drew celebrates her 90th anniversary this year, one would have to say that, except perhaps for Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster’s Superman, no character created by a writer from Ohio has become such a pop culture phenomenon as Nancy Drew.
And now fans past, present, and future have a new place where they can celebrate Nancy Drew and Mildred Wirt Benson: the Jennifer Fisher/Nancy Drew Collection at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Fisher, a Drew scholar, is writing a biography of Mildred Wirt Benson. She also hosts the unofficial Nancy Drew sleuth website, a must for Drew fans worldwide. The exhibit at the library will feature several thousand items from Fisher’s personal collection.
So on this 115th anniversary of her birth, Ohioana salutes Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, the first Carolyn Keene and the creator of Nancy Drew. And on behalf of your millions of fans over the last 90 years . . . thank you, Millie! Further reading:
“Curating a Nancy Drew Collection,” guest blog by Jennifer Fisher, https://www.toledolibrary.org/blog/curating-a-nancy-drew-collection
Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini, Ohio University/Swallow Press, https://www.ohioswallow.com/book/Missing+Millie+Benson And visit Jennifer Fisher’s Nancy Drew website: http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com
Though the Syfy Channel has traditionally been the home of the New Year and Independence Day Twilight Zone marathons, this year the Decades channel will be celebrating the 4th of July Weekend with “Rod, White, and Blue,” to commemorate creator Rod Serling on the 45th anniversary of his death, at age 50, on June 28, 1975.
Serling was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Syracuse, New York. He graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, after serving in the military. While at Antioch, he became manager of the college’s radio station, and also lived in Marion, working at radio station WMRN (you can read more about his time in Marion and the impression he made upon his co-workers here: https://tinyurl.com/y8esqluy ). He then moved his family to Cincinnati. It was there he began his professional writing career, writing first radio and then television scripts for WKRC. While freelancing, he continued to send scripts to publishers, receiving over 40 rejection slips. His wife Carol said he eventually became fed up and just quit, moving his family to Connecticut in 1953. His agent convinced him that if he really wanted a career in television he should move to New York, so in 1954 he packed up his wife and young children once again and moved to the city.
He quickly got work on Kraft Television Theater as well as several other TV productions, including continued work back at WKRC. He continued to develop a name for himself, and eventually got attention from executives at CBS. After a long process, The Twilight Zone was greenlit and premiered on October 2, 1959.
For this series, Serling fought hard to get and maintain creative control. He hired scriptwriters he respected, such as classic genre writers Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Charles Beaumont. In an interview, Serling said he hoped the show’s science fiction format would not be controversial with sponsors, network executives, or the general public, and should escape censorship.
Serling drew on his own experience for many episodes, frequently about boxing, military life, and airplane pilots. Carol Serling said his time in the military was traumatic and changed many of his worldviews, which made their way into his writing. The Twilight Zone incorporated his social views on racial relations, somewhat veiled in the science fiction and fantasy elements of the shows. His use of allegory was masterful and he was able to get a lot of controversial topics past censors, at a time when other shows were not even willing to try. Occasionally, though, the point was quite blunt, such as in the episode “I Am the Night—Color Me Black,” in which racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the American South and spread across the world.
Many Twilight Zone stories reflected his views on gender roles, featuring quick-thinking, resilient women as well as shrewish, nagging wives. Cleveland native Burgess Meredith appears in four of the most famous episodes of the show, including “Time Enough at Last,” the chilling tale of a mild-mannered man who only wants to read his books in peace, and is horrified when his wish is granted. Another episode was based on Ohioan Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge;” directed by Robert Enrico, it was submitted to the Academy Awards and won the Best Short Film award at the 1964 Oscars.
The Twilight Zone aired for five seasons (the first three presented as half-hour episodes, the fourth had hour-long episodes, and the fifth returned to the half-hour format). It won many television and drama awards and drew critical acclaim for Serling and his co-workers. Although it had loyal fans, The Twilight Zone had only moderate ratings and was twice canceled and revived. After five years and 156 episodes (92 written by Serling), he grew weary of the series. In 1964, he decided not to oppose its third and final cancellation.
Rod Serling continued to work in TV, creating another classic anthology series, Night Gallery, which ran from 1969-1973. He also consistently worked in radio, writing for The Zero Hour and Fantasy Park. Additionally, he often spoke at college campuses around the USA. He wrote screenplays for films, including the original version of the science fiction classic, The Planet of the Apes. He also taught week-long seminars in which students would watch and critique movies. In the political climate of the 1960s, he often felt a stronger connection to the older students in his evening classes.
Serling’s critique of high school student writing was a pivotal experience for writer J. Michael Straczynski, who science fiction and comic fans will know well as the long-time writer of Thor comics for Marvel and Superman for DC, as well as the creator of the influential television series Babylon 5 and Sense8. Later Serling taught at Ithaca College, from the late 1960s until his death in 1975. He was one of the first guest teachers at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood, California. Audio recordings of his lectures there are included as bonus features on some Twilight Zone home video editions.
According to his wife, Serling often said that “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic.” This philosophy can be seen in his writing. Some themes appear again and again, many of which are concerned with war and politics. Another common theme is equality among all people. He frequently spoke out against racism, social inequality, the Vietnam War, government oppression, and police brutality. In a speech delivered December 3, 1968 at Moorpark College, Moorpark, California, he said,
Angered and mourning the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he said:
“In his grave, we praise him for his decency – but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own. When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun – we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right. Now we acknowledge his compassion – but we exercised no compassion of our own. When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order. We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man – but we chose not to call them virtues before his death. And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth – but the judgement comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force. If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly. We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due… He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him.” (Letter to The Los Angeles Times; April 8, 1968.)
A Town Has Turned to Dust, Serling’s 1958 made-for-TV film, received a positive review from the critic Jack Gould, who was known for being straightforward to the point of being harsh in his reviews. He called A Town Has Turned to Dust, “a raw, tough and at the same time deeply moving outcry against prejudice.” Set in a Southwestern town in a deep drought, it sees poverty and despair turn racial tensions deadly when the ineffectual sheriff is unable to stand against the town. A young Mexican boy is lynched, and the town as a whole is to blame. A second lynching is in the works after a series of events leads again to the town turning against the Mexicans. This time, the sheriff stands strong, and the first boy’s brother is saved, even as the town is not. “Mr. Serling incorporated his protest against prejudice in vivid dialogue and sound situations. He made his point that hate for a fellow being leads only to the ultimate destruction of the bigoted,” said Gould, in the New York Times.
Serling took his 1972 screenplay for the film, The Man, from the Irving Wallace novel of the same title. A black senator from New Hampshire and president pro tempore of the Senate, played by James Earl Jones, assumes the U.S. presidency by succession.
Sadly, Rod Serling passed away at the early age of 50, after suffering three heart attacks very quickly. His wife Carol survived him and continued to speak about her husband and his legacy for many years, until she also passed away a month before her 92nd birthday on January 9, 2020. Serling’s daughter Anne, born during the family’s time in Connecticut, wrote a stirring memoir about her father, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, in 2013, and has also continued to write and speak about her father’s legacy.
Serling is indelibly woven into modern popular culture because of the enduring popularity of The Twilight Zone. Even youth of today can hum the theme song, and the title itself is a synonym for all things unexplainable. It has lived on with a movie, graphic novels, many books (including Ohio film critic and Twilight Zone expert Mark Dawidziak’s Everything I Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone), albums, and even a ride at Disney World. It has also inspired a few TV reboots, including one that started on CBS All Access in 2019, produced by Jordan Peele, which has just started a second season. Serling’s widow, Carol, maintained that the cult status that now surrounds both her husband and his shows continues to be a surprise, “as I’m sure it would have been to him.” Carol, who was raised in Columbus, helped establish the Rod Serling Archives at Ithaca College in upstate New York. The collection includes scripts and screenplays, her husband’s six Emmy Awards, plus photos, films, and books from his personal collection. She also helped endow a Rod Serling Scholarship in Communications there.
The origins of Twilight Zone holiday marathons are themselves shrouded in a bit of mystery (you can read more about that here: https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-twilight-zone-marathon-a-history-of-a-holiday-tradition/ ). One thing is true: the show has a legacy that has evolved far beyond what Serling ever intended, resonating with viewers across generations for over sixty years. Whether this is your first time viewing the show or your one hundredth, there is always something new to discover, some underlying theme to Serling’s vision that continues to captivate audiences from year to year.