90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The Middle 30 Years, 1959-1989

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Thanks to everyone who responded so enthusiastically to our first 90 Years, 90 Books blog!

So here we are, with the second entry in our list of 90 books by 90 Ohio authors that have been published since Ohioana was founded in 1929. As with our first list, some of these books and their authors may be unfamiliar, while others may be among your favorites.

This week’s blog will shine the spotlight on twenty books, all of them published during our middle three decades, from 1959 to 1989.

We hope you enjoy the series, and that it might add to your list of books to read over the holidays and in the coming year!

The Branch Will Not Break, James Wright – 1963

James Wright rose from an unhappy childhood in Martins Ferry, Ohio, to become one of the seminal poets of his generation, a Pulitzer Prize winner who was admired by critics and fellow poets alike. The Branch Will Not Break, published in 1963, is generally considered to be his finest work. A poetry festival in Martins Ferry celebrates his legacy and in 2018, Jonathan Blunk’s authorized biography, James Wright: A Life in Poetry, was an Ohioana Award finalist.

A Thousand Days, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. – 1965

In the aftermath of his tragic assassination, President John F. Kennedy was the subject of dozens of biographies. None was more acclaimed than Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, drawn from the author’s personal experiences as a close friend and confidante of JFK. A native of Columbus, and the son of an Ohioana Award-winning historian, Schlesinger himself won two Ohioana Book Awards, and in 1992 received the library’s highest honor, the Career Medal.

Hanger Stout, Awake!, Jack Matthews – 1967

A 2006 Ohioana Career medalist, Jack Matthews was born in Columbus and graduated from The Ohio State University. Matthews wrote novels, short stories, plays, and essays over a career lasting more than 50 years. He made his home in Athens, where he spent four decades as a professor of creative writing and drama at Ohio University. Matthews’ 1967 Ohioana Award-winning Hanger Stout, Awake! put him on the American literary map. In 2018, the coming-of-age novella was re-released for the first time as an e-book, introducing Matthews to new audiences.

The Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny – 1967

Best known for his 10-part series, The Chronicles of Amber, poet and fantasy/science fiction writer Roger Zelazny was a native of Euclid and a graduate of Case Western and Columbia Universities. He worked for seven years for the Social Security Administration while at night churning out novels and short stories. In 1969, he quit his job to write full-time, and went on to become one of the most prolific and popular authors of sci fi/fantasy of his era. Zelazny received six Hugo Awards (out of 14 nominations) during his career, including one for his 1967 novel, The Lord of Light.

The Frontiersmen, Allan W. Eckert – 1968

A historical novelist and naturalist, Allan W. Eckert was a native New Yorker who moved to Ohio to attend college near Bellefontaine. He would remain there for many years, turning his love of Ohio’s early history into fiction for both adults and children, including his 1967 Ohioana Award-winning book, The Frontiersmen. Eckert was also an Emmy Award-winning writer for television’s Wild Kingdom, but undoubtedly his best-known work is the outdoor drama Tecumseh. Nearly 4-million people have seen the drama since it premiered at Chillicothe’s Sugar Loaf Mountain Amphitheater in 1972.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Harlan Ellison – 1968

Cleveland’s Harlan Ellison was as well-known for his outspoken, combative, personality as he was for his prolific writing, which encompassed more than 1,700 published works in the fantasy/sci fi genre. He was expelled from The Ohio State University in 1953 after hitting a professor who had denigrated his writing ability. For the next 20 years, Ellison would send the professor a copy of every story that he published. One of those stories was 1968’s Hugo Award-winning I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, which was also the title of a collection released that same year of Ellison’s best short fiction.

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison – 1970

Probably no one guessed, when 39-year old Toni Morrison’s debut novel, The Bluest Eye (a story set in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio) was published, that it marked the beginning of one of the greatest literary careers in American history. When she died this past August, tributes poured in from around the globe. Morrison, whose first writing prize was the 1975 Ohioana Book Award (for her second novel, Sula), would go on to receive the world’s highest recognition for an author – the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Her most celebrated work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, was named by critics in 2012 as the greatest novel of the last quarter of the 20th century. But The Bluest Eye, which marks its 50th anniversary in 2020, is the book that started it all.

Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own, Erma Bombeck – 1971

Bellbrook native Erma Bombeck had an unusual gift: being able to translate the normal routines of a suburban housewife and mother into comic fodder. Her popular column, “At Wit’s End,” first appeared in 1965 in the “Dayton Daily News.” Within a few years, it was reaching 30-million people in 900 newspapers in the US and Canada. Bombeck was a national celebrity, even appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Her 15 books include 1971’s Ohioana Award-winning Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own. Bombeck kept writing until her death in 1996. Her legacy lives on via a bi-annual workshop for writers at the University of Dayton, which holds all of Bombeck’s papers.

The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems, Mary Oliver – 1972

Mary Oliver was born and grew up in Maple Heights, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland. From childhood, she loved to go for long walks in the country. Nature would inspire Oliver’s poetry, which she began writing at the age of 14. Her first collection was published in 1963. Nine years later, The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems won her the first of her two Ohioana Poetry Book Awards in a career that would see her also receive a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. In 2007, the New York Times said that Oliver was “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Oliver, whose writings spanned more than 50 years, died in Florida in 2019 at the age of 83.

M.C. Higgins, the Great, Virginia Hamilton – 1974

No writer of books for African American children has been more loved, or been more influential, as Virginia Hamilton. Named for the state from which her maternal grandfather escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad, Hamilton was born and raised in Yellow Springs. His stories moved her to begin writing her own. Zeely, the first of her more than 40 books, was published in 1967. In 1975, she became the first black author to win the Newbery Medal, for M.C. Higgins, the Great. It also won the National Book Award, making Hamilton the first author to receive both prizes for the same title. In 2010, eight years after Hamilton’s death at age 65, the American Library Association created the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award, “to recognize an African American author, illustrator, or author/illustrator for a body of his or her published books for children and/or young adults who has made a significant and lasting literary contribution.”

The Warriors (American Bicentennial Series), John Jakes – 1974-79

John Jakes’ Ohioana Award-winning series (also known as “The Kent Family Chronicles”) was created to wrap around the 200th anniversary of America’s independence in 1976. Born in Chicago in 1932, Jakes came to Columbus in 1954 to pursue his M.A. in literature at The Ohio State University. He later spent ten years in Dayton, working by day in an advertising agency while writing at night. Called “The Godfather of Historical Novelists,” many of his works have been made into films or television mini-series, including the popular North and South trilogy. A long-time resident of Florida, Jakes returned to Columbus in 2003 to receive the Ohioana Pegasus Award for his lifetime achievement as a writer.

The Liberation of Tansy Warner, Stephanie S. Tolan – 1980

Canton native Stephanie S. Tolan said she knew from the age of nine, when she wrote her first story in the 4th grade, that she would become a writer when she grew up. A graduate of Purdue University, Tolan has authored more than 25 books for young readers. The Liberation of Tansy Warner, her third book, won Tolan the 1981 Ohioana Award in juvenile literature. Her best-known book, Surviving the Applewhites, received a Newbery Honor in 2003, and was chosen by the State Library of Ohio and Ohioana as a 2013-14 Choose to Read Ohio title. Tolan has lived in North Carolina since 1999.

Dale Loves Sophie to Death, Robb Forman Dew – 1981

Although she grew up in Louisiana, where her father was a doctor, Robb Forman Dew was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She spent much of her childhood in Gambier, where her grandfather, John Crowe Ransom, was the first editor of the widely regarded Kenyon Review. Surrounded by poets and writers, Dew became one herself. Her debut, Dale Loves Sophie to Death, won the 1981 National Book Award as “Best First Novel.” Dew, who’s written both fiction and nonfiction, lives in Massachusetts where her husband is a professor of history at Williams College. Kenyon College awarded Dew an honorary degree in 2007.

. . . And Ladies of the Club, Helen Hooven Santmyer – 1982

A writer, teacher, and librarian, Helen Hooven Santmyer was also very active in the literary scene of her adopted hometown of Xenia. She was chair of the Ohioana Library’s Greene County Committee. In her seventies, after retiring she wrote … And Ladies of the Club, the story of four generations of women who belong to a literary club in a small Ohio town. The novel won the 1982 Ohioana Award in fiction, but sold only a few hundred copies. A year later, after it was picked up by a major publisher and selected as a national Book-of-the-Month Club title, it took off, selling more than 2-million copies. An “overnight star” at the age of 88, Helen was asked how she would handle the book’s huge commercial success. “I have no plans for the money,” she said, “but it’ll be awfully nice to have it.”

American Splendor, Harvey Pekar – 1986

Often called “a true American original” and “the blue-collar Mark Twain,” Cleveland’s Harvey Pekar – comic book writer, music critic, and media personality – helped to “change the appreciation for, and the perception of” the graphic novel through his autobiographical series, American Splendor. “Autobiography written as it happens” is how Pekar described it. American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar in 1986 was the first anthology of the series, and served as the basis for the Academy Award-nominated 2003 film, starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as Pekar’s wife, political comic writer Joyce Brabner.

Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove – 1986

Rita Dove was only 40 years old when she was named in 1993 as the U.S. Poet Laureate – not only the youngest poet ever named to the position, but the first who was African American. The Akron native has been praised for the lyricism and beauty of her poetry, as well as its sense of history and political scope. Her verse novel Thomas and Beulah, the semi-fictionalized story of her maternal grandparents, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. Dove has received four Ohioana Poetry Book Awards, more than any other Ohio poet in the history of the awards.

Pepper Pike, Les Roberts – 1988

Chicagoan Les Roberts spent 24 years as a writer and producer in Hollywood, where his credits included being the first producer and head writer of television’s popular Hollywood Squares game show. It was that talent the brought Roberts to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was hired to create the weekly show for the Ohio Lottery. He decided to stay and turned to a new career as a mystery novelist. In 1988’s Pepper Pike readers met Roberts’ creation – Cleveland private eye Milan Jacovich. The book was a hit, and spawned a series that remains popular today, and has influenced other writers to create mystery novels set in their cities.

Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold – 1988

The daughter of an engineer and pioneer TV meteorologist to whom she credited her early interest in science fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus and attended The Ohio State University. It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she pursued writing as a career. Falling Free, part of the Vorkosigan Saga, won her the first of her three Nebula Awards. Her many other awards include a record-tying four Hugos for Best Novel, three Locus Awards, the Minnesota Book Award (she now lives in Minneapolis) and the 2006 Ohioana Career Medal. Bujold, considered one of the greatest writers in her genre, has seen her works translated into nearly 20 languages worldwide.

A Great Deliverance, Elizabeth George – 1988

Elizabeth George, born in Warren, Ohio, in 1949, is the New York Times and internationally best-selling author of twenty British crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley. The character was first introduced in 1988’s A Great Deliverance, which won George the Agatha Award as Best First Novel, as well as the Ohioana Book Award in fiction. George’s novels inspired an Inspector Lynley television series on the BBC in England. George is a popular speaker and instructor at workshops and conferences around the globe, and is the author of the creative writing book, Write Away.

Dreams of Distant Lives, Lee K. Abbott – 1989

Lee K. Abbott was born in the Panama Canal Zone, the son of an Army colonel who eventually settled the family in Las Cruzes, New Mexico. The southwest and desert often played a prominent role in Abbott’s writing. After receiving his BA and MA degrees at New Mexico State University, Abbott began a teaching career that would ultimately bring him to Ohio, including Case Western and The Ohio State University, where he would inspire and influence many young writers. Abbott’s first story collection appeared in 1980, and 1989’s Dreams of Distant Lives would win him the Ohioana Book Award. Hailed as one of the masters of short fiction, Abbott died in Columbus in 2019 at the age of 71.