The Ohio Literary Trail Expands!

The new Toni Morrison Historical Marker at Lorain Historical Society. Photo by Kathryn Powers.

The Ohioana Library Association is excited to announce that its Ohio Literary Trail has expanded with the addition of seven new sites honoring Ohio literary greats.

Introduced in 2020, the Ohio Literary Trail connects readers and Ohio writers and shines the spotlight on Ohio’s unique role in shaping culture and literature worldwide.

Among the notable Ohioans honored with new sites are the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the journalist and travel writer who introduced the world to “Lawrence of Arabia,” the greatest female humorist of the past 60 years, a science fiction writer and screenwriter who wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back, and the Union general who won the Civil War and penned the most acclaimed memoir of any American President.

Criteria for inclusion on the Trail includes nonliving people or places that illustrate Ohio’s contributions to the literary landscape or literature nationally or internationally. The sites are physical places tourists can visit year-round and share information to educate a visitor, such as museums, permanent library displays, historical homes, and Ohio Historical Markers. There are more than 1,800 markers across the state, administered by the Ohio History Connection, Ohio’s statewide history organization, including more than 50 literary themed markers on the trail.

The new additions to the Ohio Literary Trail include:

  • Northeast Ohio Region: Lorain County, Lorain Historical Society Carnegie Center, 329 W. 10th St. Toni Morrison Historical Marker. The trail’s newest site, dedicated August 12, 2021 and sponsored by Ohioana with the Lorain Historical Society, Ohio History Connection, Lorain YWCA, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, this marker honors Ohio’s most acclaimed author. Morrison, winner of many awards including the Nobel Prize, was born in Lorain in 1931 and died in August 2019. The Carnegie Center is the former Lorain Public Library where Morrison worked as a youth.
  • Northeast Ohio Region: Cuyahoga County, next to the Columbus Road Bridge or at the corner of Columbus Rd. and Merwin Ave. Hart Crane Memorial Park features a tribute sculpture by Ohio artist Gene Kangas honoring American poet Hart Crane (1899-1932), who is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. The Park is stewarded by Canalway Partners.
  • Northeast Ohio Region: Trumbull County, Kinsman Square at 6086 Ohio 5 in Kinsman. Kinsman/Leigh Brackett Historical Marker. Born in California, Brackett moved to Kinsman with her husband and lived there about 20 years. The science fiction writer who perfected the subgenre of “space opera” in her writings was nominated for a Hugo Award for The Long Tomorrow (1955). As a screenwriter, she wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back/Star Wars II.
  • Southwest Ohio Region: Montgomery County, University of Dayton campus, Zehler Dr. on the north side of St. Mary’s Hall. Erma Bombeck Historical Marker is on the campus where the celebrated columnist and author graduated in 1949. She went on to become a household name in the 1970s and ‘80s. For more information visit
  • Southwest Ohio Region: Clermont County, Point Pleasant and Brown County, Georgetown.  Two-term 18th President of the United States and victorious military commander of the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant, worked tirelessly to complete his autobiographical manuscript before his death. It became one of the most acclaimed memoirs of the 19th century, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Several Ohio sites offer a glimpse into his life: U.S. Grant Birthplace (1551 State Route 232 in Point Pleasant) and U.S. Grant’s Boyhood Home (219 E. Grant Ave. in Georgetown) and Schoolhouse (508 S. Water St. in Georgetown).
  • Southwest Ohio Region: Darke County, Garst Museum at 205 North Broadway in Greenville. Lowell Thomas’ 1880s restored Victorian Gothic style-home and the museum collection honor the TV and Cinerama producer and author of some 60 books, who flew around the world more than 30 times. His adventures­­ included traveling with T.E. Lawrence, which led to Thomas’ book Lawrence in Arabia, and the movie Lawrence of Arabia.
  • Southeast Ohio Region: Jefferson County, 407 S. 4th St., Steubenville. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) and the Carnegie Library of Steubenville Historical Marker in front of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County honors Ohio’s first Carnegie Library, which was approved for funding in June 1899. 

The Ohio Literary Trail can be accessed at:

Click here for a downloadable PDF of the Ohio Literary Trail.

Announcing the 2021 Ohioana Book Award Winners

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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 80 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 4,000 votes were cast for this year’s Readers’ Choice Award.

Listed below are the 2021 Ohioana Book Award winners. Click on the title to learn more about the author and their winning book.

Fiction: Carter Sickels, The Prettiest Star

Nonfiction: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

About Ohio or an Ohioan: Carole M. Genshaft, ed., Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals

Poetry: Marianne Chan, All Heathens

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature: Jacqueline Woodson, Before the Ever After

Juvenile Literature: Thrity Umrigar, Sugar in Milk

Readers’ Choice: Tiffany McDaniel, Betty

Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant

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 2021 Marvin Grant winner is Hagan Faye Whiteleather.
A writer, editor, and professor based in Northeast Ohio, Hagan Faye studied English and Psychology at Kent State University and holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment with a Teaching Excellence degree distinction from Iowa State University. During her education she served as Editor-in-Chief of KSU’s literary arts journal, Luna Negra, and as Nonfiction Editor for ISU’s Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment. Her in-progress memoir, Tangled in the Roots, explores the grounds and graves of Moultrie Chapel Cemetery, familial ties, parental loss, and the experience of providing end-of-life care. When she isn’t reading, writing, or out walking, she’s teaching creative and critical writing at her alma mater, Kent State. Her winning entry will appear in this fall’s Ohioana Quarterly.

Award Ceremony

The 2021 Ohioana Book Awards ceremony will be held on October 14 in the atrium of the Ohio Statehouse (tentatively in-person; please watch our website and social media for any possible changes). More information about the Awards and about purchasing tickets is coming soon. Congratulations to all of this year’s Ohioana Book Award winners!

Color, Cut, Create – Kids’ Contest and Interview with Merrill Rainey

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For the virtual 2021 Ohioana Book Festival, we partnered with illustrator and paper engineer Merrill Rainey to create a fun contest for kids featuring his two books, Color, Cut, Create – Dinosaur World and Horse Ranch. The contest kick-off took place during the virtual festival weekend and included a live discussion and Q&A with Merrill. (There’s still time to join in the fun! Visit for contest registration and all the info on guidelines, important dates, and prizes. And be sure to check out the FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY at the end of this blog post!)

While all the young creators are busy making their submissions, Ohioana’s Office Manager, Kathryn Powers, sat down with Merrill to learn more about his books, art process, and inspirations. We hope you enjoy this special blog interview—and the bonus tips and tricks Merrill shared with us, too, that will help make your contest dioramas and stop-motion videos really shine!

Q) Can you tell us about these two fun paper engineering books you featured at the 2021 Ohioana Book Festival?

A) I sure can, Kathryn! The Color, Cut, Create book series is what we call “paper engineering made easy!” And what I mean by that is that each book in the series is designed to allow young creators the opportunity to be able to succeed with minimal directions. The idea for the books came from my own personal experiences with and observations of my own children. On the surface, the books appear to be super cool paper toy books about horses and dinosaurs, but below the surface there is an underlying theme present in each book. That theme is creation based on your imagination. My hope is that once each book gets built, it will not only educate the user with some basic knowledge of paper toy construction, but also inspire them to keep creating! These books are just a starting point, or in other words a means of inspiration!

Whenever I speak to young creators about the Color, Cut, Create series, I always like to leave them with a final question… Now that you have everything created, what else is missing to help bring your project to life?

Q) What inspired you to become an illustrator and paper engineer? Was there a specific book or artist that sparked your passion?

A) As far as I can remember, I have always loved art. As a kid, I would spend a lot of time on the weekends crafting with my mom, and drawing monsters, wizards, and mythical creatures with my brothers. Most of my drawing skills as a kid started from just tracing my favorite comic book characters (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and Spiderman) until I was good enough to draw them free-hand.

During high school, I dabbled a lot with different art mediums, but when I look back at it, I was influenced the most by impressionistic painters like Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse.

It wasn’t really until college that a professor of mine, Doug Goldsmith, introduced me to an author/illustrator by the name of Chris Van Allsburg. I fell in love with Chris’ use of storytelling, his technique, the design of his illustrations, his use of color, and how he used value in his black and white illustrations.

My interest in paper engineering didn’t come into play until after I had started my first job out of college. I came across a paper toy artist by the name of Matthew Hawkins ( At that time, Matthew was creating and posting a new downloadable paper toy every week. Each week I would download and build them, thus beginning my love of paper engineering. Matthew’s creations inspired me to research more about paper engineering and eventually, once I felt comfortable enough doing so, I started designing my own paper toy creations.

Q) That leads perfectly into our next question! Your paper toys are so detailed, and there is such a variety of figures and accessories for kids to craft. How do you design your build-able creations?

A) First, I start with creating a plan in my notebook. My notebook is where I always jot down ideas and how I think they will work and function. I create multiple small sketches (called thumbnail sketches) until I have my idea just right. From there, I take my thumbnail sketches into a software called Adobe Illustrator. In Adobe Illustrator I refine my sketch into what is called a die-line. A die-line is a line drawing of your art that acts kind of like a cookie cutter, but for paper. The die-line lets me, or a machine, know where to cut out the paper shapes that will eventually form a paper toy.

From there I keep making prototypes until it’s just right. Sometimes it can take multiple iterations just to figure how to make one toy work.

There are three things that I always like to mention to young builders that I keep in mind when creating paper toys. These are Creativity, Ingenuity, and Stability.

1. Creativity: What ideas do you have? This is your brainstorming stage. This stage has no limits. It’s your opportunity to come up with the coolest toy ever.

2. Ingenuity: Once you have all of your creative ideas formed, now you need to figure out the best way possible to build them.

3. Stability: One of my biggest pet peeves as a kid was having a toy that couldn’t stand up on its own. So, I always like to emphasize how important it is for future toy makers that whatever you create, it has to be balanced enough to keep from falling over when you set the toy down.

Q) That was always a pet peeve in our household, too—no one wants a toy or figure that falls over or has to be constantly propped up! Now that we know how your books and paper toys are designed, let’s talk about the contest assignment. As a reminder for readers, kids 5-8 will be creating and photographing a diorama of their dinos or horses from Color, Cut, Create, and kids 8-12 will be making a stop-motion video. Can you give us any tips or tricks to make an extra-awesome diorama or animation for the contest?

A) Three things that I touched on in our kick-off video that I really think can help your project be extra, extra awesome are:

1. Using interesting props and background objects (trees, bushes, clouds, ground cover, extra animals, character costumes, etc.). These can really give your audience a sense of place (setting), and what your story might be about. These visual clues are such an important part of storytelling. As an example . . . what if your Dinosaur jungle includes skyscraper buildings that are tucked in between the trees? What would adding those large buildings tell your viewer about this particular jungle?

2. Lighting is another great tool for storytelling. If you place a light close to an object you’ll get an elongated shadow, or if you have the light high above an object you will get a smaller shadow. The length of shadows can really tell what time of day it is, or add some extra drama to your project. For example, elongated shadows usually indicate sunrise or sunset. Most people see sunsets as a goodbye scene as it indicates the end of the day. So, envision that your best dino friend is moving away and the sun is setting in the background. Similarly, people will see sunrise as the start to a new day. Envision the sun rising as your horses start out on a new journey. Smaller shadows usually indicate midday, as the sun is higher in the sky. Most people will agree that the sun is the hottest when it is the highest in the sky, so the phrase high noon comes to mind. This particular lighting technique is great for indicating a hot day. Maybe your dinos and horses are crossing a hot dessert (maybe a wasteland) and there is no water in sight. The sun would be high in the sky beating down on them. Or maybe it’s a hot summer day, again the sun is high in the sky, but this time your horse’s or dino’s ice cream is melting. I bet they can’t wait till sunset, when the temperature will be just a little bit cooler and they can finally enjoy their ice cream without it melting!

3. Whether you are animating or not, the use of camera angles is such a great way to add visual interest to your projects. If you are animating, camera angles can help with the pacing of a story. A simple close-up of a character placed between your bird’s eye view scenes can really enhance your project. You can re-watch the contest kick-off video for camera angle inspiration.

One last thing that I think is important when taking a photo or shooting a stop-motion animation is the use of a tripod or easel (or maybe even a stack of books) to create a stable base or stand of some sort for your camera or tablet. Having a steady hand when photographing is not always an easy thing to do, but having a tripod or some kind of camera support will give your device extra stability. Having a stable device will help your photographs look less blurry, and your stop motion animation will appear smoother.

Q) Any other advice for the contest participants?

A) Let your imagination run wild with this project! There are limitless possibilities of ideas and things you can create based on each of these books. But before you do anything, be sure to make a plan. And if you need help with figuring out how to build or animate something, just ask a sibling, friend, parent, or another family member if they can help. I guarantee that once they see what you are working on, they will want to join in on all of the fun!

Seeing some of the contest entries in-progress pictures on social media has really inspired me! I can’t wait to see what each and every one of our young creators come up with! Kathryn, to you and everyone at the Ohioana Book Festival, THANK YOU for hosting the contest and inviting me to be a part of this year’s event!

A big thank you to Merrill for giving us this behind-the-scenes peek into his creative life with this insightful interview, and for partnering with us to bring young creators this exciting contest!

If you want to join in and have the opportunity to win a FREE copy of either Color, Cut, Create – Dinosaur World or Horse Ranch,  please leave a comment on this blog post OR comment on and retweet our contest Twitter post by midnight (Eastern time) on 5/27/2021. Good luck!  

We CAN’T WAIT to see everyone’s submissions! Happy creating!

Ohioana Announces 2021 Book Award Finalists

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The Ohioana Library is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2021 Ohioana Book Awards. First given in 1942, the awards are the second-oldest state literary prizes in the nation and honor outstanding works by Ohio authors and illustrators in five categories: Fiction, Poetry, Juvenile Literature, Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature, and Nonfiction. The sixth category, About Ohio or an Ohioan, may also include books written by non-Ohio authors.

Among the literary honors this year’s finalists have previously received are the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the Newbery Medal, the Kirkus Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. Five authors are finalists for their debut books. Six have previously won Ohioana Book Awards and one is a past recipient of Ohioana’s Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant for emerging writers.

Beginning June 1, Ohioana will profile all of the finalists with “30 Books, 30 Days,” a special feature on our social media in which one finalist is highlighted each day. Later in June, Ohioana will launch its sixth Readers’ Choice Award poll, allowing the public to vote online for their favorite book among the finalists.

Winners will be announced in July. The 80th anniversary Ohioana Awards ceremony will be held at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Thursday, October 14. The finalists are:


Martin, Lee. Yours, Jean, Dzanc Books.

McDaniel, Tiffany. Betty, Alfred A. Knopf.

Nesbit, TaraShea. Beheld, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Schultz, Connie. The Daughters of Erietown, Penguin Random House.

Sickels, Carter. The Prettiest Star, Hub City Press.


Downs, Maggie. Braver Than You Think, Counterpoint Press.

Jones, Saeed. How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster.

Nezhukumatathil, Aimee. World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, Milkweed Editions.

Ricca, Brad. Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman’s Journey into the Heart of Africa, St. Martin’s Press.

Sutter, Paul M. How to Die in Space: A Journey Through Dangerous Astrophysical Phenomena, Pegasus Books.

About Ohio or an Ohioan

Backderf, Derf. Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Abrams Books.

Genshaft, Carole, ed. Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals, Ohio University Press.

Giffels, David. Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America, Hachette Books.

Goldbach, Eliese Colette. Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, Flatiron Books.

Heyman, Stephen. The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, W. W. Norton & Company.


Black, Ali. If It Heals at All, Jacar Press.

Chan, Marianne. All Heathens, Sarabande Books.

Gay, Ross. Be Holding: A Poem, University of Pittsburgh Press.

Lambert, Paula J. How to See the World (Harmony), Bottom Dog Press.

Majmudar, Amit. What He Did in Solitary: Poems, Alfred A. Knopf.

Juvenile Literature

Hubbard, Rita Lorraine. Illus. by Oge Mora. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read, Schwartz & Wade.

Metcalf, Lindsay H., Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, eds.  Illus. by Jeannette Bradley.  No Voice Too Small, Charlesbridge Publishing.

Muth, Jon J. Addy’s Cup of Sugar: Based on a Buddhist Story of Healing, Scholastic.

Rex, Adam. On Account of the Gum, Chronicle Books.

Umrigar, Thrity. Illus. by Khoa Le. Sugar in Milk, Running Press Kids.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature

Creech, Sharon.  One Time, HarperCollins.

Pearsall, Shelley. Things Seen from Above, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Reynolds, Justin A.  Early Departures, Katherine Tegen Books.

Taylor, Mildred D. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, Viking Books.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Before the Ever After, Nancy Paulsen Books.

The 2020 Ohioana Book Award Winners. Each year, our winners receive beautiful awards like these ones, which were designed by Kathryn Powers and created by Auld Crafters, INC.

A conversation with Sophia R. Klein

A Conversation with Sophia R. Klein

Sophia R. Klein

Ohioana is excited to welcome author Sophia R. Klein as part of the Ohioana Book Festival this year. Sophia is our youngest-ever festival author, at just fourteen years old. She was motivated to write and illustrate her book, Turtle Tide, by her love of marine life. Her fascination with the sea began at the age of seven when she watched the Dolphin Tale films and learned the inspirational stories of the dolphins, Winter and Hope. She has since journeyed each summer to Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida to attend camps to learn about marine life and aspires to make working on the preservation of marine life part of her future.

Q: Sophia, there aren’t many people who can say they’ve written and illustrated their own book, especially at the young age of fourteen! How did the book come to be?

Sophia Klein: This originally started from my Gifted English class in 2020. We had a CCP assignment where we had two to three months to come up with a project that would have an end product. I wanted to incorporate my art into the project while still doing something I’ve never accomplished before. That’s when I decided to do a children’s book. I did ten illustrations within the hundred-page book and could have done more, but I was on a timeline. Plus, I love reading all genres of books and wanted to see what I could do when coming up with my own story.

Q: Turtle Tide is an inspirational story about a young sea turtle. How did you come up with the story?

SK: My little brother, who is now eight, was the main inspiration for my book. About seven years ago, my fascination with dolphins and other marine animals began, and after that, my brother fell in love with sea turtles. Green sea turtles were his favorite, ergo Tide the green sea turtle became the main character. Even one of the humans (or “no-fins” as Tide calls them) is named Caleb, after my brother. The book’s events, such as Tide’s rescue or the other turtles he meets later in the story, are based on real life turtles, dolphins, and other resident animals at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a rescue facility near Tampa Florida, and home of the Dolphin Tale movies. They currently have eleven residential turtles and many of their life stories are incorporated into the character’s life story.

Q: Have you always been an illustrator? Tell us a little about your illustration process.

SK: As long as I could ever remember, I loved drawing and art in any form, my main focus in my own art being marine animals. My process for drawing any animal usually starts with studying an animal’s anatomy and skeletal structure to make any of the animal’s poses and proportions look natural and realistic. Then with Turtle Tide being a children’s book, I sometimes pushed proportions such as turtle shells and eyes to give the characters an animated look. I had limited time for the illustrations, so I would sketch the characters in pencil on paper then scan it into an art program to color in so it could look more professional.

Q: Your biography says you would like to continue to study marine life – do you intend to become a marine biologist? Do you think we will see more adventures of Tide and his friends someday?

SK: I am currently hoping to take on a career as a marine animal veterinarian. I felt that this book would help express my interests in marine biology, as everything (except for talking turtles) is based on fact. At the moment I have no plans for any sequel to Turtle Tide, but I am currently working on a new writing project. This does not mean it’s impossible for me to make a sequel in the future, but it is just not something I am working on at the moment.

Q: What would you say to other kids who might want to write a book someday?

SK: As one of the youngest authors to get to participate in the Ohioana Book Festival, I hope for that to be an inspiration for any young artists and writers that they can express their ideas and stories as well.

Thank you to Sophia R. Klein for this interview. You can buy Sophia’s book, Turtle Tide, at . Check out our “Author Content” page for more about Sophia (page coming April 22 at 7pm), and enjoy the rest of the 2021 Ohioana Book Festival, this weekend, April 22 – April 25.

Turtle Tide by Sophia R. Klein

A Visit to Aminah’s World

Stepping into an exhibit of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s work is like visiting a multi-layered landscape of colors and textures. Her art is a combination of 2D and 3D pieces that include paint, writing, textiles and everyday objects such as beads and buttons – sometimes, all of these at once. Robinson was born in 1940 in the community of Poindexter Village, in which she spent the first 17 years of her life and would hold close to her heart forever. She attended the Columbus College of Art and Design, the Ohio State University, Franklin University and Columbus’ Bliss College. She would go on to travel extensively, receive the 2003 Ohioana Career Medal for her paintings, drawings and sculpture and win a MacArthur Award in 2004. Robinson was skilled in creating a visual experience that blends the senses to give the viewer a window into her own personal world.

Aminah Robinson, an artist and 2004 MacArthur Fellows award winner from Columbus, Ohio, poses in her home Thursday Sept.23, 2004. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

The Columbus Museum of Art was cherished by Robinson and has long been one of the most avid collectors of her work. When she passed away in 2015, she bequeathed almost her entire estate to the museum, including her house in East Columbus. CMA immediately began efforts to use the new collection to spotlight Robinson’s work in detail. After more than five years of preparation, CMA debuted Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals in November of 2020, the first major exhibit on Robinson since her death. Alongside the exhibit, CMA completed a full renovation of Robinson’s home, preserving and honoring it as a place of creative freedom by adapting it into a fully-functional artist residence where artists can live, study and work. A companion book edited by CMA curator Carole Genshaft was released to accompany the exhibit and includes more than 200 full color illustrations of Aminah’s work and journals, as well as essays by her friends, family and fellow artists. Genshaft will be attending the 2021 Ohioana Book Festival with Raggin’ On; her prior book, Aminah’s World, was a 2019 Ohioana Award finalist.

The inclusion of Aminah’s journals illustrates that she was a master of the literary arts as well as the visual arts. The book, the exhibit, and Aminah’s newly-renovated home (which includes a “Writing Room” on the top floor) serve to celebrate every aspect of her artistry, including her writing. The preservation of Aminah’s estate, the exhibition of her work, and all further projects taken on in relation to Aminah are collectively known as the Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson Legacy Project (ABLR Legacy Project). These projects represent a monumental amount of effort and care dedicated to helping Aminah’s work find new audiences.

The cover Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals

February 18, 2021, marks what would have been Aminah’s 81st birthday. As she completed travels around the world to Africa, New York City, Sapelo Island, Georgia, Israel and Chile, she carried “the spirit of Home” with her wherever she went and maintained Columbus as her permanent residence. In each new place Aminah visited, she picked up techniques and experiences that would inform and shape her art. Much of her work is in fact based on her experiences in the various neighborhoods of Columbus, lovingly brought to life in murals, quilts and illustrations. “My work and life are about Columbus, Ohio…the community, ancestors, and spirits,” Robinson once told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals is now on exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art until October 3, 2021. To learn more about the exhibit, how to visit CMA during the pandemic, or to schedule a private tour, please visit:

For more information on Aminah Robinson herself and the ABLR Legacy Project, please visit the sources below.

The first artist resident is set to move into the renovated Aminah Robinson house in summer of 2021.

Toni Morrison and The Bluest Eye – 50 Years Later

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The original dust jacket for the hard cover first edition of The Bluest Eye, with photo of Toni Morrison by Bert Andrews.

The passing of Toni Morrison in August 2019 at the age of 88 opened a floodgate of tributes from around the world. The native of Lorain, Ohio, had climbed heights no other American writer of the past half-century had achieved, winning every major award from the Pulitzer Prize to the Presidential Medal of Freedom and, in 1993, the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This month marks a milestone in Morrison’s life and career. It was 50 years ago, in November 1970, when her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston. At the time, Morrison was working as a textbook editor for L.W. Singer. Because she was a relatively unknown writer, the initial print run in hardcover was only 2,000 copies. But it brought her acclaim, which would continue to grow with her second novel, Sula (for which Morrison won her first literary prize – the Ohioana Book Award in fiction), and her third, Song of Solomon, which solidified her position as one of America’s greatest writers.

With controversial themes that include incest and rape, The Bluest Eye has often been challenged as high school reading material and has appeared several times among the list of titles most frequently banned. But in the 50 years since its publication, it has become a classic.

For those not familiar with the novel, Chiquita Mullins-Lee, herself an award-winning poet and playwright, as well as the Arts Learning Coordinator for the Ohio Arts Council, offers this summary:

The Bluest Eye presents a treatise on slavery’s legacy of self-loathing and self-rejection. Toni Morrison channels the generational trauma of a little black girl who internalizes societal norms that devalue her looks, culture, and very existence. In Pecola Breedlove’s world, Black value and Black beauty are non-entities. From a deeply broken spirit, Pecola identifies the prize: blues eyes promise entry into a place that privileges white skin and tolerates the physical features of a “high yellow dream child.” In possession of neither blue eyes nor light skin, Pecola languishes in a world that fails to affirm her. That same destruction of the spirit is revealed in the pathology of her father, Cholly Breedlove, who exemplifies one who has received and transmitted a lethal legacy that fractured families. Ironically, the acquisition of blue eyes could be only a superficial, as well as impossible, fix. Toni Morrison assigns Black folks the responsibility to cherish our children, love ourselves, and heal our spirits and community.”

In 1988, the year Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for her most acclaimed novel, Beloved, and also received the Ohioana Career Medal, she did an interview with Thames Television on the subject “Why I Wrote The Bluest Eye,” which you can watch on YouTube:

One of the fascinating aspects of Morrison’s writing was her meticulous care and attention to detail. In an article for The Paris Review, she wrote:

We began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense. 

Ohioana board member Dionne Custer Edwards, who is also a poet and Director of Learning and Public Practice at the Wexner Center for the Arts, spoke on the impact Morrison’s words had on her:

“As a mother of three, I too often think about rituals of making inside of the demands of work and life. About how to shape lines, images, narratives, and texture—especially in these days—in the midst of a societal crisis, or two or three. I think about pursuing language in an enduring moment where living is a pattern of abundant isolation from breath, sound, movement, people. I think about life as it once was and grieve it with dignity and a few fresh notes of comfort when I am reminded by the sky that I am still breathing even as I consider the enduring length of suffering. I think about time. About how I have often captured the practice of writing in the draft along the wood floors between deep quiet in the house and the folds of sunrise.  

I remember meeting Toni Morrison while I was an undergraduate student at Ohio State University. I will never forget how she stayed with a small group of us after her public talk. How she advised, encouraged, held us in a moment of wisdom, comfort, and candor. How she shared ideas about writing and how to make use of hours and space. Back then, I was an English major trying to figure out what to do with my words. So grateful to have lived during a time when Toni Morrison wrote about the complexities of Black lives as real and imagined experiences in literature. ”

The complexities of Black lives as real and imagined experiences in literature that began 50 years ago with The Bluest Eye.

With special thanks to Chiquita Mullins Lee and Dionne Custer Edwards.

Election Week 2020: A History of Ohio Presidents

Election day – exciting for some, nerve wracking for most. This year, we’ve watched election day turn into election week as we wait for the results of a tight presidential race. As we’re waiting, it’s easy to get caught up in speculation and anxiety. If that is what you’re feeling this week, you’re not alone.

Thankfully, one of the best distractions in times of uncertainty is literature. The other is fun presidential facts! Today, Ohioana has some of both to tide you over as we await final results.

Did you know that seven presidents were born in Ohio, leading the state to sometimes be referred to as “The Mother of Presidents”? An eighth, William Henry Harrison, was born in Virginia but lived most of his adult life in Ohio. Many consider him an honorary Ohioan. However, in terms of birth defining one’s home state, Ohio is second in the ranking of states that has produced the most presidents, behind Virginia in which eight were born.

The last president from Ohio was Warren G. Harding, born in 1865, who served from 1921-1923. In fact, this week marks the 100-year anniversary of his election, as well as the centennial of the first woman’s vote. Even though it’s been nearly 100 years since an Ohioan was president, there is no doubt that the impact of the state has deep roots within the White House.

In 1920, Warren G. Harding was the last Ohioan elected to the White House, in the first election in which all American women could vote, thanks to the 19th Amendment

If you’re looking for some fun presidential facts and something good to read this election season, look no further. Below we’ve compiled some information about Ohio’s seven presidents, as well as honorary Ohioan William Henry Harrison to keep you occupied. We’ve attempted to include Presidential Recommendations, books and authors that these presidents favored, where possible – however, primary sources on this info are hard to come by, so please take those recommendations with a grain of salt! Scroll to the bottom for information on a special event with Ohio author David Giffels discussing the election, being held virtually on November 12th at 6:30pm. Registration is free.

Ulysses S. Grant

18th President of the United States of America

Born: 1822, Point Pleasant, OH

Died: 1885, Wilton, NY

Years in Office: 1869 – 1877

Favorite Author: Edward Bulwer-Lytton (

Fun Fact: You can see a cigar that was partially-smoked by President Grant on display in the Grant Room at the Ohio Statehouse.

Scanned image of a handwritten letter addressed "Dear Rawlins" and signed "Yours Truly, U.A. Grant." The letterhead reads "Headquarters Armies of the United States"; the letter is dated July 16th, 1865.
Handwritten letter by Ulysses S. Grant

Rutherford B. Hayes

19th President of the United States of America

Born: 1822, Delaware, OH

Died: 1893, Fremont, OH

Years in Office: 1877 – 1881

Favorite Book: The Collected Speeches of Daniel Webster (

Fun Fact: He was wounded at least 4 times during his time serving in the Civil War.

James A. Garfield

20th President of the United States of America

Born: 1831, Cuyahoga County, OH

Died: Assassinated in 1881, Elberon, Long Branch, NJ

Years in Office: 1881

Favorite Book: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (

Fun Fact: Ohioana has several pieces of personal correspondence by Garfield, as well as commemorative items, in our Ohio Presidents collection.

Scanned image of invitation to congressional memorial service for James A. Garfield. Large central black-and-white illustrations includes an oval frame decorated with leaves and stars that surrounds a portrait of Garfield. Six American flags draped with black ribbon are fanned out behind the frame; a sword and a branch sit on top of it. The Capitol Building and the White House are visible in the background on either side of the frame. The text states "Memorial Service of James Abram Garfield. President March 4th, 1881, Died September 19th, 1881 Age 49 years. Eulogy by Hon. James G. Blaine, House of Representatives Feb. 27th, 1882." Signed by John Sherman, Chairman Senate Committee, and Wm McKinley Jr, Chairman House Committee.
Copy of invitation to James A. Garfield’s memorial service

Benjamin Harrison

23rd President of the United States of America

Born: 1833, North Bend, OH

Died: 1901, Indianapolis, IN

Years in Office: 1889 – 1893

Favorite Author: Walter Scott (

Fun Fact: He is the president least associated with Ohio, having spent much of his adult life in Indianapolis.

William McKinley

25th President of the United States of America

Born: 1843, Niles, OH

Died: Assassinated in 1901, Buffalo, NY

Years in Office: 1897 – 1901

Favorite Author: Lord Byron (Kevin Phillips, William McKinley: The American Presidents Series)

Fun Fact: He was the last Civil War veteran to serve as president.

William Howard Taft

27th President of the United States of America

Born: 1857, Cincinnati

Died: 1930, Washington, D.C.

Years in Office: 1909 – 1913

Favorite Book/Author: unknown

Fun Fact: President Taft was much more interested in having a seat on the Supreme Court than being president but was encouraged by his wife to run.

Warren G. Harding

29th President of the United States of America

Born: 1865, Blooming Grove, OH

Died: 1923, San Francisco, CA

Years in Office: 1921 – 1923

Favorite Book: Rules of Poker (

Fun Fact: He was the first president to ride in a car to his inauguration, and the first to broadcast a speech over the radio.

Bonus: William Henry Harrison

9th President of the United States of America

Born: 1773, Charles City county Virginia

Died: 1841, Washington, D.C.

Years in Office: 1841

Favorite Book/Author: unknown

Fun Fact: He gave the longest inaugural speech of any president in history, at 8,445 words.

For more presidential discussion, join us next Thursday for a special online event with Ohio author David Giffels.

November 12, 2020 at 6:30pm

Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America: A Conversation with David Giffels

Please visit Eventbrite to register:

About the Event:

David Giffels, author of Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America is joined in conversation with David Weaver, Executive Director of Ohioana Library. Giffels is a celebrated author and essayist, winner of a 2019 Ohioana Award and dubbed “the bard of Akron” by the New York Times. He has spent a quarter century writing about what it means to live in a state he calls “an all-American buffet, an uncannily complete everyplace.”

Barnstorming Ohio is Giffels’ account of a year on Ohio’s roads, visiting people and places that offer valuable reflections of the national questions and concerns, as well as astounding electoral clairvoyance—since 1896, Ohio has chosen the winner in twenty-nine of thirty-one presidential elections, more than any other state. The conversation during this event will focus on Giffels’ account, what he learned, and if his conclusions are accurately represented in the results of the 2020 election.

The event will be held virtually on Zoom and is free to attend, and attendees are encouraged to add a copy of Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America to their ticket order. Copies purchased in conjunction with this event are signed by Giffels and include free shipping.

About the Author:

Barnstorming Ohio author David Giffels has written six books of nonfiction, including the critically acclaimed memoir, Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life, published by Scribner in 2018. The book has been hailed by the New York Times Book Review as “tender, witty and … painstakingly and subtly wrought,” and by Kirkus Reviews as “a heartfelt memoir about the connection between a father and son.” It was a Book of the Month pick by Amazon and Powell’s and a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice.”

His previous books include The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches From the Rust Belt (Scribner 2014), a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” and nominee for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, and the memoir All the Way Home (William Morrow/HarperCollins 2008), winner of the Ohioana Book Award.

​Giffels is the coauthor, with Jade Dellinger, of the rock biography Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! and, with Steve Love, Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron.

A former Akron Beacon Journal columnist, his writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the, Parade, The Wall Street Journal,,, The Iowa Review, and many other publications. He also wrote for the MTV series Beavis and Butt-Head.

His awards include the Cleveland Arts Prize for literature, the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and a General Excellence award from National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He was selected as the Cuyahoga County Public Library Writer in Residence for 2018-2019.

Giffels is a professor of English at the University of Akron, where he teaches creative nonfiction in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program.

The 2020 Ohioana Book Festival is a Wrap!

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The 14th annual (and 1st virtual) Ohioana Book Festival is now history!

Thank you to everyone who played a part in making it happen: our sponsors, especially Presenting Sponsor, Ohio Humanities; major sponsors the Greater Columbus Arts Council, The Reinberger Foundation, Honda of America, Mfg. Co., Inc., the Tom E. Dailey Foundation Inc., the State Library of Ohio and the Institute of Museum & Library Services, Ohio Arts Council, Ariel Corporation, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital; media sponsors and partners The Columbus Dispatch, CD102.5, MGN, and WCBE 90.5 FM; promotional partners Gateway Film Center and Johnson’s Real Ice Cream; and our many outreach partners around the state. Special thanks to our festival host Columbus Metropolitan Library. And our official bookseller, The Book Loft of German Village – remember you can still buy books of all the festival authors through the end of September at !

Most of all, thanks to the authors and every reader who tuned in this weekend. This event was created for you, and we hope you had a great time, even in this unusual format. All the live programs the past weekend were recorded, and will be added to all the previously recorded programs so that the complete festival will soon be available via our website. Keep watching our social media for details!

And mark your calendars now for the 15th anniversary Ohioana Book Festival, set for Saturday, April 24, 2021. We hope to see you “live” back at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library! Stay safe until then.

Presenting the Ohio Literary Trail!

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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!

Wagnalls Memorial Library in Central Ohio

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.

Home of Superman marker in Northeast Ohio, Ohio History Connection

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:

Click here for a downloadable PDF of the Ohio Literary Trail.

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