An Interview with Alex DiFrancesco

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Ohioana is very happy, this Pride Month, to have had the privilege of interviewing one of our current Ohioana Book Award finalists, Alex DiFrancesco. Alex is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin House, The Washington Post, Pacific Standard, The New Ohio Review, Brevity, and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which is a Fiction finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy of the Arts. They run the interview column “We Call Upon the Author to Explain“ at Flypaper Lit, and are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.

Alex is the first trans and non-binary award finalist in Ohioana’s history. We asked them to answer some questions about All City, the writing process, and telling queer stories in 2020.

Ohioana: All City is about people and art and a lot of other things, but it’s also about systems that allow people like Evann to flourish and people like Jesse and Makayla to struggle. It feels so relevant, especially now. How did you approach the writing of those oppressive systems?

Alex DiFrancesco: There’s never been a time in my professional career when I didn’t write about the political. I believe, as a minority writer, that it’s just not possible to see the world without looking at these systems of injustice; I find it difficult to tell stories without them, even when I’m writing absurdism, or something “light.” We’re all entangled in the political as the personal every day, with every move we make. As a writer who writes character deeply, I don’t see how I could tell the stories of the people who I wish to tell stories of without doing this.

Ohioana: Your characters are, simply stated, so HUMAN. They feel like real people. How much of yourself do you put into characters like Jesse and Makayla, and even Evann?

AD: A whole lot. Makayla, though she’s demographically the person most unlike me who narrates All City, has more of me as an emotional core than any other character in the book. I think, especially when we’re writing those outside our purview, it’s important to have these true north feelings that coincide with us and our characters. Jesse, though they’re the most like me on the surface, and have many of my own memories from my time as an activist, is very different than I am, a lot harder than I am, a lot more a fighter and survivor. Evann, who’s nothing like me, still has a lot of my cultural touchstones, approached in a wildly different way than I would. For example, I also adore Jean-Micheal Basquiat’s art, though I’m not a person who will ever own a Basquiat.

Ohioana: Reading this story is actually both hopeful and frightening. How do you create a balance between the banding together of the survivors with some of the very realistic, traumatic experiences people like Makayla and Jesse endure? What do you think the disparate reactions of the characters to the shared experience of the storm says about human nature?

AD: I think that there’s a baseline in life that some people experience trauma, and say “I’ll never let this happen to anyone else,” and some experience it and think, “I made it through, so should everyone have to.” A lot of the characters in this novel take the former approach, using trauma to create survival and community. But it’s well within human nature to take the latter approach, too.

Ohioana: Can you tell us a little about what your daily writing process is like (if you have one)? Are you an outliner or a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants”-er?

AD: I write every morning when I wake up, with coffee and cigarettes. I try to write, at minimum, 500 words a day. If I make it through that, I’m good. Often I go longer. I am very much an outliner. I actually use old-school grade-school brainstorming techniques — maps, thought webs, family trees, outlines, visual mapping of the story, character sketches — to get my feet under me. I often hang these things up in my office, returning to them as I write.

Ohioana: You reference music a lot in your books. Do you have any particular music you use to get into a writing mood?

AD: I quite obsessively listen to the Lounge Lizards experimental jazz album The Queen of All Ears when I write. I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by the despair in the world lately, and though I often listen to sad music, I’ve been trying to counteract it with hopeful music, and have had Nina Simone on rotation a lot lately. It’s hard for me to write to music with a lot of words, because I become too caught up in the lyrics. Jazz, classical, and experimental music are mainstays for writing for me.

Ohioana: So we definitely have to ask you an Ohio question! You’re an Ohio transplant. Was it a culture shock to come here after living in other, bigger places? Has that been a big adjustment? Have you found Ohio and especially Cleveland to be a good community for writers?

AD: I lived in Geneva, Ohio for a year before coming to Cleveland, and that was a huge culture shock. Cleveland is actually the city of my dreams. Its industrial blight reminds me of my hometown, a former coal mining town in Appalachia, but the community here is so vibrant, so different than where I’m from, that I fell very hard in love with this city immediately. As far as arts go, I have the most talented, diverse, committed, and brilliant group of writer friends here, The Barnhouse Collective and the Sad Kids Superhero Collective, who I’m so proud to work with and support, who support me right back. I’ve had a lot of opportunity here as a writer, and Cleveland’s got this great underdog vibe of, “We’ve heard the jokes, we know what you think of Cleveland, but we’re here doing amazing things, and will be doing so when you figure it out and catch up to them.” I adore it here.

Ohioana: You write across several genres including novel-length fiction, short stories, and essays. Is there a genre you enjoy the most? Do you find it difficult to switch between them, or to change from your writer to your editor “hat” when you’re writing for Flypaper Lit, Sundress, or any of the other publications you have worked for?

AD: I switch around a lot not only in the categories or writing, but in the subgenres in them a whole lot because I’m a very restless person who isn’t satisfied unless I’m pushing and challenging myself with something new. I think good writing is good editing, and they’re really two sides of the same coin when you get down to it, so that’s not a hard switch for me either.

Ohioana: You have also written Psychopomps, which is so deeply personal about your identity and your life. Do you feel it is getting easier to tell queer and trans stories? Do you have any advice for writers who might be struggling with their identity but afraid to fully tell those queer stories?

AD: I think the moment for trans narratives has definitely arrived. When I transitioned, there were very few presses willing to take on trans writing. That’s not the case now. My advice is, if one person thinks it’s good, there will be more out there who do, too, so do your research and don’t settle for less than the place that will support and champion your work relentlessly. I’ve been very lucky with my Seven Stories Press family in that regard — they’re a mid-sized press who’s published work by Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut, Noam Chomsky — and they show me every bit of care and respect they show all their other authors. Every trans writer deserves that, and shouldn’t settle for less.

Ohioana: You are the first trans and non-binary Ohioana Book Award finalist (that we know of; we are not sure if there were folks in the past who may not have been out), and it is also Pride Month. Can you tell us what Pride means to you?

AD: Pride means being aware of history. Forefronting the struggles of BIPOC queer mama-papas and trancestors who have always been at the forefront of the struggle, who have always had the most to lose and fought the hardest. It’s not about parades and glitter and dance parties and wilding out. If Pride is just a time for you to celebrate and get laid and not to revere those who got us to where we are today, those who fought tooth and nail for every one of our rights, then you’re missing the point.

Ohioana: Can you tell us anything about your next writing project?

AD: I’d be delighted to. I’m working on a linked story collection that takes place in SoHo, Manhattan, in the year 2000. It revolves around a group of fine dining servers at a failing restaurant in the neighborhood David Bowie lived in then, who are dreaming of interacting with all of his stage personas in various genres. I like to think of it as Kitchen Confidential meets Cloud Atlas meets the career of David Bowie.

Thank you very much to Alex DiFrancesco for this wonderful interview. You can find them online at Flypaper Lit, Sundress Publications, and on Twitter @DiFantastico.

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. This year’s winners will be announced in July, and the 2020 Ohioana Book Awards will be presented at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Thursday, October 15. Follow our social media for more information, including our “30 Books, 30 Days” celebration of the finalists.

Check back tomorrow for book suggestions from more Ohio LGBTQ+ authors!

Announcement: The Ohioana Book Festival Goes Virtual!

Earlier this spring, we announced postponement of the 2020 Ohioana Book Festival from April 25 to August 29, in the hopes that the COVID-19 crisis would be in the process of passing and it would be safe to meet in large groups once again.

Unfortunately, as we’re sure you are all aware, this has proven to be an unprecedented, and lingering, health crisis. We have made the difficult decision at this time that the 2020 Ohioana Book Festival will not be presented as a live event. We are confident it is the correct direction to go, for the safety of everyone – authors, attendees, volunteers, and staff.

While we’re disappointed that we won’t be able to see you in person, we ARE excited and happy to tell you the Ohioana Book Festival WILL go on – as a virtual event.

The Ohioana staff has been working from home since March, during which we’ve been building up our virtual programs via Zoom, Facebook Live, etc. We’ve been happy with the wonderful response from both authors and attendees to these programs.

We’re working out details, but we can tell you our virtual festival will involve a variety of formats, including panel discussions on Zoom and other programs spread across all of our social media platforms. We feel it will be to our advantage not to hold it all on one day, so we plan to start on Friday, August 28 until Sunday August 30. We are also looking into the possibility of recording some things in advance to share before the official event as outreach, as we do every year. The Columbus Metropolitan Library will also still be involved in helping us to host and promote all of the virtual events.

At this time, we are exploring a lot of exciting ideas as to what a virtual festival will look like for us. As stated above, we are not entirely sure what format everything will fall into, but we anticipate author readings and some interviews in addition to panel discussions. We also do plan to have books for sale, as always.

Obviously this change is not our ideal. However, we are optimistic given the success of our newest virtual events as well as a number of book fairs and festivals that have already taken place online, that we can have a fun and dynamic virtual event to celebrate the literature and authors of Ohio in 2020.

Thank you all for your patience and understanding in this process. We hope that you are all safe and well, and look forward to seeing you – online – during the weekend of August 28-30! Please follow our social media accounts and check our website for more information soon.

Ohioana Announces 2020 Book Award Finalists


A scene from the 2016 Ohioana Awards ceremony (Photo by Mary Rathke)

The Ohioana Library is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2020 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 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 Cleveland Arts Prize, the Edgar Award, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. One author is a finalist for her debut book. Five are past Ohioana Book Award winners, and two received Ohioana’s Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant early in their writing careers.

Beginning June 15, Ohioana will profile all the finalists with the return of “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 fifth Readers’ Choice Award poll, allowing the public to vote online for their favorite book from the finalists.

Winners will be announced in July, and the 2020 Ohioana Book Awards will be presented at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Thursday, October 15. The finalists are:

Fiction

DiFrancesco, Alex. All City, Seven Stories Press.

Hurley, Kameron. The Light Brigade, Gallery/Saga Press.

Montgomery, Jess. The Widows, Minotaur Books.

Scibona, Salvatore. The Volunteer, Penguin Press.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone, Riverhead Books.

Nonfiction

Abdurraqib, Hanif. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, University of Texas Press.

Brinkley, Douglas. American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, Harper.

Kaufman, Kenn. Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Salamon, Julie. An Innocent Bystander: The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer, Little, Brown and Company.

Vanasco, Jeannie. Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, Tin House Books.

About Ohio or an Ohioan

Abbott, Karen. The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America, Broadway Books.

Brouwer, Sigmund. Moon Mission, Kids Can Press.

Grunenwald, Jill. Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian, Skyhorse Publishing.

McCullough, David. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, Simon & Schuster.

Ruffner, Howard. Moments of Truth: A Photographer’s Experience of Kent State 1970, Kent State University Press.

Poetry

Abdurraqib, Hanif. A Fortune for Your Disaster, Tin House Books.

Atkins, Russell. World’d Too Much: The Selected Poetry of Russell Atkins, edited by Kevin Prufer and Robert E. McDonough, Cleveland State University Poetry Center.

Selcer, Anne Lesley. Sun Cycle, Cleveland State University Poetry Center.

Townsend, Ann. Dear Delinquent, Sarabande Books.

Weigl, Bruce. On the Shores of Welcome Home, BOA Editions.

Juvenile Literature

Guidroz, Rukhsanna. Illus. by Dinara Mirtalipova. Leila in Saffron, Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Hoefler, Kate. Illus. by Sarah Jacoby. Rabbit and the Motorbike, Chronicle Books.

Houts, Michelle. Illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Sea Glass Summer, Candlewick.

Mora, Oge. Saturday, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Salas, Laura Purdie. Illus. by Angela Matteson. In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House, Wordsong.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature

Daigneau, Jean. Code Cracking for Kids: Secret Communication Throughout History, with 21 Codes and Ciphers, Chicago Review Press.

Davis, Ronni. When the Stars Lead to You, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

McGinnis, Mindy. Heroine, Katherine Tegen Books.

Takei, George, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, Illus. by Harmony Becker. They Called Us Enemy, Top Shelf Productions.

Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home, Balzer + Bray.

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/

Festival Flashback Wrap Up

Thank you for joining us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and here on the blog today as we took a look back at some of our favorite memories from past Ohioana Book Festivals. We hope you’ve enjoyed it – we certainly did!

Below is a collection of links to everything we have shared today. We’re looking forward to seeing you on August 29th for the 2020 Ohioana Book Festival!

Festival Flashback: OBF Kids’ Room Crafts

It’s spring! Along with the season comes fresh flowers, warm sunshine and, historically, the Ohioana Book Festival. Right now in Ohio, we are following a stay at home order to keep our communities safe. As such, the Ohioana Book Festival, which was originally scheduled for April 25th, has been postponed until Saturday, August 29th. That doesn’t mean the fun has to be put entirely on hold, though! We thought today was the perfect opportunity for us to share some of our favorite memories from past Ohioana Book Festivals – we’re calling it a Festival Flashback!

We also figured there was no better time to share the templates for a few crafts from Ohioana Book Festival’s past. Spending time at home is a great chance to get creative and use things you can find around your household to make these fun, literature themed creations. These crafts were all featured at Ohioana Book Festival’s in past years – each one incorporates themes from books by Ohioana Book Festival authors from that year. 

As we’re working from the kitchen, doing schoolwork from the couch, and in general doing our part to stay inside and keep ourselves and others safe, we can still stay busy and have fun. Reading is a favorite pastime of Ohioana’s, of course, and so are these crafts! We hope you enjoy.

Images and tutorials for the crafts are below. If you or your family tries out any of these creations, we’d love to see what you’ve made! Share your pictures with us on Facebook and Twitter @Ohioana.


It’s National Library Week!

National Library Week 2020 poster (American Library Association):
 
Find Your Place at the Library

When the American Library Association picked “Find Your Place at the Library” as its theme for this year’s April 16-25 celebration of National Library Week, little did anyone know at the time that we’d be in the middle of an unprecedented world health crisis that would force most libraries to close temporarily. The Ohioana Library being one of them.

Libraries may not have their physical spaces open to the public, so that we can help keep everyone safe and healthy. But they are continuing to creatively serve their communities by providing virtual services and digital content online. If anything, this crisis has shown that libraries are more vitally needed – and more appreciated – than ever before.

And so recently the ALA decided to flip its original text to create a second theme for National Library Week 2020: “Find the Library at Your Place.”

The Ohioana Book Club discusses David Giffels’ award-winning “Furnishing Eternity” in the library’s Martha Kinney Cooper Reading Room.

Since 1958, National Library Week has been set aside to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support. All types of libraries – school, public, academic, and special – participate.

The Ohioana Library is a special library – of course EVERY library is special! But we are special in the sense that we have a very specific purpose and focus: to collect, preserve, and celebrate Ohio literature and other creative endeavors.

To fulfill our mission, Ohioana works with just about every kind of other type of library there is, especially on our largest program, the Ohioana Book Festival. Librarians from the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA) help put together our teen programming at the event. Several OELMA members help arrange visits to their schools by festival authors. A number of public library systems throughout Ohio partner with us on the festival, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Toledo and Lucas County, and right here in Central Ohio the libraries of Bexley, Pickerington, and Upper Arlington. And of course the festival itself takes place at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library.

Crowds at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival, Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Library (Photo by Mary Rathke)

These, and libraries throughout the state, sponsor their own programs and events that make literature come alive. The days when a library was only a place where your borrowed a book or other physical item are long gone. Today’s library is a vibrant part of the community it serves. Today’s libraries offer everything from helping adults learn computer skills to teens getting homework help to story time for toddlers and book clubs for senior citizens.

YA authors Margaret Rogerson, Kerry Winfrey, Natalie D. Richards, and Mindy McGinnis at the Pickerington Public Library’s Teen Book Fest (Photo by Kathryn Powers)

The adaptability of the modern library has never been more evident than in the COVID-19 crisis. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, ZOOM – all are tools that libraries like Ohioana are using. Just this past weekend, Ohioana held its first-ever virtual book club. It was a great success, and we have had many people already asking when we’ll be doing one again!

National Library Week 2020 wraps up this Saturday. But there’s still plenty of time to join in the celebration, and many ways to celebrate. Just check out these ideas on the American Library Association’s website: http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks/natlibraryweek

Find your place at the library today!

Celebrating Ohio Poets for National Poetry Month


The 2020 National Poetry Month poster

For poetry lovers, April is very special – it’s National Poetry Month. It was introduced in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to increase awareness and appreciation of poets and poetry in the United States.

While National Poetry Month is usually celebrated with activities, programs, and events around the country, many of these have had to be called off or postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Poetry is always an important part of the Ohioana Book Festival. The 2020 festival, initially planned for April, is now rescheduled for August 29, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library. A number of poets will take part both in the main event and in outreach activities leading up to it.


A poster for an Ohioana Book Festival poetry reading at the McConnell Arts Center.

Ohio is, and has been, the home of many outstanding poets, and the Ohioana Library has been collecting, preserving, and celebrating their works since we were founded in 1929. Kenneth Patchen became the first poet to receive an Ohioana Book Award, when his collection Cloth of the Tempest was honored in 1944. At first given periodically, the poetry book award has been presented annually since 1989.

Among the noted poets who have been honored with Ohioana Awards are James Wright, Mary Oliver, Michael J. Rosen, David Citino, Thylias Moss, David Baker, Kathy Fagan, George Bilgere, Martha Collins, Jacqueline Woodson, and J. Patrick Lewis. Rita Dove holds the record for the most Ohioana Book Awards in poetry with four.


Four-time Ohioana Award winning poet Rita Dove at the 2010 awards ceremony (Photo by Mara Gruber)

Many Ohio poets have achieved national acclaim. Dove became the first African American to become the U.S. Poet Laureate. She has also won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Mary Oliver won both 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.” Woodson won a National Book Award, and both she and J. Patrick Lewis have served as U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate.

Among the notable young Ohio poets who have garnered national attention in recent years are Maggie Smith, Kazim Ali, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Hanif Abdurraqib, Ruth Awad, Scott Woods, Rachel Wiley, and Marcus Jackson. In 2016, the Ohio General Assembly created the post of Ohio Poet Laureate. Governor Kasich appointed Amit Majmudar as the first poet to hold that post, followed two years later by Dave Lucas, who won the 2012 Ohioana Poetry Book Award. Ohio’s third Poet Laureate is to be named this year by Governor Mike DeWine.


Marcus Jackson receives the 2019 Ohioana Poetry Book Award from the Ohio Arts Council’s Chiquita Mullins Lee (Photo by Mary Rathke)

No Ohio poet is more celebrated than Dayton’s Paul Laurence Dunbar. Although he only lived to the age of 33, Dunbar’s poems influenced generations of African American poets, including Cleveland’s Langston Hughes. Dunbar’s line “I know why the caged bird sings” became famous as the title of author Maya Angelou’s autobiography. In 1936, the Ohio General Assembly made Dunbar’s home in Dayton the first state memorial dedicated to an African American. Several early editions of Dunbar’s books are among the treasures of Ohioana’s s collection. You can learn more about Dunbar from our Winter 2018 Ohioana Quarterly: www.ohioana.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/OQ-Winter-2018-lr.pdf

While most of the public events that normally mark National Poetry Month have unfortunately been cancelled this year, the Academy of American Poets has come up with some great ideas on how we can all celebrate the magic and wonder of poetry right in our own homes during this challenging time. Be sure to check them out here: https://poets.org/national-poetry-month


David Baker recites one of his poems at an Ohioana Book Festival outreach event at the Book Loft of German Village.

So while the weather at this particular moment isn’t very spring-y, we thought we’d close this ode to National Poetry Month with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Spring Song”, looking forward to a happier, healthier time for all:

A blue–bell springs upon the ledge, 
A lark sits singing in the hedge;
Sweet perfumes scent the balmy air,
And life is brimming everywhere.
What lark and breeze and bluebird sing,
Is Spring, Spring, Spring!
No more the air is sharp and cold;
The planter wends across the wold,
And, glad, beneath the shining sky
We wander forth, my love and I.
And ever in our hearts doth ring
This song of Spring, Spring!
For life is life and love is love,
‘Twixt maid and man or dove and dove.
Life may be short, life may be long,
But love will come, and to its song
Shall this refrain for ever cling
Of Spring, Spring, Spring!


Introducing Virtual Book Club!

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We have some exciting things planned for the next few weeks, as we all continue to shelter at home during the COVID-19 crisis. Look out for social media posts, including pictures and video from previous book festivals, as well as some exciting new content, including our brand-new virtual book club!

We are excited to partner with our friend, Olivia Matthews, to present this fun community read of her book Alibis & Angels, the latest book in her Sister Lou mystery series.

Giving up murder for Lent won’t be easy . . .

With the Lenten season fast approaching, Sister Louise “Lou” LaSalle looks forward to a final day of indulgence before giving up her favorite sweets. But one Briar Coast resident won’t get the chance to repent. Opal Lorrie, the mayor’s director of finance, was just found in the parking lot of the Board of Ed–with a broken neck.

The sheriff’s deputies are calling the apparent slip-and-fall a freak accident. But Opal was driving her boss’s car and wearing her boss’s red wool coat. Mayor Heather Stanley has been receiving threatening letters and is clearly the real target. Offering her sanctuary could put the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Hermione of Ephesus at risk, but how can Sister Lou turn her back on a neighbor in need? Aided by her loyal sleuthing partners—her well-connected nephew Chris and reporter Shari Henson—Sister Lou must confront the mayor’s myriad detractors during this critical election year. And as the first day of April nears, it’s up to her to unmask an unrepentant killer who has everyone fooled. (via Amazon.com)

What do you need to do to participate? Well that’s simple – read Alibis & Angels, and follow Ohioana on Facebook and Twitter! We’ll be putting up news and information in the coming days, as well as plenty of reminders. Then, on Saturday April 18 at 2:00pm EST, log on to Facebook for an exciting Facebook Live video discussion with Ohioana’s librarian, Courtney, and Olivia. Olivia will also be answering YOUR questions! One lucky participant will also win a $5 Amazon e-gift card!

Need a copy of the book? There are several e-book resources:

  • If you have a library card, you can check out all of the Sister Lou Mysteries with no waiting list on Hoopla Digital!
  • You can also read it for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, here.
  • (The first two Sister Lou Mysteries can also be found at the Ohio Digital Library, though there may be a wait list.)
  • If you would prefer a print copy of the book, we encourage you to order online from your local independent bookstore. Many of them are still shipping books despite being closed, including The Book Loft of German Village and Prologue Bookshop.

For more information about Sister Lou and Olivia Matthews, aka Patricia Sargeant, visit her website, Kensington Books, or read this exciting interview with Chandra Sparks Splond. You can also follow her on Twitter @BooksByPatricia and on Facebook @AuthorPatriciaSargeant.

Follow Ohioana’s social media pages for more information and updates. We hope to see you on April 18!

Sentimental Journey: Doris Day

March is Women’s History Month. Ohio has been home to many extraordinary women, in many different fields. One of them was Cincinnati’s Doris Day. Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in 1922, she was a talented singer who began appearing on local radio while still in her teens. She sang with several big bands – changing her name to “Day” along the way – and got her big break when she signed with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. On March 29, 1945 – 75 years ago today – their recording of “Sentimental Journey,” with Day as the vocalist, was released. It soon reached the Number One spot on the charts, and became the favorite of service men and women returning from World War II.

Doris Day in the 1940s

The song also helped launch Day on a solo singing career, and she was soon a top attraction on radio and recordings. In 1948, Day made her screen debut in Romance on the High Seas. Over the next twenty years, Day would make 39 films, including classics such as Calamity Jane (her favorite role), the musical biopic Love Me or Leave Me, and the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she introduced what later became her television theme song, the Oscar® winning “Que sera, sera.”

Day appeared opposite many of the top leading men of the day – James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. But her most celebrated screen partner was actor Rock Hudson. They made three comedies together, the first of which, 1959’s Pillow Talk, brought her a Best Actress Oscar ® nomination. At the height of her career, Doris Day was ranked by Hollywood exhibitors as the Number One box-office star in the world four times, a record equaled by only one other female film star – child actress Shirley Temple.

In 1968, Day made the switch from films to television, starring in her own eponymous series for five years. After that, Day retired from entertainment to devote her life to her greatest passion – animal welfare. A lover of cats and dogs, she founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation and the Doris Day Animal League to care for and protect the rights of animals. She even made a brief return to television in the early 1980s with Doris Day and Friends, a show about animals.

Day as Calamity Jane, her favorite film role

Because of her sunny disposition and wholesome personality, Doris Day was often called “The Girl Next Door.” But her 1975 memoir, Doris Day: Her Own Story, revealed a life that was not all sunshine: her parents divorcing when she was young, a childhood accident that crushed her right leg and ended her early dreams of becoming a dancer, an abusive first marriage, and a later marriage to a man who squandered her considerable fortune and left her deeply in debt (something she never knew until after his death).

Day received many honors over her long career. And in 1994, the Ohioana Library honored Day with its Pegasus Award in recognition of her lifetime achievement. By that time, Day no longer traveled from her home in Carmel, California. She sent a beautiful letter and signed photo, which today are among the treasures in the Ohioana Collection. The letter displays all of Day’s warmth and charm, and recounts her favorite childhood memory of Cincinnati – riding the roller coaster at Coney Island!

Doris Day’s letter to Ohioana on winning the Pegasus Award, from the Ohioana Collection

When Doris Day died last May at the age of 97, it was the passing of a true Hollywood legend. She was a phenomenal success in every field of show business she entered – recordings, films, radio, and television. And her philanthropy and devotion to animal welfare was as renowned as her entertainment career.

Doris Day’s signed photo, from the Ohioana Colleciton

We hope you enjoyed taking this “Sentimental Journey” celebrating a remarkable woman.

You can hear Doris Day perform that song with Les Brown at this link:

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