Happy Birthday, Millie!

Celebrating Nancy Drew’s Creator

It’s July 10, and today we celebrate the 115th birthday of one of Ohio’s greatest writers – Mildred Wirt Benson. Her name might not be as familiar to you as some noted Ohio authors, but you’ve certainly heard of her pen name and the beloved fictional character she created – Nancy Drew.

Yes, indeed, “Millie” was the first “Carolyn Keene” – the pseudonym given to all the many writers of the enduringly popular mystery series built around the mythical teen sleuth. And most importantly about Millie – she infused Nancy with many of her own personality traits, talents, and interests. You could almost say that Millie was the REAL Nancy Drew.

She was born Mildred Augustine on this day in 1905 in the small town of Ladora, Iowa. A tomboy from the time she was a child, she excelled at sports. She developed a lifelong love of adventure and travel and was a talented musician.

But writing was her passion. “I always wanted to be a writer from the time I could walk,” she said. “I had no other thought except that I wanted to write.” She began writing stories in grade school; she won her first writing award when she was 14.

At the State University of Iowa, she became the first person in the school’s history to earn a master’s degree in journalism. While there she met and fell in love with Asa Wirt, who worked for the Associated Press. They married in 1928 and settled first in Cleveland, moving later to Toledo. Millie would remain an Ohioan for the rest of her life. Her only child, daughter Peggy, was born in 1937.

In 1927, Millie was hired by Edward Stratemyer as a ghostwriter for his syndicate, which produced popular books for teens, including the enormously successful Hardy Boys series. Ghostwriters worked for a flat fee and did not share in royalties of the books they wrote, which were published under pseudonyms created by the syndicate. They had to sign a confidentiality agreement to not reveal their true identities as authors.

After having Millie write several novels for the Ruth Fielding series (under the pen name Alice B. Emerson), Stratmeyer gave Millie a new assignment: to create an original series about a girl sleuth named Nancy Drew. Stratemeyer provided her with titles and plot outlines for three books. But it was left to Millie to flesh out the character.

And flesh her out she did, creating a character that was smart, self-confident, fearless, and fun-loving. As Millie would say years later, she was trying to make Nancy Drew “a departure from the stereotyped heroine commonly encountered in series books of the day.” Edward Stratemeyer was concerned that Nancy “was too flip,” but when the three books – The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery – were published in April 1930, they were an immediate sensation. Young readers couldn’t get enough of Nancy Drew and “Carolyn Keene.”

Cover of The Secret in the Old Attic (1944) from Ohioana’s collection

Millie would go on to pen 23 of the first 30 Drew novels. And those were just a small part of a huge output that ultimately totaled more than 130 books produced for young readers between 1927 and 1959, both under pseudonyms and her real name. Other than Nancy Drew, Millie’s most popular character (and her own personal favorite) was Penny Parker, the heroine of a series that appeared under her own name, as Mildred A. Wirt.

As an Ohio author, Millie’s books under her own name had begun to be collected by the Ohioana Library almost from the time we were founded in October 1929. In 1957, Millie provided us with a completed biographical form that we could add to our collection.

Mildred’s biographical form

Interestingly, Millie noted that among her writings were “mystery books published under various pen names.” Remember, as a ghostwriter for Stratemeyer, Millie could not disclose her authorship of the Nancy Drew series, or any of the other books she wrote for them.

That changed in 1980, when a lawsuit was filed over publishing rights to the Stratemeyer syndicate titles. The question of authorship of books came up, and Millie was called to testify. For the first time, 50 years after the first novels had been published, Mildred Wirt Benson was revealed as the original Carolyn Keene, the creator of Nancy Drew.

By that time, Millie had long ceased writing novels for young readers, concentrating instead on a career as a journalist that had begun in the mid-1940s, first for the Toledo Times and then for the Toledo Blade. Millie’s first husband, Asa Wirt, had passed away in 1947. Three years later, she married a second time, to George Benson, editor of the Blade. He died in 1959.

Together, Millie and George traveled a great deal. She particularly loved visiting the Mayan ruins in Central America. Once, while in Guatemala, she was briefly kidnapped. It was like a real-life Nancy Drew adventure! Readers of Millie’s column, On the Go, loved sharing vicariously in her exploits.

Millie at her desk

Millie loved to fly, earning her pilot’s license in 1964 at age 59. In 1986, she applied to NASA to become the first journalist-in-space. She was 81 at the time.

In 1989, the Ohioana Library honored Millie with a citation “for distinguished service to Ohio in the field of children’s literature.” Informed of the award, Millie said, “So many years have elapsed since I actively wrote children’s books that I doubt I deserve the honor.”

Letter from Mildred Benson thanking Ohioana for the 1989 Award

Unable to attend the award ceremony in Columbus because of an injury, Millie was presented her award in Toledo by Ohioana board member Ann Bowers, who fondly remembers Millie’s youthful outlook and optimism.

Thank you note from Millie to Ohioana

There would be many other honors in the following years, as more and more people heralded Millie’s achievements, especially in creating Nancy Drew.

Even as she entered her 90s and began suffering from failing health, Millie kept writing. On May 28, 2002, Millie was at her desk at the Blade when she fell ill. She was taken to Toledo Hospital,

where she died that evening. She was 96 years old. News of her death made headlines around the world.

By the time of her death, more than 70 years after the first novels had appeared, notable women in every field had cited Nancy Drew as a role model and inspiration. So much so, that it surprised even Millie, who in an interview the year before she died said, “I always knew the series would be successful. I just never expected it to be the blockbuster that it has been. I’m glad that I had that much influence on people.”

Dozens of writers followed Millie as “Carolyn Keene,” keeping the Nancy Drew series thriving for decades. And it expanded way beyond the books – films, television shows, games, coloring books, puzzles, and more. As Nancy Drew celebrates her 90th anniversary this year, one would have to say that, except perhaps for Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster’s Superman, no character created by a writer from Ohio has become such a pop culture phenomenon as Nancy Drew.

And now fans past, present, and future have a new place where they can celebrate Nancy Drew and Mildred Wirt Benson: the Jennifer Fisher/Nancy Drew Collection at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Fisher, a Drew scholar, is writing a biography of Mildred Wirt Benson. She also hosts the unofficial Nancy Drew sleuth website, a must for Drew fans worldwide. The exhibit at the library will feature several thousand items from Fisher’s personal collection.


The Jennifer Fisher/Nancy Drew Collection reading room at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library

So on this 115th anniversary of her birth, Ohioana salutes Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, the first Carolyn Keene and the creator of Nancy Drew. And on behalf of your millions of fans over the last 90 years . . . thank you, Millie! Further reading:

“Curating a Nancy Drew Collection,” guest blog by Jennifer Fisher, https://www.toledolibrary.org/blog/curating-a-nancy-drew-collection

Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini, Ohio University/Swallow Press, https://www.ohioswallow.com/book/Missing+Millie+Benson And visit Jennifer Fisher’s Nancy Drew website: http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com

“Rod, White, and Blue”

posted in: History, Holidays | 0
Title card for The Twilight Zone, courtesy of CBS

Though the Syfy Channel has traditionally been the home of the New Year and Independence Day Twilight Zone marathons, this year the Decades channel will be celebrating the 4th of July Weekend with “Rod, White, and Blue,” to commemorate creator Rod Serling on the 45th anniversary of his death, at age 50, on June 28, 1975.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/CYQrUc8VAD8

Serling was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Syracuse, New York. He graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, after serving in the military. While at Antioch, he became manager of the college’s radio station, and also lived in Marion, working at radio station WMRN (you can read more about his time in Marion and the impression he made upon his co-workers here: https://tinyurl.com/y8esqluy ). He then moved his family to Cincinnati. It was there he began his professional writing career, writing first radio and then television scripts for WKRC. While freelancing, he continued to send scripts to publishers, receiving over 40 rejection slips. His wife Carol said he eventually became fed up and just quit, moving his family to Connecticut in 1953. His agent convinced him that if he really wanted a career in television he should move to New York, so in 1954 he packed up his wife and young children once again and moved to the city.

He quickly got work on Kraft Television Theater as well as several other TV productions, including continued work back at WKRC. He continued to develop a name for himself, and eventually got attention from executives at CBS. After a long process, The Twilight Zone was greenlit and premiered on October 2, 1959.

For this series, Serling fought hard to get and maintain creative control. He hired scriptwriters he respected, such as classic genre writers Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Charles Beaumont. In an interview, Serling said he hoped the show’s science fiction format would not be controversial with sponsors, network executives, or the general public, and should escape censorship.

Serling drew on his own experience for many episodes, frequently about boxing, military life, and airplane pilots. Carol Serling said his time in the military was traumatic and changed many of his worldviews, which made their way into his writing. The Twilight Zone incorporated his social views on racial relations, somewhat veiled in the science fiction and fantasy elements of the shows. His use of allegory was masterful and he was able to get a lot of controversial topics past censors, at a time when other shows were not even willing to try. Occasionally, though, the point was quite blunt, such as in the episode “I Am the Night—Color Me Black,” in which racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the American South and spread across the world.

Many Twilight Zone stories reflected his views on gender roles, featuring quick-thinking, resilient women as well as shrewish, nagging wives. Cleveland native Burgess Meredith appears in four of the most famous episodes of the show, including “Time Enough at Last,” the chilling tale of a mild-mannered man who only wants to read his books in peace, and is horrified when his wish is granted. Another episode was based on Ohioan Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge;” directed by Robert Enrico, it was submitted to the Academy Awards and won the Best Short Film award at the 1964 Oscars.

The Twilight Zone aired for five seasons (the first three presented as half-hour episodes, the fourth had hour-long episodes, and the fifth returned to the half-hour format). It won many television and drama awards and drew critical acclaim for Serling and his co-workers. Although it had loyal fans, The Twilight Zone had only moderate ratings and was twice canceled and revived. After five years and 156 episodes (92 written by Serling), he grew weary of the series. In 1964, he decided not to oppose its third and final cancellation.

Rod Serling continued to work in TV, creating another classic anthology series, Night Gallery, which ran from 1969-1973. He also consistently worked in radio, writing for The Zero Hour and Fantasy Park. Additionally, he often spoke at college campuses around the USA. He wrote screenplays for films, including the original version of the science fiction classic, The Planet of the Apes. He also taught week-long seminars in which students would watch and critique movies. In the political climate of the 1960s, he often felt a stronger connection to the older students in his evening classes.

Serling’s critique of high school student writing was a pivotal experience for writer J. Michael Straczynski, who science fiction and comic fans will know well as the long-time writer of Thor comics for Marvel and Superman for DC, as well as the creator of the influential television series Babylon 5 and Sense8. Later Serling taught at Ithaca College, from the late 1960s until his death in 1975. He was one of the first guest teachers at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood, California. Audio recordings of his lectures there are included as bonus features on some Twilight Zone home video editions.


Rod and Carol Serling via John Hoke/Antiochiana, Antioch College

According to his wife, Serling often said that “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic.” This philosophy can be seen in his writing. Some themes appear again and again, many of which are concerned with war and politics. Another common theme is equality among all people. He frequently spoke out against racism, social inequality, the Vietnam War, government oppression, and police brutality. In a speech delivered December 3, 1968 at Moorpark College, Moorpark, California, he said,

“I would rather have a son or daughter of mine march through the streets of Chicago protesting injustice—than I would siring a Chicago policeman who’ll club anyone who’ll get in his way—and that includes sixteen-year-olds, newspaper photographers, and senior citizens.” (December 4, 1968, excerpted from https://rodserling.com/rod-serling-rips-loyalty-oaths-the-vietnam-war-and-social-inequity/ )

Angered and mourning the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he said:

“In his grave, we praise him for his decency – but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own. When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun – we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right. Now we acknowledge his compassion – but we exercised no compassion of our own. When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order. We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man – but we chose not to call them virtues before his death. And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth – but the judgement comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force. If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly. We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due… He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him.” (Letter to The Los Angeles Times; April 8, 1968.)

A Town Has Turned to Dust, Serling’s 1958 made-for-TV film, received a positive review from the critic Jack Gould, who was known for being straightforward to the point of being harsh in his reviews. He called A Town Has Turned to Dust, “a raw, tough and at the same time deeply moving outcry against prejudice.” Set in a Southwestern town in a deep drought, it sees poverty and despair turn racial tensions deadly when the ineffectual sheriff is unable to stand against the town. A young Mexican boy is lynched, and the town as a whole is to blame. A second lynching is in the works after a series of events leads again to the town turning against the Mexicans. This time, the sheriff stands strong, and the first boy’s brother is saved, even as the town is not. “Mr. Serling incorporated his protest against prejudice in vivid dialogue and sound situations. He made his point that hate for a fellow being leads only to the ultimate destruction of the bigoted,” said Gould, in the New York Times.

Serling took his 1972 screenplay for the film, The Man, from the Irving Wallace novel of the same title. A black senator from New Hampshire and president pro tempore of the Senate, played by James Earl Jones, assumes the U.S. presidency by succession.

Sadly, Rod Serling passed away at the early age of 50, after suffering three heart attacks very quickly. His wife Carol survived him and continued to speak about her husband and his legacy for many years, until she also passed away a month before her 92nd birthday on January 9, 2020. Serling’s daughter Anne, born during the family’s time in Connecticut, wrote a stirring memoir about her father, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, in 2013, and has also continued to write and speak about her father’s legacy.

Serling is indelibly woven into modern popular culture because of the enduring popularity of The Twilight Zone. Even youth of today can hum the theme song, and the title itself is a synonym for all things unexplainable. It has lived on with a movie, graphic novels, many books (including Ohio film critic and Twilight Zone expert Mark Dawidziak’s Everything I Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone), albums, and even a ride at Disney World. It has also inspired a few TV reboots, including one that started on CBS All Access in 2019, produced by Jordan Peele, which has just started a second season. Serling’s widow, Carol, maintained that the cult status that now surrounds both her husband and his shows continues to be a surprise, “as I’m sure it would have been to him.” Carol, who was raised in Columbus, helped establish the Rod Serling Archives at Ithaca College in upstate New York. The collection includes scripts and screenplays, her husband’s six Emmy Awards, plus photos, films, and books from his personal collection. She also helped endow a Rod Serling Scholarship in Communications there.

The origins of Twilight Zone holiday marathons are themselves shrouded in a bit of mystery (you can read more about that here: https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-twilight-zone-marathon-a-history-of-a-holiday-tradition/ ). One thing is true: the show has a legacy that has evolved far beyond what Serling ever intended, resonating with viewers across generations for over sixty years. Whether this is your first time viewing the show or your one hundredth, there is always something new to discover, some underlying theme to Serling’s vision that continues to captivate audiences from year to year.

The “Rod, White and Blue” marathon begins at 12p ET | 9a PT on July 4 on Decades, and runs through the weekend. Check your local listings: https://www.decades.com/wheretowatch

Celebrating Pride: Must-Read Books by LGBTQ+ Ohio Authors

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising, which began on June 28, 1969, was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTQ+ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and members of the extended community who identify under the LGBTQ+ spectrum, have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

For this Pride Month, Ohioana would like to share a chronological list of books from among our state’s most noted LGBTQ+ voices, past and present.

White Buildings – 1926, Hart Crane (Garrettsville)

This first book of poems by hart Crane, one of his three major collections, was originally published in 1926. The themes in White Buildings are abstract and metaphysical, but Crane’s associations and images spring from the American scene. Crane associated his sexuality with his vocation as a poet. Raised in the Christian Science tradition of his mother, he never ceased to view himself as a social pariah. Though he was only semi-public with his homosexuality, as necessitated by the mores of the time, Crane was clear with his intentions in poems like “The Broken Tower,” and “My Grandmother’s Love Letters.” Crane tragically took his own life at the very young age of 32, leaving behind a legacy of poetry that is sadly underappreciated today. Though he is not well known now, Crane was admired in the early 20th Century by many poets and playwrights, including Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, whose play Steps Must Be Gentle was based on Crane’s relationship with his mother.

A Boy’s Own Story – 1982, Edmund White (Cincinnati)

A Boy’s Own Story is the first of a trilogy of novels, describing a boy’s coming of age and documenting a young man’s experience of homosexuality in the 1950s in Cincinnati, Chicago and Michigan. The trilogy continued with The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), which brought the setting up to the 1990s. These semi-autobiographical novels were a deeply personal journey for Cincinnati’s Edmund White, written, in part, because of his own reading journey as a child. White has said, “As a young teenager I looked desperately for things to read that might excuse me or assure me I wasn’t the only one, that might confirm an identity I was unhappily piecing together.” He decided that, since he could not find any books to read about people like himself, he would create them on his own. Considered an icon in the world of LGBTQ+ literature, White has gone on to write over 50 novels, plays, and essays over his career, most of them featuring same-sex themes, and has won multiple awards, including the 2019 National Book Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dream Work – 1986, Mary Oliver (Cleveland)

Mary Oliver was born and raised in Maple Hills Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She would retreat from a difficult home to the nearby woods, where she would build huts of sticks and grass and write poems. Oliver’s nature-focused poetry won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, 2 Ohioana Book Awards, and a Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. Reviewing Dream Work for the Nation, critic Alicia Ostriker numbered Oliver among America’s finest poets, as “visionary as [Ralph Waldo] Emerson.” Though notoriously secret about her private life, Oliver lived on Cape Cod with her partner, Molly Malone Cook, for more than 40 years.

Thomas the Rhymer – 1990, Ellen Kushner (Shaker Heights)

Award-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, this World Fantasy Award-winner is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift. A graduate of Barnard College, Ellen Kushner also attended Bryn Mawr College, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She began her career in publishing as a fiction editor in New York City, but left to write her first novel Swordspoint, which has become a cult classic, hailed as the progenitor of the “mannerpunk” (or “Fantasy of Manners”) school of urban fantasy. Swordspoint was followed by Thomas the Rhymer, and two more novels in her “Riverside” series, including The Fall of The Kings (2002), written with her wife Delia Sherman. Kushner has been praised as a vanguard of positive depictions of bisexual characters and relationships in fantasy fiction.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio – 2005, Terry Ryan (Defiance)

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the “contest era” of the 1950s and 1960s. Stepping back into a time when fledgling advertising agencies were active partners with consumers, and everyday people saw possibility in every coupon, Terry Ryan tells how her mother kept the family afloat by writing jingles and contest entries. Ryan’s signature wit and verve made this story so popular it was turned into a successful film. With artist Sylvia Mollick, Ryan was also the co-creator of the long-running cartoon T. O. Sylvester in the San Francisco Chronicle. She was married to her long-time partner, Pat Holt, by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom on St Valentine’s Day 2004. Her account of her wedding, titled We Do!, was published by Chronicle Books. Sadly Ryan was diagnosed with cancer not long after her big success, and passed away on May 16, 2007.

Bright Felon – 2009 Kazim Ali (Oberlin)

Poet, editor, and prose writer Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. In 2003 Ali co-founded Nightboat Books and served as the press’s publisher until 2007. He has received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and his poetry has been featured in Best American Poetry. In this follow up to his Ohioana Book Award winner Sky Ward, which won the 2015 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry, Ali details the struggle of coming of age between cultures, overcoming personal and family strictures to talk about private affairs and secrets long held. The text is comprised of sentences that alternate in time, ranging from discursive essay to memoir to prose poetry. Art, history, politics, geography, love, sexuality, writing, and religion, and the role silence plays in each, are its interwoven themes. Bright Felon is literally “autobiography” because the text itself becomes a form of writing the life, revealing secrets, and then, amid the shards and fragments of experience, dealing with the aftermath of such revelations.

The Last Nude – 2012, Ellis Avery (Columbus)

The only writer ever to have received the American Library Association Stonewall Award for Fiction twice, Ellis Avery was the author of two novels, a memoir, and a book of poetry. Her novels, The Last Nude (Riverhead 2012) and The Teahouse Fire (Riverhead 2006) received Lambda, Golden Crown, and Ohioana Book awards, and her work was translated into six languages. She taught fiction writing at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley. Ellis was raised in Columbus, where she discovered a love of theater, anthropology, and religion that she interwove into her works of fiction. Avery was also considered to be at the forefront of a queer historical fiction movement in which the historical setting is, among other things, an allegory for the queer child awakening to her identity in a household that cannot recognize or name her existence. In her later work, through her struggles with cancer and reactive arthritis, Avery became interested in medical narratives by both those afflicted with illness and medical professionals, and in 2018 led a narrative medicine storytelling and writing workshop at Harvard Medical School. Ellis Avery passed away on February 15, 2019, at the age of 46.

The Last Place You Look – 2017, Kristen Lepionka (Columbus)

Kristen Lepionka is the author of the Roxane Weary mystery series. Her debut, The Last Place You Look, won the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. novel and was also nominated for Anthony and Macavity Awards. This novel is a throwback, of sorts, to hard-boiled PI detectives of old, only Roxane Weary is a very modern character. A deeply troubled, but also deeply empathetic (often to her own detriment), person, Roxane juggles her grief over her father’s death alongside her alcoholism, her juggling of her relationships with men and women, and her mentorship of a young queer teen as she navigates life as a PI in Columbus. With each installment Roxane grows as a character and Lepionka’s incredible writing talent shines. Lepionka is also the co-host of the podcast “Unlikeable Female Characters,” featuring feminist thriller writers in conversation about “female characters who don’t give a damn if you like them.”

How We Fight for Our Lives – 2019, Saeed Jones (Columbus)

Saeed Jones is a relatively recent transplant to Columbus, but not a new name in the world of poetry. Jones has been a winner of the Pushcart Prize, the Joyce Osterwell Award for Poetry from the PEN Literary Awards, and the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Award for Literature, and a nominee for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. In 2019 he published his first memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, an unflinching story of his coming-of-age as a young, gay, Black man in the South. Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves. The book earned Jones the Lambda, the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction in 2019, and the Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography, in 2020.

The Gravity of Us – 2020, Phil Stamper (Dayton)

Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel, The Gravity of Us, is the story of two teens, Cal and Leon, who are brought together when their parents are both selected for a new NASA mission to Mars. Stamper balances the boys’ burgeoning relationship against a backdrop that brings the space race into the 21st century. In a 2020 interview, Stamper, who was raised just outside of Dayton, says, “I’ve always felt that we need all sorts of queer stories and experiences out there. I built this book in a world where homophobia is just not acknowledged, and I wanted this story to be a safe space for queer teens who always feel like they have to keep their guards up when reading a book.”

If you are looking for more on the history of Pride Month itself, you may also enjoy Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, the story of Ohioans Jim Obergefell and John Arthur and their fight for marriage equality, written by Obergefell and Debbie Cenziper. Today is the fifth anniversary of the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Readers may also enjoy LGBT ColumbusLGBT Cincinnati, and LGBT Cleveland, written by 2020 Ohioana Book Festival author Ken Schneck, and published by Arcadia, and How to Survive a Summer, the acclaimed debut novel by Columbus author Nick White, as well as the works of e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Ruth Awad, Berenice Abbott, and P. Craig Russell. 

Of course, this list is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are so many, many more LGBTQ+ authors, and their voices have too often been marginalized. We hope that perhaps this brief summary will encourage you to explore other gifted LGBTQ+ writers, not just from Ohio, but everywhere.

And for more Pride Month celebration, please check out our interview with Alex DiFrancesco, the first trans and non-binary Ohioana Book Award finalist, published here:
http://www.ohioana.org/an-interview-with-alex-difrancesco/

A Juneteenth Celebration: Must-Read Books by Ten Black Ohio Authors

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It was first observed in June, 1865, just two months after the end of the Civil War.

Today, 155 years later, too many Black Americans still suffer from violence, inequality, and injustice resulting from systemic racism. We stand united with them in their quest to bring about lasting and meaningful change.

For this Juneteenth, Ohioana would like to share a chronological list of books from among our state’s most noted Black voices, past and present.

Lyrics of Lowly Life – 1896, Paul Laurence Dunbar (Dayton)

One of Dunbar’s earliest works, this collection includes his immortal poem “We Wear the Mask,” about the miserable plight of African Americans after the Civil War, forced to hide their painful realities and frustrations under the mask of happiness and contentment. Dunbar became the first African American poet to win national recognition, because of this poem. Although he lived to be only 33, Dunbar’s work remains a legacy of the past and a beacon for the future.

The Weary Blues – 1926, Langston Hughes (Cleveland)

The first book by the man who became known as “The Poet of the Harlem Renaissance.” The collection includes not only the title work, but also his classic poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “I, Too, Sing America,” which was the theme of the 100th anniversary celebration in Columbus of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes wrote in other literary genres as well. His graceful verse and prose showcased the spiritual and creative dignity of the lives of African Americans.

Zeely – 1967, Virginia Hamilton (Yellow Springs)

The first Black Newbery Medalist and a National Book Award winner, no writer of books for African American children has been more loved than Virginia Hamilton. And influential, too: about Hamilton’s first novel, Zeely, the story of a young Black girl who loves to create fantasies, Jacqueline Woodson said, “It was one of the first books I read by an African American about African American people.” The American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award honors an African American author or illustrator whose body of work has contributed significantly to literature for children and young adults.

Beloved – 1987, Toni Morrison (Lorain)

Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison was arguably the most important American writer of the last half of the 20th century. But she was more – she was also a tireless and outspoken champion for social justice, right up until she died in August 2020 at the age of 88. Morrison’s best-known work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, is the story of Sethe, a former slave who escaped to Ohio in the 1870s—but despite her freedom, finds herself haunted by the trauma of her past.

On the Bus with Rosa Parks – 1999, Rita Dove (Akron)

A Pulitzer Prize winner and the first African American to serve as Poet Laureate of the United States, Rita Dove also holds the record for the Ohioana Poetry Book Award, having won four, including for 1999’s On the Bus with Rosa Parks. The collection explores the intersection of individual fate and history, as exemplified by the courageous Black woman whose simple act of refusing to give her seat up on the bus to a white man helped spark the civil rights movement.

Copper Sun – 2006, Sharon Draper (Cincinnati)

Sharon Draper taught high school English in Cincinnati and was named National Teacher of the Year before devoting herself full-time to writing novels for young adults. A New York Times best-selling author, she is the winner of five Coretta Scott King Literary Awards, including for Copper Sun, the epic story of a young girl torn from her African village, sold into slavery, and stripped of everything she has ever known – except hope.

The Butler: A Witness to History – 2013, Wil Haygood (Columbus)

Award-winning journalist and historian Wil Haygood traces the Civil Rights Movement and explores crucial moments of 20th century American history through the eyes of Eugene Allen – a White House butler who served eight presidents, from Truman to Reagan, over the course of thirty-four years. Haygood’s 2008 article about Allen in the Washington Post, “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” inspired the award-winning film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

This Is the Rope – 2013, Jacqueline Woodson (Columbus)

Jacqueline Woodson’s many honors include the Newbery Medal and National Book Award; she has served as the Children’s Poet Laureate and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She also writes for adults and is a 2020 Ohioana Book Award finalist for her novel, Red at the Bone. In her 2013 book for young readers, This Is the Rope, Woodson tells the story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration and the simple jump rope found by a little girl that she has no idea will become a part of the family’s history for three generations.

Urban Contemporary Poetry Month – 2016, Scott Woods (Columbus)

Scott Woods is a former President of Poetry Slam, Inc., and is the founder of the Writers Block Poetry series and the Streetlight Guild, a performing arts nonprofit. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications and been heard on National Public Radio. Urban Contemporary History Month, his second poetry collection, navigates multiple sides of the issues it raises – police abuse, idol worship, the definition of Black culture, and the importance of the blues chief among them – chipping away at our understanding and acceptance of American life as we know it. 

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us – 2017, Hanif Abdurraqib (Columbus)

A poet, essayist, and cultural critic, Hanif Abdurraqib is one of contemporary literature’s most popular and influential young writers. His third book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Questwas a National Book Award longlisted finalist and is a 2020 Ohioana Book Awards finalist. His collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us,chosen by a number of publications as one of the best books of 2017, uses music and culture as a lens through which to view our world, so that we might better understand ourselves. 

Ten books, ten Black Ohio writers. This list here is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are so many, many more. And we hope that perhaps this brief summary will encourage you to explore other gifted Black writers, not just from Ohio, but everywhere. We’ve never needed to hear their voices more than now.

Ohioana Remembers

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

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

Karen Harper

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Hickman

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

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

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

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

Mike Resnick

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

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

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

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!

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:

90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The 2010s

We’ve now journeyed through eight decades in our 90 Years . . . 90 Books retrospective, in which we’re looking back at titles by 90 Ohio authors since Ohioana’s founding in 1929.

So far, we shared 70 books, representing authors from every part of the state, books of every literary genre, and books for readers of every age. In this final installment, we highlight 20 books, all of them produced during this decade which is about to end. Some of these authors have long been popular, others made their debuts in the past ten years. Several of these books have been made, or are being made, into works for film or television.

We’re happy so many of you have enjoyed these weekly installments. It certainly has been fun for the staff to put the series together. In fact, you may not have heard the end of this as yet! Keep a look out on our social media . . . and thanks for reading!

The Girl of Fire and Thorn, Rae Carson – 2011

Rae Carson pursued numerous careers and called many places home before moving to Columbus, Ohio, where she published her debut novel, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The story follows Elisa, a princess overshadowed by her elder sister who must rise to greatness in this fantasy trilogy. The Girl of Fire and Thorns won the Ohioana Book Award in juvenile literature and was a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Debut Award, launching Carson into a New York Times and USA Today bestselling career. Her recent novels include titles in the popular Star Wars franchise. Carson now lives in Arizona.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain – 2011

Born in California and a long-time resident of Cleveland, Paula McLain is the author of three New York Times best-selling historical novels. The second of these, The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, won the 2012 Ohioana Book Award in fiction, and was a 2013-14 Choose to Read Ohio title. McLain holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan; has been a resident of Yadoo and the MacDowell Colony; and was the recipient of fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. She was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize in 2011, the year The Paris Wife was published.

Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard – 2011

Ask Candice Millard and she’ll tell you her love of books began in the little library in her hometown of Lexington, Ohio. With degrees from Baker and Baylor Universities, Millard pursued a successful career writing and editing for National Geographic magazine before turning to biography. The result: three New York Times best-sellers chronicling difficult chapters in the lives of three notable men: Theodore Roosevelt, James A. Garfield, and Winston Churchill. Millard’s book on Garfield’s assassination, Destiny of the Republic, won her a number of honors, including an Ohioana Book Award and the coveted Edgar Award, and was adapted into a documentary for PBS’ American Experience. Millard lives with her family in Kansas.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – 2011

In Ready Player One Ernest Cline envisions the year 2045, where people escape their dystopian society by living in a virtual reality world called OASIS and where Columbus, Ohio is a futuristic mega-metropolis. The main character, teenaged Wade Watts, must use his knowledge of 1980s popular culture to decode a series of puzzles left by the OASIS’ creator in order to try to realize a better future. Cline grew up in Ashland, Ohio, from which he drew inspiration for many of the significant locations in the novel. Cline published a second novel, Armada, in 2015 and in 2018 Ready Player One was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg. Cline now lives in Austin, Texas.

The Year of the Book, Andrea Cheng – 2012

Andrea Cheng was the daughter of Hungarian immigrant parents and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in an extended family with three generation living under one roof. Cheng studied Chinese at Cornell University, earning an MS in linguistics. While there she met and married her husband, James Cheng, like her the child of immigrants (from China). It was after their three children were born that she was inspired to start writing. The result: more than 25 books, including picture books, young adult, and nonfiction. The Year of the Book, the first in a popular series, follows Anna Wang, a young Chinese American girl living in Cincinnati. Based on a combination of Andrea and her two real-life daughters, the book was a 2017-18 Choose to Read Ohio. Andrea Cheng passed away in 2015.

The World We Found, Thirty Umrigar – 2012

Born in Mombai, India, and a graduate of the University of Bombay, Thrity Umrigar came to the United States in 1983 to pursue her graduate studies. Holding an MBA from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. from Kent State University, Umrigar has been a successful journalist and teacher as well as a best-selling author. Her novels include The Space Between UsIf Today Be Sweet, and The Story Hour, which was a 2017-18 Choose to Read Ohio title. Umrigar won the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for her novel, The World We Found. In 2017, Umrigar wrote her first picture book for children, When I Carried You in My Belly. Also a Cleveland Arts Prize recipient, Umrigar is the Armington Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

Sky Ward, Kazim Ali – 2013

Queer, Muslim, American, poet and prose writer Kazim Ali has always navigated complex intersections and interstices, just to make a life. Born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent, he received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. Ali’s poetry collections include Bright Felon, a 2010 Ohioana Award finalist; Sky Ward, which won him the 2013 Ohioana Poetry Book Award; and his newest collection, Inquisition. He is the founding editor of Nightboat Press. Ali, who taught for many years at Oberlin College, is now Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California in San Diego.

Fat Angie, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo – 2013

High school is often a confusing, tumultuous and difficult time. This is particularly true for Fat Angie, the titular character of e. E. Charlton Trujillo’s 2013 YA novel, who often feels isolated, struggles with her sexuality and identity, and is desperately trying to hold onto hope for a sister who was captured in Iraq. Charlton-Trujillo, a native of Texas who has lived in Ohio for much of her adult life, captures these themes with tenderness and sensitivity. Fat Angie was a recipient of the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award and was a Lambda Literary Finalist and a Choose to Read Ohio book.

Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis – 2013

Winner of the Edgar Award for A Madness So Discreet, Mindy McGinnis is a novelist who lives in Ohio. McGinnis’ debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink, tells the story of Lynn, a teenager living in a dystopian world where water is worth more than gold. This popular book led to a companion novel, In a Handful of Dust, and has been optioned by Fickle Fish Films. McGinnis has gone on to publish nine young adult novels that span multiple genres including postapocalyptic, historical, thriller, contemporary, mystery, and fantasy. Whether they are set in the past, the present, or a disturbing and not-too-distant future, McGinnis’s books offer an unflinching look at humanity and the world around us.

Super Boys, Brad Ricca – 2013

Jerry Shuster and Joel Siegel were two teenagers in Cleveland when in 1938 they created the first and most famous of all superheroes – Superman. Seventy-five years later, another Clevelander, Brad Ricca, told their remarkable story in his Ohioana Award-winning book, Super Boys. Ricca, who is also the recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize, earned his Ph.D. from Case Western, where he teaches. His second book, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, was a finalist for both the Ohioana Award and the Edgar Award.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr – 2014

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See follows two teenagers during World War II, one a blind girl in Nazi-occupied France, the other a German orphan boy pressed into service by the Nazi army. An international best-seller, the novel’s elegant prose and masterful storytelling earned Doerr the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,  the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in fiction, and the Ohioana Book Award, one of four he has won since 2003. Ohioana has long been an advocate of Doerr, who is a native of Cleveland. He won the 2000 Ohioana Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant for emerging writers, the first prize in his amazing career. The author of five books, Doerr and his family live in Idaho, where he was the state’s Writer-in-Residence from 2007 to 2010.  

Dog Man, Dav Pilkey – 2014

Dav Pilkey was born in Cleveland, Ohio. In elementary school, he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and was frequently sent to sit out in the hall for his disruptive behavior. He filled the time doodling and creating silly stories that were frowned upon by his teachers. Fortunately, he ignored all the scolding and pursued his love of cartooning into adulthood, creating multiple New York Times bestselling series for children. His beloved series include The Dumb Bunnies, Ricky Ricotta, Dragon, and Captain Underpants, the latter of which came to the big screen as a DreamWorks movie in 2017. Dog Man is Pilkey’s most recent graphic novel series, following the antics of a half-dog, half-human hero through eight adventurous books—and counting!

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson – 2014

Though she was born in Columbus, Jacqueline Woodson was raised in South Carolina and New York, and always felt halfway home in each place. Brown Girl Dreaming tells the story of her childhood in verse and shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. It also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, creating the first sparks of the writer she was to become. Its many accolades include the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the NAACP Image Award, a Newbery Honor, and the inaugural Ohioana Book Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature. Woodson is the author of more than 35 books for both children and adults. The 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Woodson lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Showdown, Wil Haygood – 2015

Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” served as the basis for Lee Daniels’ acclaimed film, The Butler. A 30-year career as a journalist at the Post and also the Boston Globe, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, led Haygood to an equally successful career as a biographer. In Show Down, he tells the remarkable the story behind President Lyndon Johnson’s historic appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first black Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. It won Haygood the second of his three Ohioana Awards – he also won for 1998’s The Haygoods of Columbus and 2018’s Tigerland, which was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Haygood lives in Washington DC.

Little Tree, Loren Long – 2015

Loren Long began his career illustrating greeting cards, theater posters, and magazines before finding his true passion: children’s books. His award-winning books have encompassed titles he both authored and illustrated—including his popular Otis series about a loveable tractor—as well as stories written by American icons like Walt Whitman and Barack Obama. Little Tree tells the story of a young tree who holds tight to his leaves and is a heartfelt ode to the challenges of growing up and letting go. It won the Ohioana Award in juvenile literature and was the inaugural Floyd’s Pick, an annual award presented by the State Library of Ohio and Ohioana. Long lives in Cincinnati where he finds inspiration in nature just outside his studio window.

Epitaph, Mary Doria Russell – 2015

Mary Doria Russell is a celebrated American writer who lives near Cleveland. She drew on her interests both in the Wild West and the Homeric epics when writing Epitaph, a follow up to Doc that continues the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The result is a sweeping a historical fiction novel that is mystical, epic, intimate and masterfully told. Mary is the winner of numerous awards and accolades, including the 2016 Ohioana Fiction and Readers’ Choice Awards for Epitaph, the Arthur C. Clarke Prize and the American Library Association Best Novel in Historical Fiction for Doc.

Dothead, Amit Majmudar – 2016

In 2016, Amit Majmudar received the honor of being named by Governor John Kasich as Ohio’s first Poet Laureate. The son of Indian immigrants and raised in Cleveland, Majmudar is a doctor as well as a writer, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist in Columbus. His poems have appeared in numerous publications as well as in three books. Dothead, published the year he became Poet Laureate, is described as “an exploration of selfhood, both intense and exhilarating.” Majmudar has also published a translation in verse of the Bhagavad Vita, and two novels, one of which, The Abundance, was a Choose to Read Ohio title in 2013-14. Majmudar, who lives in Westerville, was succeeded in 2018 as Ohio Poet Laureate by Ohioana Award winner Dave Lucas.

Rightful Heritage, Douglas Brinkley – 2016

Called “America’s new past master” by the Chicago Tribune and CNN’s official Presidential Historian, Douglas Brinkley is the author of nearly 40 books. His subjects have included Walter Cronkite, Henry Ford, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac. Many of his books have dealt with 20th century American Presidents, including the Ohioana Award-winning, Rightful Heritage, about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s towering contributions to conservation. Brinkley was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio, where both his parents were teachers. He received his BA from The Ohio State University, and his MA and Ph.D. from Georgetown. Brinkley lives with his family in Austin, Texas, where he is a Professor of History and holds the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities at Rice University.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng – 2017

When Shaker Heights was established as a suburb of Cleveland in 1912 it was one of the first planned communities of its kind in the country. In Little Fires Everywhere, as she did in her acclaimed debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng uses Shaker Heights as the setting of the novel, exploring the interesting cultural and class phenomenon that has risen from the concept of such a community with a large and diverse cast of characters. Ng herself lived in Shaker Heights during her middle and high school years, and draws upon her intimate knowledge of the community for the story. Little Fires Everywhere is the recipient of the 2018 Ohioana Award in Fiction and is being adapted into a Hulu miniseries, set to be released in 2020. She is also a Pushcart Prize-winning author of short fiction appearing in One Story, TriQuarterly and Subtropics. A Massachusetts Book Award winner, Ng lives in Cambridge.

Go Ahead in the Rain, Hanif Abdurraqib – 2019

Poet, essayist, and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib is a Columbus native. Columbus has always featured in his works, whether it is a mention of I-270 or an aside about parking tickets in Bexley, where he attended Capital University. His latest book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest is not only an homage to the seminal rap group, but also a meditation on growing up in the late 1990s and entering adulthood. His books, always deeply personal, are both a reflection and a critique of our admiration of artists whose works touch our lives, and the “relationships” we form with the artists and media we love. His second poetry collection, A Fortune for Your Disaster, was published in September 2019.

90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The 2000s

Our journey continues with our special year-end anniversary blog, 90 Years . . . 90 Books, in which we’re taking a look at books by 90 Ohio authors that have been published since Ohioana was founded in 1929.

We’re up to the 2000s. The first decade of the 21st century was a memorable time for both Ohio and Ohioana . . . the state marked its Bicentennial in 2003 and a year later Ohioana celebrated its 75th anniversary. Many wonderful books by Ohio authors came out between 2000 and 2010, and in this week’s blog we shine the spotlight on twenty of them.

We hope you enjoy reading about these titles, and, as always, that you might not only see some familiar favorites, but that there will a few that you’re being introduced to the first time.

And thanks again for the many compliments – we’re glad to know that so many of you like the series!

Among the Missing, Dan Chaon – 2001

Dan Chaon’s story collection Among the Missing was not only an Ohioana Book Award winner (his first of two), it was also a finalist for the National Book Award. Hailing from a tiny Nebraska town with a population of only 20 residents, Chaon has lived for many years in Ohio, teaching at Oberlin College, where he was the Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing and Literature until his retirement in 2018. Chaon has also written three novels, the most recent of which, 2017’s Ill Will, was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Trouble Don’t Last, Shelley Pearsall – 2002

Shelley Pearsall grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she sent her first story to a New York publishing house at the age of thirteen. Although the manuscript was never published, its themes of survival and freedom ultimately became the inspiration twenty years later for Pearsall’s first published novel, Trouble Don’t Last. It won both the Ohioana Book Award in juvenile literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Pearsall has since won a second Ohioana Award, for her 2015 book, The Seventh Most Important Thing. Pearsall lives in Silver Lake, Ohio.

East, Edith Pattou – 2003

Edith Pattou was first inspired to become a writer when she was ten years old and fell in love with the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. Receiving degrees from Claremont College and UCLA, Pattou worked a variety of jobs before she turned to writing full-time. Her 2003 picture book, Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden was a New York Times best-seller. Two years later came her fantasy novel for young adults, East, which won many awards, including the Ohioana Book Award in juvenile literature. Pattou has written a number of books since, including 2018’s West, the long-awaited sequel to East. A native of Illinois, Pattou lives in Columbus, where her husband is a professor at The Ohio State University.

Beyond the River, Ann Hagedorn – 2003

Dayton’s Ann Hagedorn has had two successful writing careers: first as a journalist for publications including the Wall Street Journal. Then, since 1994, as prize-winning author of nonfiction. Her third book, Beyond the River, received the Ohioana Book Award. She has since won two more Ohioana Book Awards: in 2008 for Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 and in 2015 for The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Her Security. Hagedorn lives in the Ohio River town of Ripley, the setting for Beyond the River.

The First Part Last, Angela Johnson – 2003

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama, Angela Johnson began writing in the fourth grade in Windham, Ohio. She attended Kent State, and worked as a nanny for award-winning children’s writer Cynthia Rylant, who encouraged her writing. Johnson was soon producing her own acclaimed books. One of them, The First Part Last, deals with the issue of teen pregnancy and won Johnson the first of her three Coretta Scott King Awards. Johnson, whose other honors include Ohioana’s Alice Louise Wood Memorial Award in juvenile literature and a MacArthur Fellowship, still lives in Kent.

The Greatest Skating Race, Louise Borden – 2004

Cincinnati’s Louise Borden grew up inspired by a grandmother who loved history. Borden was fascinated by the stories of ordinary people and their relation to historical events and majored in history at Denison University. Her love of history has come into play in many of the books that have followed, as has her experience – through both teaching and parenthood – with children’s thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Among her many acclaimed books is 2004’s Ohioana Award-winning The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands about an 11-year-old skater who helps two children flee to Belgium, where they will be safe from German soldiers.

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi – 2005

A New York Times best-selling author of science fiction, John Scalzi’s many awards won include the Hugo, the Locus, and the Audie. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Ohio Governors’ Award for the Arts. Scalzi’s works have been translated into 20+ languages. He was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series and the writer for the video game Midnight Star. He is the former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is serving as Executive Producer for Old Man’s War and The Collapsing Empire, adaptations of two of his most famous book series, both currently in development for film/TV. In 2019 three of his short stories were adapted into episodes of the Netflix series Love, Death + Robots. A California native, Scalzi lives in Bradford, Ohio, and writes about his life and work on his award-winning blog, Whatever.

Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld – 2005

Curtis Sittenfeld was born and raised in Cincinnati, where she lived until attending a boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts for high school. She attended Vassar College and Stanford University where she studied creative writing and journalism, going on to earn an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Her experiences at boarding school were the basis for her first novel, Prep, about a teenager attending the fictional Ault School in Massachusetts. Sittenfeld has since published four novels and a collection of short stories, released in April of 2018. Her short stories and non-fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Esquire, The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.”

Dark Angel, Karen Harper – 2005

Toledo born but a resident of Columbus for many years, Karen Harper taught English in high school and college before launching a full-time career as a writer in the mid-1980s. The result: more than 70 novels to her credit in the past 35 years, covering a variety of genre including suspense, romance, historical fiction, and mystery. A number of Harper’s books have landed on The New York Times and USA Today best-seller lists, including 2005’s Dark Angel, which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America.

The Teahouse Fire, Ellis Avery – 2006

The Ohioana Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, named for Ohioana’s second director, is a special competitive prize for an Ohio writer age 30 or younger who has not yet published a book. We have been proud to see several grant recipients go on to great success as authors. Columbus’ Ellis Avery was one of them. Her novel The Teahouse Fire, published just two years after she received the Marvin grant, not only won her an Ohioana Book Award, but also the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award for LGBTQ fiction. Avery won the award again in 2013, for her second novel, The Last Nude, making her the only author to win two Stonewall Awards. Sadly, Avery’s career was cut short by cancer – she was only 45 when she died in February 2019.

Ophelia, Lisa Klein – 2006

Born in Peoria, Illinois, Lisa Klein spent her childhood reading and writing. After majoring in English and Theology at Marquette University and earning a Ph.D. in literature from Indiana University, she started her time in Ohio as an assistant professor at The Ohio State University where she taught Shakespeare and researched the writings and domestic culture of Renaissance women. Her love of history is no surprise for those who have read any of her five published novels, each a historical fiction. Ophelia, her first novel, is an elegant retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of Hamlet’s young wife. It has won multiple awards and accolades, and in 2018 was adapted into a feature film.

Haywire, George Bilgere – 2006

Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins has called George Bilgere “a welcome breath of fresh, American air in the house of contemporary poetry.” His work has been featured in many publications as well as on Garrison Keillor’s NPR programs A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. A California native, Bilgere lives in Cleveland and teaches at John Carroll University. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Haywire, published in 2006, the same year Bilgere received Ohioana’s Laura and Helen Krout Memorial Poetry Award for his body of work.

Library Mouse, Daniel Kirk – 2007

Daniel Kirk grew up in Columbus and attended The Ohio State University before beginning his career as an illustrator in New York City where his work appeared in The New York Times, the Boston Globe and Newsweek, among others. He began writing after becoming a father and has since published over thirty picture books and several chapter books. His Library Mouse series is widely read and beloved; it was a Booklist Editor’s Choice book, an Education.com Essential gift, a Parenting Magazine Best Mom-Tested Book of the Year, a Kansas Reading Association Award Nominee, a Book Sense pick, the winner of a NAPPA Gold Award and was featured on the 2013-2014 Choose to Read Ohio list. Kirk now lives in New Jersey.

Coal Black Horse, Robert Olmstead – 2007

When Robert Olmstead’s Coal Black Horse – a historical novel about a young boy sent to find his soldier-father in the Civil War – was published, it was hailed as joining “the pantheon of great war novels, including All Quiet on the Western Front and The Red Badge of Courage. “ The book was a huge best-seller and winner of a number of awards, including the Ohioana Book Award. Olmstead has since won a second Ohioana Award, for 2012’s The Coldest Night. A native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Syracuse University in New York, Olmstead lives in Delaware, Ohio, where he is a Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Acolytes, Nikki Giovanni – 2007

A writer, poet, activist, and educator, Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Cincinnati. She first caught the public’s attention as one of foremost figures of the late 1960s Black Arts Movement, which sprung out of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, 50 years later, Giovanni is still one of America’s most celebrated writers. Among her many honors, which include a 1988 Ohioana Book Award, Giovanni holds a record seven NCAAP Image Awards, one for her 2007 collection, Acolytes. Named by Oprah Winfrey as one of “25 Living Legends,” Giovanni makes her home in Virginia, where she is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech.

Lisa’s Story, Tom Batiuk – 2007

Comic strips are supposed to be funny. And Tom Batiuk, creator of Funky Winkerbean, has crafted characters and stories that have kept people laughing for over 45 years. At the same time, Tom has not shied away from tacking sensitive subjects like addiction and teen pregnancy. In 2007, Tom was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Lisa’s Story. According to the judges, Tom’s work was deserving “for a sequence in his cartoon strip that portrays a woman’s poignant battle with breast cancer.” A lifelong Ohioan, Tom is a favorite at the Ohioana Book Festival, where every year for the past three years his other popular strip, Crankshaft, has devoted an entire week to the festival with the adventures of the beloved bookstore-owner-turned-late-blooming author Lillian.

Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock – 2008

There exist several stories to explain the strange name of Knockemstiff, Ohio, a community located just southwest of the city of Chillicothe – though none have every been officially agreed upon. Donald Ray Pollock, who grew up in the area, took inspiration from it for his first book. The collection of linked stories features characters who are as unique as the name of the town in which they live, and paint a vivid, often emotional and completely unforgettable picture of the small midwestern community. Pollock spent thirty-two years employed as a laborer at the Mead Paper Corporation in Chillicothe before earning his MFA from the Ohio State University. Since Knockemstiff, Pollock has produced two best-selling novels: The Devil All the Time and The Heavenly Table.

All the Way Home, David Giffels – 2008

As was once written about him, “Spend 20 minutes with David Giffels and you’ll fall in love with his hometown.” That town – Akron – has featured prominently in Giffels’ writing career, including his 2008 Ohioana Award winning All the Way Home, subtitled “Building in a Family in Falling-Down House.” Giffels won a second Ohioana Award in 2019 for his poignant memoir, Furnishing Eternity. A past Cleveland Arts Prize winner, Giffels, who has also been a journalist and wrote four scripts for MTV’s iconic 1990s series Beavis and Butt-head, is currently working on a new book about America’s heartland in advance of the 2020 presidential election.

The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima – 2009

New York Times bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima was born in Springfield, Ohio. Her fantasy novels for young adults are set in the magical world of Ohio (The Heir Chronicles) as well as long ago, far away queendoms, including The Seven Realms, of which The Demon King was book one and a 2013-14 Choose to Read Ohio title. Prior to becoming a novelist, Chima was a clinical dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, a freelance contributor to The Plain Dealer, and an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Akron.

Sweethearts of Rhythm, Marilyn Nelson – 2009

A poet, translator, children’s book author, and teacher, Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland. Her father was one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, her mother a teacher. Marilyn grew up on military bases and began writing while in elementary school. The author of more than twenty-five books for children and adults, she has won the Anisfield-Wolf Award and is a three-time National Book Award finalist. Her 2009 Sweethearts of Rhythm is a children’s poetry book that tells the story of “the greatest all-girl swing band in the world” and was a 2011-12 Choose to Read Ohio for teens. Her memoir, How I Discovered Poetry was named as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014. Nelson lives in Connecticut, where she was the state’s Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2006.

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