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

An Interview with Alex DiFrancesco

posted in: authors, Awards, reading | 0

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!

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 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:


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.


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.


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.

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!

Introducing Virtual Book Club!

posted in: authors, News, reading | 0

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!

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 1990s

It’s been great hearing from many readers who tell us they’ve really been enjoying our special year-end 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.

So, since the magic number is 90 – our third entry will focus on the 1990s. The last decade of the 20th century saw a number of debuts by authors who are as popular today as they were when they first arrived on the scene. Some of the fifteen books we’re shining the spotlight on might be favorites of yours. Others you may be discovering for the first time.

Whatever the case may be, we hope you enjoy learning about them all, and that our blog may continue to add to your list of books to read over the holidays and in the coming year!

The People I Know, Nancy Zafris, 1990

Our last 90 books list ended with a collection of stories and our new one begins with another. Nancy Zafris’ The People I Know, a collection of nine stories told by characters who hover at the edge of life, won not only the Ohioana Book Award, but also the prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. A native of Columbus, Zafris is the author of three other books and serves as the series editor for the O’Connor Award. She was previously fiction editor of the Kenyon Review, for whom she now serves as a teacher and associate director of the summer writer’s workshop.

Rainbow Remnants in Rock Bottom Ghetto Sky, Thylias Moss, 1991

A poet, author, experimental filmmaker, and playwright of African American, Native American, and European heritage, Cleveland-born Thylias Moss began to write when she was seven years old. Her fourth collection of poetry, Rainbow Remnants in Rock Bottom Ghetto Sky, won the Ohioana Poetry Book Award, the Whiting Award, and the Witter Byner Poetry Prize. Moss’ other honors include the Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships. A graduate of Oberlin and the University of New Hampshire, Moss lives in Ann Arbor and has taught at the University of Michigan since 1993.

Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke, 1991

Known for his frequent appearances as a panelist on NPR’s popular game show Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me, Toledo’s Patrick Jake O’Rourke has also been a journalist and contributor to publications as diverse as Rolling Stone and The Atlantic Monthly. But he is best-known as one of America’s foremost political satirists, thanks to books like Parliament of Whores, subtitled “A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government,” which was an international best-seller and praised by Time magazine as “a riotously funny and perceptive indictment of America’s political system.”

Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps #1), R.L. Stine, 1992

In 2011, Robert Lawrence Stine received a singular honor when the Guinness Book of World Records named him “the world’s most prolific author of children’s horror fiction novels” with more than 300 books to his credit. While Stine has written several series over his long career, none has been more popular than Goosebumps, and it all started with this novel in 1992. Among Stine’s many other awards is the 2000 Ohioana Career Medal. He said his writing all stems from one goal: “to give kids the creeps.” No one can deny that he has succeeded. A Bexley native, Stine now lives in New York City.

Missing May, Cynthia Rylant, 1992

Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May, a touching book for young adults about grief, won the 1993 Newbery Medal. That same year, Rylant, who had previously won two Ohioana Book Awards in juvenile literature, received Ohioana’s Alice Louise Wood Memorial Award for her body of work. Born in West Virginia, Rylant received her MA from Marshall University and her MLIS from Kent State University. She lived in Kent and later Akron for many years, working as a librarian and a teacher. Rylant, who has more than 100 books to her credit, now lives in Oregon. 

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech, 1994

Children’s author Sharon Creech was born and raised in the Cleveland suburb of South Euclid. Growing up, she often visited her cousins in a small town in Kentucky, which would later find its way into a number of her books. Creech lived and taught abroad for 18 years, and her first books were published in England. Her first US book, Walk Two Moons, won the 1995 Newbery Medal. Seven years later, Creech’s Ruby Holler won Britain’s Carnegie Medal, making her the first American recipient, and the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie. She now lives in New Jersey.

Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Cruise, 1994

Jennifer Smith of Wapakoneta took her grandmother’s maiden last name on her way to becoming one of America’s most popular authors of romantic fiction. Her first career was as a teacher, and it was only when she was working on her MFA dissertation – about the role of women in mystery fiction – that she decided to try her hand at romance writing. Her third novel, Getting Rid of Bradley, won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, the genre’s equivalent of the Oscar. Crusie, who lives in New Jersey, has seen more than 20 of her novels published in 20 countries.

Tears of a Tiger, Sharon Draper, 1994

Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator as well as an accomplished children’s writer. She has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year and is a New York Times best-selling author. She’s won five Coretta Scott King Literary Awards, including for 1994’s Tears of a Tiger. Draper began writing when challenged by one of her 9th grade students to enter a story in a competition. She won the $5,000 first prize. When the story was published, she got a note of congratulations and encouragement from Roots author Alex Haley. Born in Cleveland, Draper has lived in Cincinnati for many years.

Out from Boneville, Jeff Smith, 1995

Growing up in Columbus, Jeff Smith loved cartoons – the Peanuts and Pogo comic strips, and the animated adventures of Scrooge McDuck. Smith’s own first cartoon series, Thorn, was created for the student newspaper, The Lantern, while he was a student at The Ohio State University. In 1991 came Bone, a series that mixed light-hearted comedy with dark fantasy. It became a sensation, winning Smith ten Eisner Awards over the course of its 13-year run. 1995’s Out from Boneville was the first anthology. In October 2019, Netflix announced that a Bone animated series is in the works.

Coyote v. Acme, Ian Frazier, 1996

In 1997, the Thurber Prize for American Humor was established. The inaugural winner: Coyote v. Acme, a collection of essays by Cleveland’s Ian Frazier, the first of which imagined the opening statement of an attorney representing cartoon character Wile E. Coyote in a product liability suit against the Acme Company, supplier of unpredictable rocket sleds and faulty spring-powered shoes. Best-known as a writer and humorist for The New Yorker, Frazier became the only two-time (thus far) winner of the Thurber Prize in 2007 for Lamentations of the Father.

The Devil’s Hatband, Robert Greer, 1996

Robert Greer is truly a Renaissance man – doctor and professor of pathology, cattle rancher, and writer. Born in Columbus, Greer holds degrees from Miami, Howard, and Boston Universities. For the past 40 years, he has lived and worked in Denver, Colorado, the setting for his popular contemporary western mystery series featuring black bail bondsman CJ Floyd, which started in 1996 with The Devil’s Hatband. Besides the series, Greer has written several standalone novels and a story collection. He is also editor-in-chief of the High Plains Literary Review, which he founded in 1986.

Broken Symmetry, David Citino, 1997

Few people were as passionately involved in Ohio’s literary life as David Citino. A Cleveland native, Citino spent the last three decades of his life teaching English and creative writing at The Ohio State University, which in 2002 named him as its first Poet Laureate. His many other honors included the inaugural Ohioana Helen and Laura Krout Poetry Prize for his contributions to the field and two Ohioana Book Awards. The second was for Broken Symmetry, in which “a poet approaching the end of the 20th century takes stock of a single life.” Citino died in 2005 due to complications from MS.

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1), Margaret Peterson Haddix, 1998

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm in Washington Court House. After receiving degrees from Miami University, she worked as a newspaper reporter in Indiana and Illinois. When she married her husband, who was also her editor, she decided that instead of being his employee, she would turn to writing fiction. The result was one of the most successful careers of any children’s author of the past 25 years. Her best-known works include the Shadow Children series, of which Among the Hidden was the first novel. Haddix won the 2009 Ohioana Book Award in juvenile literature for Uprising, a historical novel based on 1911’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

The Truth About Small Towns, David Baker, 1998

Originally from Maine, David Baker has lived in Granville, Ohio since 1984, where he holds Denison University’s Thomas B. Fordham Chair in Creative Writing. The Poetry Editor for the esteemed Kenyon Review, Baker is also the author of twelve books of poetry, including 1998’s Ohioana Award-winning The Truth About Small Towns. His many awards include grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Mellon Foundation. Baker’s most recent book is 2019’s Swift: New and Selected Poems.

The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean, 1998

It’s not every day you are portrayed on screen by the likes of Meryl Streep. But Cleveland’s Susan Orlean was, when in 2002 Hollywood adapted her nonfiction book The Orchid Thief into a film called, appropriately enough, Adaptation. A journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992, Orlean has also contributed to many other leading magazines. She won a 2012 Ohioana Book Award for Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend. Her 2018 The Library Book was named by a number of publications, including the Washington Post, as one of the ten best of the year.

90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The First 30 Years, 1929-1959

Each year for the past six years, we’ve done a series called 30 Days, 30 Books, in which we will feature one Ohioana Book Award finalist a day. It has become very popular with readers, who tell us how much they look forward to it every spring.

So, to put a fitting epilogue to Ohioana’s 90th anniversary, we decided to expand on that idea: to select 90 books by Ohio authors that have been published since 1929 and put the spotlight on each one. Some of these books and their authors may be unfamiliar. Others may be among your favorites.

We won’t do a book a day, but rather present a number of books in a group by decades. Our first post will cover fifteen books, all of them published during our first three decades, from 1929 to 1959.

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

The Secret of the Old Clock, Carolyn Keene (Mildred Wirt Benson) – 1930

In April 1930, a new literary character appeared on the scene when 16-year old amateur sleuth Nancy Drew made her debut in The Secret of the Old Clock. The writer – “Carolyn Keene” was a pseudonym for the actual writer, Toledo’s Mildred Wirt Benson, who was only 24 years old herself. “Millie” Benson would go on to write 22 more Nancy Drew books in the iconic series, and many other works in a career that lasted until she died at the age of 96 in 2002.

West of the Pecos, Zane Grey – 1931

Named for the Ohio city where he born (which was founded by his maternal grandfather), Zane Grey’s novels included 1912’s Riders of the Purple Sage, considered the greatest western of all time. Originally a dentist, Grey gave his practice up to concentrate on writing, and went on to produce more than 90 books, all westerns, including 1931’s West of the Pecos.

Beyond Desire, Sherwood Anderson – 1932

Camden, Ohio’s most famous son is best known for his hugely popular collection of short stories entitled Winesburg, Ohio (many say the fictional town actually IS Camden). But he did more than just short fiction – Anderson also wrote poems, plays, nonfiction, and novels, including 1932’s Beyond Desire. The Ohioana Library has a number of original letters from Anderson that are a treasured part of our collection.

Collected Poems, Hart Crane – 1933

One of the most significant American poets of the 20th century, Hart Crane, born in the small town of Garrettsville, Ohio, was also a tortured and tragic figure. In April 1932, at the age of 32, Crane took his own life when he leaped from the deck of the steamship Orizaba into the Gulf of Mexico. His body was never found. A year later, Collected Poems was published. In the decades following his death, writers ranging from poet e.e. Cummings to playwright Tennessee Williams cited Crane as a major influence.

Imitation of Life, Fannie Hurst – 1933

In post-World War I, there was no more popular female author than Hamilton’s Fannie Hurst. During the 1920s, she was the highest-paid female author in the world. Hurst was an ardent supporter of many liberal causes, including feminism and African American equality. Her novels combined sentimental, romantic themes with social issues of the day, such as women’s rights and race relations. One of the most popular (and daring for its time) was 1933’s Imitation of Life, about the friendship between two women – one white and one black – as they struggle together to raise their daughters. Several of Hurst’s books – including Imitation of Life – were made into successful films.

My Life and Hard Times, James Thurber – 1933

Only a month after Ohioana was founded, a startling new book made its debut with the outlandish title of Is Sex Necessary? The book (co-authored by E.B. White) introduced a nation of readers for the first time to a Columbus-born writer and cartoonist named James Thurber. Before then, Thurber was known mainly as a contributor to The New Yorker magazine. He became the quintessential American humorist of the 20th century, and his 1933 memoir, My Life and Hard Times is considered to be his best of his many works. Thurber had a long association with Ohioana, winning our Career Medal in 1953.

The Rains Came, Louis Bromfield – 1937

Although he is best-known today for his Malabar Farm in Richland County, for his innovations in soil conservation, and his nonfiction books on sustainable agriculture, Louis Bromfield was in his own time one of America’s most celebrated novelists. The Mansfield native won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1927, when he was only 30 years old, for his third novel, Early Autumn. The Rains Came, published in 1937, was a sensational best-seller, and two years later was made into an Oscar-winning film. Like Thurber, Bromfield was a good friend to the Ohioana Library, serving as a judge for the very first Ohioana Awards in 1942 and himself receiving the Career Medal in 1946.

High Sierra, W.R. Burnett – 1940

Springfield-born author W.R. (which stood for William Riley) Burnett didn’t simply write in a genre – he created one. The gangster novel was born when Burnett produced his sensational Little Caesar in 1929, immortalized on screen a year later with tough guy Edward G. Robinson in the title role. Burnett did it again in 1940 with High Sierra, which made a star out of Humphrey Bogart when translated to the cinema the following year. Burnett would work in other genres as well (westerns and war stories, most notably the screenplay for the 1963 drama The Great Escape), but it is for his gangster novels and their film adaptations he remains best-known.

Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey – 1941

Few picture books for children are more beloved than Make Way for the Ducklings, the story of a mallard pair and their eight ducklings, set on an island in the Charles River in Boston. The author and illustrator was 27-year-old Robert McCloskey, a native of Hamilton, Ohio. McCloskey was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal for Ducklings and would win it a second time in 1958 for Time of Wonder, one of the nine picture books he both wrote and illustrated. In 2000, the Library of Congress named McCloskey a “Living Legend” for his contributions to children’s literature.

Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski – 1945

Lois Lenski, born in Springfield in 1893, would produce nearly 100 books for children as an author and illustrator between 1927 and her death in 1974. Among her best-known works are the illustrations for 1930’s The Little Engine That Could and a series of historical novels. Her three-part “regional series,” set in the South, was designed to give children “looks at vivid, sympathetic pictures of the real life of different kinds of Americans.” Strawberry Girl, the second book in the series, and the most popular, won both the Newbery Medal and the Ohioana Book Award.

Shane, Jack Schaefer – 1949

Born in Cleveland in 1907 and a graduate of Oberlin College, Jack Schaefer was a journalist and editor who had never been further west than Chicago when in 1946 he produced a three-part story for Argosy magazine entitled “Man from Nowhere.” The story was a hit with readers, so Schaefer decided to expand it into a full-blown novel. The result was 1949’s Shane, which became a huge best-seller. The film version, starring Alan Ladd in the iconic title role, was released in 1953. Today both the film – and Schaefer’s original novel – are considered by critics as among the greatest westerns. Schaefer would go on to write more western novels, including one for children, Old Ramon, which won an Ohioana Book Award and was a Newbery Honor title.

The Town, Conrad Richter – 1950

Although he was born (1890) and died (1968) in Pennsylvania, Conrad Richter spent a good part of his twenties in Cleveland, working as the private secretary to a wealthy industrialist. He was also writing and selling short stories during this time, and he became fascinated with the Ohio frontier. Ultimately it led to The Awakening Land trilogy, a pioneer saga set in the Ohio Valley. The third and final book, The Town, won Richter the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Ohioana would honor Richter in 1967, when The Awakening Land was published for the first time as a single novel.

Star Man’s Son, 2050 A.D., Andre Norton – 1951

Her real name was Alice Mary Norton. But when the Cleveland native began writing and publishing science fiction in the 1930s, she adapted Andre as her first name (she also wrote under two other masculine names: Andrew North and Allen Weston). She became one of the most prolific sci-fi/fantasy authors of her time, producing her last original book in 2005, just before she died at age 93. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, which two years after her death created the Andre Norton Award, given for an outstanding work of science fiction or fantasy for young adults.

A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes – 1957

Born in Missouri and raised in Cleveland, Chester Himes’ writing career began in an unusual place – the Ohio Penitentiary, where in the early 1928 he was sentenced to a 20-25 year sentence for armed robbery. In prison, he began writing stories, partly as he said to gain respect from guards and also to avoid violence. By the mid-1930s, his stories were finding their way into print in national magazines. Released from prison, he turned full-time to writing, producing a number of novels in the 1940s. But it wasn’t until he moved to Paris in the mid-1950s that he achieved critical acclaim and popular success with his popular “Harlem Detective” series of novels, of which 1957’s A Rage in Harlem was the first.

Selected Poems, Langston Hughes – 1958

Acknowledged as “The Poet of the Harlem Renaissance,” Langston Hughes, like Chester Himes (whose work he encouraged while Himes was still in prison), was born in Missouri and grew up in Cleveland, where his first writing appeared while a student at Central High School. His debut collection of poetry, The Weary Blues, with his celebrated “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” made him one of the leading African American literary figures of his time. Before his death in 1967 at the age of 65, Hughes’ astounding output would include not only poems but novels, short stories, plays, nonfiction books, an opera libretto, and books for children. Selected Poems, published in 1958, is a collection spanning the first 30 years of his career.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! Here in Ohio, we enjoy all things spooky. Did you know that Ohio is the state with the most annual haunted house attractions, with 111 in total? It seems that we love being scared, and that goes for our literature as well. If you’re looking for a good book to scare you on Halloween night, look no further. Below is a list of Ohio authors that specialize in stories about the dark and creepy to satisfy your need for thrills and scares.

Photo courtesy of Scholastic

  1. R. L. Stine

Few scary series are more iconic (or more chilling) than R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps. With over 230 books geared at grades 3-7, the Goosebumps series has something to scare everyone. Stine explores tales about everything from ghosts and werewolves to swamp monsters and mummies, and the books have even been adapted into a movie series.


Watch below to see R. L. Stine himself discussing the legacy of Goosebumps.

2. Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison was a master of sci-fi and speculative fiction, sometimes crossing into horror as well. He is the author of more than 1,700 stories, film and TV scripts, and our library specialist recommends that you start with the short story “I Have No Mouth but I Must Scream”.

3. James A. Willis 

If you’re looking for strange and spooky stories based on Ohio fact, James Willis probably has a book for you! He is the author of The Big Book of Ohio Ghost Stories and Ohio’s Historic Haunts: Investigating the Paranormal in the Buckeye State, among others. History and the paranormal mingle in Willis’s work, and are sure to prove fascinating to anyone familiar with some of Ohio’s notorious haunts.

4. Chris Woodyard

Since 1991, Chris Woodyard has been scaring residents of the Buckeye State with frightening stories that hit close to home. Make sure to explore her website, hauntedohiobooks.com, for tips on where to find ghosts in Ohio, how to write ghost stories of your own, and more.

5. Gary Braunbeck

Gary A. Braunbeck is a prolific author who writes mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream literature. He is the author of 19 books and his fiction has received several awards, including the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction in 2003 for “Duty” and in 2005 for “We Now Pause for Station Identification”; his collection Destinations Unknown won a Stoker in 2006. His novella “Kiss of the Mudman” received the International Horror Guild Award for Long Fiction in 2005.

6. Lucy Snyder

Lucy A. Snyder is a five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author, which should clue you in that she knows her stuff when it comes to scary stories! She wrote the novels SpellbentShotgun Sorceress, and Switchblade Goddess, and the collections While the Black Stars BurnSoft ApocalypsesOrchid CarousalsSparks and Shadows and Chimeric Machines. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Apex MagazineNightmare MagazinePseudopodStrange HorizonsWeird TalesScary Out ThereSeize the Night, and Best Horror of the Year.

7. Tim Waggoner

Shirley Jackson Award finalist Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections of dark fiction. Most recently published is The Mouth of the Dark, the story of Jayce and his 20-year-old daughter, Emory, who is missing, lost in a dark, dangerous realm called Shadow that exists alongside our own reality. An enigmatic woman named Nicola guides Jayce through this bizarre world, and together they search for Emory, facing deadly dog-eaters, crazed killers, and — worst of all — a monstrous being known as the Harvest Man. But no matter what Shadow throws at him, Jayce won’t stop. He’ll do whatever it takes to find his daughter, even if it means becoming a worse monster than the things that are trying to stop him.

8. Laura Bickle 

Laura Bickle specializes in dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs. She writes for adults and young adults, and her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.

9. Josef Matulich

These aren’t your typical horror stories! Josef Matulich is a master of both laughs and scares, combing humor with horror. Some of his titles include The Ren Faire at the End of the World and 44 Lies by 22 Liars.

10. Dayna Ingram

Dayna Ingram writes science fiction horror for young adults. Of her latest book, Kirkus reviews writes, “”Ingram gives a nightmarish twist to the familiar YA formula of teenagers facing martyrdom by an oppressive society…. An absorbing and poignant YA dystopian fantasy with a convincing heroine.”

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