Stepping into an exhibit of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s
work is like visiting a multi-layered landscape of colors and textures. Her art
is a combination of 2D and 3D pieces that include paint, writing, textiles and
everyday objects such as beads and buttons – sometimes, all of these at once. Robinson
was born in 1940 in the community of Poindexter Village, in which she spent the
first 17 years of her life and would hold close to her heart forever. She
attended the Columbus College of Art and Design, the Ohio State University,
Franklin University and Columbus’ Bliss College. She would go on to travel
extensively, receive the 2003 Ohioana Career Medal for her paintings, drawings
and sculpture and win a MacArthur Award in 2004. Robinson was skilled in
creating a visual experience that blends the senses to give the viewer a window
into her own personal world.
The Columbus Museum of Art was cherished by Robinson and has
long been one of the most avid collectors of her work. When she passed away in
2015, she bequeathed almost her entire estate to the museum, including her
house in East Columbus. CMA immediately began efforts to use the new collection
to spotlight Robinson’s work in detail. After more than five years of
preparation, CMA debuted Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn
Robinson’s House and Journals in November of 2020, the first major exhibit on
Robinson since her death. Alongside the exhibit, CMA completed a full
renovation of Robinson’s home, preserving and honoring it as a place of
creative freedom by adapting it into a fully-functional artist residence where
artists can live, study and work. A companion book edited by CMA curator Carole
Genshaft was released to accompany the exhibit and includes more than 200 full
color illustrations of Aminah’s work and journals, as well as essays by her
friends, family and fellow artists. Genshaft will be attending the 2021 Ohioana
Book Festival with Raggin’ On; her prior book, Aminah’s World,
was a 2019 Ohioana Award finalist.
The inclusion of Aminah’s journals illustrates that she was
a master of the literary arts as well as the visual arts. The book, the exhibit,
and Aminah’s newly-renovated home (which includes a “Writing Room” on the top
floor) serve to celebrate every aspect of her artistry, including her writing.
The preservation of Aminah’s estate, the exhibition of her work, and all
further projects taken on in relation to Aminah are collectively known as the
Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson Legacy Project (ABLR Legacy Project). These projects
represent a monumental amount of effort and care dedicated to helping Aminah’s
work find new audiences.
February 18, 2021, marks what would have been Aminah’s 81st birthday. As she completed travels around the world to Africa, New York City, Sapelo Island, Georgia, Israel and Chile, she carried “the spirit of Home” with her wherever she went and maintained Columbus as her permanent residence. In each new place Aminah visited, she picked up techniques and experiences that would inform and shape her art. Much of her work is in fact based on her experiences in the various neighborhoods of Columbus, lovingly brought to life in murals, quilts and illustrations. “My work and life are about Columbus, Ohio…the community, ancestors, and spirits,” Robinson once told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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:
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
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,
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
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.
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, VanityFair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Thanks to everyone who responded so enthusiastically to our
first 90 Years, 90 Books blog!
So here we are, with the second entry in our list of 90
books by 90 Ohio authors that have been published since Ohioana was founded in 1929.
As with our first list, some of these books and their authors may be unfamiliar,
while others may be among your favorites.
This week’s blog will shine the spotlight on twenty books,
all of them published during our middle three decades, from 1959 to 1989.
We hope you enjoy the series, and that it might add to your list of books to read over the holidays and in the coming year!
The Branch Will Not Break, James Wright – 1963
James Wright rose from an unhappy childhood in Martins Ferry, Ohio, to become one of the seminal poets of his generation, a Pulitzer Prize winner who was admired by critics and fellow poets alike. The Branch Will Not Break, published in 1963, is generally considered to be his finest work. A poetry festival in Martins Ferry celebrates his legacy and in 2018, Jonathan Blunk’s authorized biography, James Wright: A Life in Poetry, was an Ohioana Award finalist.
A Thousand Days, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. – 1965
In the aftermath of his tragic assassination, President John F. Kennedy was the subject of dozens of biographies. None was more acclaimed than Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, drawn from the author’s personal experiences as a close friend and confidante of JFK. A native of Columbus, and the son of an Ohioana Award-winning historian, Schlesinger himself won two Ohioana Book Awards, and in 1992 received the library’s highest honor, the Career Medal.
Hanger Stout, Awake!,
Jack Matthews – 1967
A 2006 Ohioana Career medalist, Jack Matthews was born in Columbus and graduated from The Ohio State University. Matthews wrote novels, short stories, plays, and essays over a career lasting more than 50 years. He made his home in Athens, where he spent four decades as a professor of creative writing and drama at Ohio University. Matthews’ 1967 Ohioana Award-winning Hanger Stout, Awake! put him on the American literary map. In 2018, the coming-of-age novella was re-released for the first time as an e-book, introducing Matthews to new audiences.
The Lord of Light,
Roger Zelazny – 1967
Best known for his 10-part series, The Chronicles of Amber, poet and fantasy/science fiction writer Roger Zelazny was a native of Euclid and a graduate of Case Western and Columbia Universities. He worked for seven years for the Social Security Administration while at night churning out novels and short stories. In 1969, he quit his job to write full-time, and went on to become one of the most prolific and popular authors of sci fi/fantasy of his era. Zelazny received six Hugo Awards (out of 14 nominations) during his career, including one for his 1967 novel, The Lord of Light.
The Frontiersmen, Allan W. Eckert – 1968
A historical novelist and naturalist, Allan W. Eckert was a native New Yorker who moved to Ohio to attend college near Bellefontaine. He would remain there for many years, turning his love of Ohio’s early history into fiction for both adults and children, including his 1967 Ohioana Award-winning book, The Frontiersmen. Eckert was also an Emmy Award-winning writer for television’s Wild Kingdom, but undoubtedly his best-known work is the outdoor drama Tecumseh. Nearly 4-million people have seen the drama since it premiered at Chillicothe’s Sugar Loaf Mountain Amphitheater in 1972.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Harlan Ellison –
Cleveland’s Harlan Ellison was as well-known for his outspoken, combative, personality as he was for his prolific writing, which encompassed more than 1,700 published works in the fantasy/sci fi genre. He was expelled from The Ohio State University in 1953 after hitting a professor who had denigrated his writing ability. For the next 20 years, Ellison would send the professor a copy of every story that he published. One of those stories was 1968’s Hugo Award-winning I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, which was also the title of a collection released that same year of Ellison’s best short fiction.
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison – 1970
Probably no one guessed, when 39-year old Toni Morrison’s debut novel, The Bluest Eye (a story set in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio) was published, that it marked the beginning of one of the greatest literary careers in American history. When she died this past August, tributes poured in from around the globe. Morrison, whose first writing prize was the 1975 Ohioana Book Award (for her second novel, Sula), would go on to receive the world’s highest recognition for an author – the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Her most celebrated work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, was named by critics in 2012 as the greatest novel of the last quarter of the 20th century. But The Bluest Eye, which marks its 50th anniversary in 2020, is the book that started it all.
Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own, Erma
Bombeck – 1971
Bellbrook native Erma Bombeck had an unusual gift: being able to translate the normal routines of a suburban housewife and mother into comic fodder. Her popular column, “At Wit’s End,” first appeared in 1965 in the “Dayton Daily News.” Within a few years, it was reaching 30-million people in 900 newspapers in the US and Canada. Bombeck was a national celebrity, even appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Her 15 books include 1971’s Ohioana Award-winning Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own. Bombeck kept writing until her death in 1996. Her legacy lives on via a bi-annual workshop for writers at the University of Dayton, which holds all of Bombeck’s papers.
The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems, Mary Oliver –
Mary Oliver was born and grew up in Maple Heights, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland. From childhood, she loved to go for long walks in the country. Nature would inspire Oliver’s poetry, which she began writing at the age of 14. Her first collection was published in 1963. Nine years later, The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems won her the first of her two Ohioana Poetry Book Awards in a career that would see her also receive a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. In 2007, the New York Times said that Oliver was “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Oliver, whose writings spanned more than 50 years, died in Florida in 2019 at the age of 83.
M.C. Higgins, the Great, Virginia Hamilton – 1974
No writer of books for African American children has been more loved, or been more influential, as Virginia Hamilton. Named for the state from which her maternal grandfather escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad, Hamilton was born and raised in Yellow Springs. His stories moved her to begin writing her own. Zeely, the first of her more than 40 books, was published in 1967. In 1975, she became the first black author to win the Newbery Medal, for M.C. Higgins, the Great. It also won the National Book Award, making Hamilton the first author to receive both prizes for the same title. In 2010, eight years after Hamilton’s death at age 65, the American Library Association created the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award, “to recognize an African American author, illustrator, or author/illustrator for a body of his or her published books for children and/or young adults who has made a significant and lasting literary contribution.”
The Warriors (American Bicentennial Series), John Jakes – 1974-79
John Jakes’ Ohioana Award-winning series (also known as “The Kent Family Chronicles”) was created to wrap around the 200th anniversary of America’s independence in 1976. Born in Chicago in 1932, Jakes came to Columbus in 1954 to pursue his M.A. in literature at The Ohio State University. He later spent ten years in Dayton, working by day in an advertising agency while writing at night. Called “The Godfather of Historical Novelists,” many of his works have been made into films or television mini-series, including the popular North and South trilogy. A long-time resident of Florida, Jakes returned to Columbus in 2003 to receive the Ohioana Pegasus Award for his lifetime achievement as a writer.
The Liberation of
Tansy Warner, Stephanie S. Tolan – 1980
Canton native Stephanie S. Tolan said she knew from the age of nine, when she wrote her first story in the 4th grade, that she would become a writer when she grew up. A graduate of Purdue University, Tolan has authored more than 25 books for young readers. The Liberation of Tansy Warner, her third book, won Tolan the 1981 Ohioana Award in juvenile literature. Her best-known book, Surviving the Applewhites, received a Newbery Honor in 2003, and was chosen by the State Library of Ohio and Ohioana as a 2013-14 Choose to Read Ohio title. Tolan has lived in North Carolina since 1999.
Dale Loves Sophie to
Death, Robb Forman Dew – 1981
Although she grew up in Louisiana, where her father was a doctor, Robb Forman Dew was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She spent much of her childhood in Gambier, where her grandfather, John Crowe Ransom, was the first editor of the widely regarded Kenyon Review. Surrounded by poets and writers, Dew became one herself. Her debut, Dale Loves Sophie to Death, won the 1981 National Book Award as “Best First Novel.” Dew, who’s written both fiction and nonfiction, lives in Massachusetts where her husband is a professor of history at Williams College. Kenyon College awarded Dew an honorary degree in 2007.
. . . And Ladies of the Club, Helen Hooven Santmyer – 1982
A writer, teacher, and librarian, Helen Hooven Santmyer was also very active in the literary scene of her adopted hometown of Xenia. She was chair of the Ohioana Library’s Greene County Committee. In her seventies, after retiring she wrote … And Ladies of the Club, the story of four generations of women who belong to a literary club in a small Ohio town. The novel won the 1982 Ohioana Award in fiction, but sold only a few hundred copies. A year later, after it was picked up by a major publisher and selected as a national Book-of-the-Month Club title, it took off, selling more than 2-million copies. An “overnight star” at the age of 88, Helen was asked how she would handle the book’s huge commercial success. “I have no plans for the money,” she said, “but it’ll be awfully nice to have it.”
Harvey Pekar – 1986
Often called “a true American original” and “the blue-collar Mark Twain,” Cleveland’s Harvey Pekar – comic book writer, music critic, and media personality – helped to “change the appreciation for, and the perception of” the graphic novel through his autobiographical series, American Splendor. “Autobiography written as it happens” is how Pekar described it. American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar in 1986 was the first anthology of the series, and served as the basis for the Academy Award-nominated 2003 film, starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as Pekar’s wife, political comic writer Joyce Brabner.
Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove – 1986
Rita Dove was only 40 years old when she was named in 1993 as the U.S. Poet Laureate – not only the youngest poet ever named to the position, but the first who was African American. The Akron native has been praised for the lyricism and beauty of her poetry, as well as its sense of history and political scope. Her verse novel Thomas and Beulah, the semi-fictionalized story of her maternal grandparents, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. Dove has received four Ohioana Poetry Book Awards, more than any other Ohio poet in the history of the awards.
Pepper Pike, Les Roberts – 1988
Chicagoan Les Roberts spent 24 years as a writer and producer in Hollywood, where his credits included being the first producer and head writer of television’s popular Hollywood Squares game show. It was that talent the brought Roberts to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was hired to create the weekly show for the Ohio Lottery. He decided to stay and turned to a new career as a mystery novelist. In 1988’s Pepper Pike readers met Roberts’ creation – Cleveland private eye Milan Jacovich. The book was a hit, and spawned a series that remains popular today, and has influenced other writers to create mystery novels set in their cities.
Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold – 1988
The daughter of an engineer and pioneer TV meteorologist to whom she credited her early interest in science fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus and attended The Ohio State University. It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she pursued writing as a career. Falling Free, part of the Vorkosigan Saga, won her the first of her three Nebula Awards. Her many other awards include a record-tying four Hugos for Best Novel, three Locus Awards, the Minnesota Book Award (she now lives in Minneapolis) and the 2006 Ohioana Career Medal. Bujold, considered one of the greatest writers in her genre, has seen her works translated into nearly 20 languages worldwide.
A Great Deliverance, Elizabeth George – 1988
Elizabeth George, born in Warren, Ohio, in 1949, is the New York Times and internationally best-selling author of twenty British crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley. The character was first introduced in 1988’s A Great Deliverance, which won George the Agatha Award as Best First Novel, as well as the Ohioana Book Award in fiction. George’s novels inspired an Inspector Lynley television series on the BBC in England. George is a popular speaker and instructor at workshops and conferences around the globe, and is the author of the creative writing book, Write Away.
Dreams of Distant Lives, Lee K. Abbott – 1989
Lee K. Abbott was born in the Panama Canal Zone, the son of
an Army colonel who eventually settled the family in Las Cruzes, New Mexico. The
southwest and desert often played a prominent role in Abbott’s writing. After
receiving his BA and MA degrees at New Mexico State University, Abbott began a
teaching career that would ultimately bring him to Ohio, including Case Western
and The Ohio State University, where he would inspire and influence many young
writers. Abbott’s first story collection appeared in 1980, and 1989’s Dreams
of Distant Lives would win him the Ohioana Book Award. Hailed as one of the
masters of short fiction, Abbott died in Columbus in 2019 at the age of 71.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ohioana lost a very dear friend this week: former librarian Barbara Meister. She loved books as much as any human on the planet.
Barb starting working at Ohioana back when it was downtown on the river. And because Ohioana moved during her tenure, Barb is the one who moved the books. She personally handled each and every volume in the collection and prepared them for their journey.
Those books could not have had a better caretaker because Barb loved books. She loved them for what’s between the covers and for the covers themselves. She had a grand fondness for beautiful leather and gold-leaf volumes from the early 1900s. It was probably because of her love of the Victorians. As she once told me, her grandparents were Victorians. I think Barb loved the surface orderliness of that era.
Barb also loved Russian authors (who wrote about a world that was anything but orderly) and presented the cats in her care with names like Sasha and Vanya.
She loved the work of our friend and Ohio author Michael Dirda, and was so happy when he would come in for a chat or a program.
Barb was a great mentor and caregiver for our interns, teaching them everything she could about the joys of books and the proper care and feeding of same.
The last time that I saw her, she was talking to Courtney Brown, our Library Specialist. These two professionals were comparing notes about books and all things libraries.
“Isn’t it the best?” said Barb, “Isn’t it great?!”
Truly, Barbara Meister was the right person in the right job. She loved books. And she will be missed.