The 2020 Ohioana Book Festival is a Wrap!

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

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

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

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

Presenting the Ohio Literary Trail!

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The Ohioana Library Association is excited to announce a new program that will connect readers and Ohio writers and shine the spotlight on Ohio’s unique role in shaping culture and literature worldwide – the Ohio Literary Trail!

Wagnalls Memorial Library in Central Ohio

Ohioana compiled the trail map with more than 70 sites across the Buckeye state, paying tribute to the authors, poets, illustrators, libraries, and creative influencers of the written word who have called Ohio home. Tourists planning a literary-themed outing, as well as Ohioans who want to discover literary treasures they never knew existed in their own backyard, will find it here.

The Ohio Literary Trail celebrates Ohio’s diversity through an eclectic range of literary greats who influenced feminism and women’s rights, Black history, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, and American culture through literature.

Hosted online by the Ohioana Library Association, the Ohio Literary Trail is organized by the state’s five geographic regions. The downloadable map provides links to every destination, with details, directions, and background information.

Home of Superman marker in Northeast Ohio, Ohio History Connection

For a true literary celebration that unites readers and writers, the Ohio Literary Trail features five annual festivals in each region of the state: the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, Wooster’s Buckeye Book Fair, the Ohio University’s Spring Literary Festival in Athens, and Claire’s Day in Northwest Ohio. These major events feature authors, illustrators, poets, and more with fun activities for everyone. The link to each festival shares schedule updates.

According to Ohioana Executive Director David Weaver, “Ohio’s contributions to literature is something every Ohioan can be proud of. And as Ohio continues to influence the literary world, the Trail map will continue to be updated with new destinations that invite discovery and inspire the next generation of writers.” The Ohio Literary Trail can be accessed at: www.ohioana.org/resources/the-ohio-literary-trail/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weary Blues – 1926, Langston Hughes (Cleveland)

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

Zeely – 1967, Virginia Hamilton (Yellow Springs)

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

Beloved – 1987, Toni Morrison (Lorain)

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

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

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

Copper Sun – 2006, Sharon Draper (Cincinnati)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohioana Remembers

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

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

Karen Harper

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Hickman

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

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

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

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

Mike Resnick

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

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

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

Sentimental Journey: Doris Day

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

Doris Day in the 1940s

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

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

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

Day as Calamity Jane, her favorite film role

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

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

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

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

Doris Day’s signed photo, from the Ohioana Colleciton

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

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

90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The 2000s

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

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

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

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

Among the Missing, Dan Chaon – 2001

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

Trouble Don’t Last, Shelley Pearsall – 2002

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

East, Edith Pattou – 2003

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

Beyond the River, Ann Hagedorn – 2003

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

The First Part Last, Angela Johnson – 2003

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

The Greatest Skating Race, Louise Borden – 2004

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

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi – 2005

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

Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld – 2005

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

Dark Angel, Karen Harper – 2005

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

The Teahouse Fire, Ellis Avery – 2006

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

Ophelia, Lisa Klein – 2006

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

Haywire, George Bilgere – 2006

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

Library Mouse, Daniel Kirk – 2007

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

Coal Black Horse, Robert Olmstead – 2007

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

Acolytes, Nikki Giovanni – 2007

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

Lisa’s Story, Tom Batiuk – 2007

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

Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock – 2008

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

All the Way Home, David Giffels – 2008

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

The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima – 2009

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

Sweethearts of Rhythm, Marilyn Nelson – 2009

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

Announcing the 2019 Ohioana Award Winners!

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It’s that time of year again! It’s to the pleasure of everyone at Ohioana to announce the 2019 Ohioana Awards. Every year, the Awards recognize an outstanding title in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, About Ohio/Ohioan, Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature, Juvenile Literature. Readers are also invited to have their voices heard in voting for the Readers’ Choice Award. In addition, a young writer is chosen as the recipient of the annual Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant.

Six of the Ohioana Award winners, as well as the Marvin Grant recipient, were selected by juries. The Readers’ Choice Award was determined by voters in a public online poll. This year, more than 3,000 votes were cast for the Readers’ Choice Award.

First given in 1942, the Ohioana Book Awards are the second oldest, and among the most prestigious, state literary prizes in the nation. Nearly every major writer from Ohio in the past 75 years has been honored, from James Thurber to Toni Morrison.

The Ohioana Awards will be presented Thursday, October 17, in the Atrium of Ohio’s historic Statehouse in Columbus. Tickets for event, which are open to the public and include a pre-awards reception, will go on sale in mid-September.

The 2019 Ohioana Award winners are as follows:

Fiction: Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Sadness is a White Bird

Nonfiction: David Giffels, Furnishing Eternity

About Ohio or an Ohioan: Wil Haygood, Tigerland

Poetry: Marcus Jackson, Pardon My Heart

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature: Ellen Klages, Out of Left Field

Juvenile Literature: Jacqueline Woodson, The Day You Begin

Readers’ Choice: Rachel Wiley, Nothing is Okay

Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant

Alongside the book awards, Ohioana has named David Grandouiller as the recipient of the 30th Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, a competitive prize for an Ohio writer age thirty or younger who has not yet published a book. Born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Jamestown, Ohio, David is a 2017 graduate of Cedarville College. He writes essays and is currently in his third year as an MFA candidate in creative writing at The Ohio State University.

Ohioana Announces 2019 Book Award Finalists

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Winners will be announced in July, awards presented at Ohio Statehouse on October 17

2016 Ohioana Awards

Columbus, OH – May 17, 2019 —The Ohioana Library has announced the finalists for the 2019 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 in five categories: Fiction, Poetry, Juvenile Literature, Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature, and Nonfiction. The sixth category, About Ohio/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 Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Edgar Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Two authors have had books made into major motion pictures, while another was a writer for MTV’s iconic 1990s series Beavis and Butt-head. Four authors are finalists for their debut books, while six are past Ohioana Award winners.

Winners will be announced in July, and the 2019 Ohioana Book Awards will be presented at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Thursday, October 17. The finalists are:

Fiction

Felver, Brad. The Dogs of Detroit: Stories, University of Pittsburgh Press.

Ford, Jeffrey. Ahab’s Return: or, The Last Voyage, William Morrow.

Markley, Stephen. Ohio: A Novel, Simon & Schuster.

Rothman-Zecher, Moriel. Sadness is a White Bird, Atria Books.

Sittenfeld, Curtis. You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories, Random House.

Umrigar, Thrity. The Secrets Between Us, Harper.

Nonfiction

Giffels, David. Furnishing Eternity, Scribner.

Haygood, Wil. I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100, Rizzoli Electa.

Kuusisto, Stephen. Have Dog, Will Travel, Simon & Schuster.

Macy, Beth. Dopesick, Little, Brown and Company.

Orlean, Susan. The Library Book, Simon & Schuster.

About Ohio or an Ohioan

Congdon, Jane. How the “Wild” Effect Turned Me into a Hiker at 69, Bettie Youngs Books.

Haygood, Wil. Tigerland, Knopf.

Hazelgrove, William. Wright Brothers, Wrong Story, Prometheus Books.

Jackson, Lawrence P. Chester B. Himes: A Biography, W.W. Norton & Company.

Van Haaften, Julia. Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography, W.W. Norton & Company.

Poetry

Barngrover, Anne. Brazen Creature, University of Akron Press.

Bentley, Roy. Walking with Eve in the Loved City, University of Arkansas Press.

Jackson, Marcus. Pardon My Heart, Triquarterly.

Nezhukumatathil, Aimee. Oceanic, Copper Canyon Press.

Wiley, Rachel. Nothing is Okay, Button Poetry.

Juvenile Literature

Campbell, Marcy. Illus. by Corinna Luyken. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, Dial Books.

Fleming, Denise. This is the Nest That Robin Built, Beach Lane Books.

Genshaft, Carole Miller. Aminah’s World, Ohio University Press Distributed Titles.

Mora, Oge. Thank you, Omu!, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Woodson, Jacqueline. lllus. by Rafael Lopez. The Day You Begin, Nancy Paulsen Books.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature

Arnold, David. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, Viking Books for Young Readers.

Draper, Sharon M. Blended, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

Houts, Michelle. Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper, Ohio University Press.

Klages, Ellen. Out of Left Field, Viking Books for Young Readers.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Harbor Me, Nancy Paulsen Books.

Ohioana will profile all the finalists in the coming weeks. Beginning late in May, it will present “31 Books, 31 Days,” a special feature on the library’s Facebook page in which one finalist is highlighted each day.

In June, the public will have the opportunity to vote online for their favorite title from among the finalists for Ohioana’s 4th annual Readers Choice Award. Keep watching for more information on Facebook and Twitter!

Remembering Ellis Avery

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(Ellis Avery at the 2013 Ohioana Book Festival, photo credit Elizabeth Nihiser)

March is Women’s History Month, and today happens to be International Women’s Day. So it seems fitting to pay tribute to one extraordinary woman and writer, Ellis Avery. Sadly, Ellis passed away on February 15, at the young age of 46. In 2002, Ellis received the Ohioana Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant for a writer age 30 or younger who has not yet published a book. Five years later, she won the Ohioana Book Award in fiction for her debut novel, “The Teahouse Fire.” Ellis and Anthony Doerr are, to date, the only writers to have received both the Marvin Grant and an Ohioana Book Award. Among her other honors, Ellis was also the only author to have won two Lamba Literary Awards. Ohioana Director David Weaver spoke to Ellis in the fall of 2017, interviewing as part of a series of conversations with past Marvin Grant winners. The interview appears here for the first time.

How did winning the Marvin Grant impact you: your life, your career, your writing?

As it happens, I got the phone call about the Marvin Grant just after I had decided to splurge on a two-week writing class in Assisi, Italy, with literary hero Maxine Hong Kingston, in order to begin what would become my first published novel, THE TEAHOUSE FIRE.  The class seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I had just that morning bitten the bullet, charged it on my credit card, and decided to worry about paying for it later.  This was a “Leap, and the net will appear” decision for me: that very day, I received a call from Linda Hengst telling me that I had won the Walter Rumsey Marvin grant!

Do you recall how you felt when you learned you had won the grant? Were you able to attend the award ceremony and, if so, what was it like?  

I was floored and delighted when I received the call. Not only did the grant solve the immediate financial problem of how to pay for the class with Maxine Hong Kingston, it represented some of the first serious professional validation I had ever received.  Specifically, it made me take the opportunity to study with Hong Kingston more seriously, and it spurred me both to work all the harder on the novel I began in her class: the financial gamble that the class represented wasn’t just between me and my credit card; it was one that a whole community much larger than myself had chosen to take with me, and I owed it to them, as well as to myself, to take myself seriously.

The award ceremony was such a happy occasion! My partner came with me from New York, and my mother, now deceased, flew up from Florida to celebrate with us.  It was an honor to be welcomed into the community of Ohio writers in this manner, and, in an unexpected piece of good fortune, I got to reconnect at the ceremony with my beloved elementary school librarian from Columbus School for Girls, Marilyn Parker.  

What advice do you give young writers when they’re trying to break in? Are prizes such as the Marvin Grant helpful in giving a writer’s career a boost?

I encourage young writers trying to break in to be patient and persistent.  It’s really difficult to publish a first novel.  Subscribe to Poets and Writers and apply for everything you can: prizes like the Marvin Grant can offer financial support, a chance to be exposed to a new and perhaps life-changingly influential audience base, and most significantly, a huge psychological boost: that outside confirmation can help you shift from feeling like a grandiose nobody with a laptop to a true-blue capital-W Writer.  Two more pieces of advice: First, bump it with a trumpet.  The publishing world seeks quality work, but subject matter matters enormously, too.  I could have written a different first novel just as good as The Teahouse Fire but if it hadn’t been about Japan— if the publishing world hadn’t been persuaded that, because of its subject matter, it might be the next Memoirs of a Geisha— it could just as easily have died on the vine.  Second, if you have a project that keeps garnering the same feedback over and over— good, but not great, close, but no cigar—it may be a sign that it’s time to exercise the painful courage it takes to put that project in a drawer, start over, and write another, better book.  

Ohioana is proud of you as not only a Marvin Grant winner but an Ohioana Book Award winner. What does it mean to you to be claimed as “an Ohio writer”?

I’m so grateful for the support that the Ohioana Library has shown me over the years, both as a Marvin grantee and as an Ohioana Book Award winner.  As for being claimed as an “Ohio writer,” although I left Ohio at age eleven, I have fond memories of Columbus School for Girls and of my childhood neighborhood of German Village. Moreover, it’s an honor to imagine my novels on the same shelf as books by Toni Morrison, Sherwood Anderson, Jacqueline Woodson, etc.  But does that give me a sense of what “being an Ohioan” might mean?  I’m not sure.  I’ve resonated with elements of German Village everywhere I’ve lived—red brick and sycamores, 1880s architecture, the low-tech small-scale pleasures of walking and cycling and being known in one’s local haunts, of exchanging smiles with strangers on the street— but it seems solipsistic to imagine that  all Ohio writers have been stamped in the same way: there are as many Ohios as there are Ohioans.

Thank you, Ellis.

In 2007, the year she won the Ohioana Book Award, Ellis sent Ohioana a lovely note and a check for $1,000 – the same amount as she had received five years earlier for the Marvin Grant. She joked that it might not be something she could do every year, but she wanted us to know how much Ohioana’s support meant to her. A wonderful gesture that perfectly summed up Ellis. We’ll always remember her beautiful spirit and writing, through which her legacy will live on.

Read more about Ellis here: https://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/02/16/ellis-avery/?fbclid=IwAR1B05NeibOI8zon1w_UwsXnpVSTxge3hkOYnKtYs1_dIlvdN3l5S69XaRI

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