90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The 1990s

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It’s been great hearing from many readers who tell us they’ve really been enjoying our special year-end blog, 90 Years . . . 90 Books, in which we’re taking a look at books by 90 Ohio authors that have been published since Ohioana was founded in 1929.

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

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

The People I Know, Nancy Zafris, 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing May, Cynthia Rylant, 1992

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

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech, 1994

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

Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Cruise, 1994

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

Tears of a Tiger, Sharon Draper, 1994

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

Out from Boneville, Jeff Smith, 1995

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

Coyote v. Acme, Ian Frazier, 1996

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

The Devil’s Hatband, Robert Greer, 1996

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

Broken Symmetry, David Citino, 1997

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

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

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

The Truth About Small Towns, David Baker, 1998

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

The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean, 1998

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

90 YEARS . . . 90 BOOKS: The Middle 30 Years, 1959-1989

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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 – 1968

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 – 1972

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.”

American Splendor, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West of the Pecos, Zane Grey – 1931

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

Beyond Desire, Sherwood Anderson – 1932

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

Collected Poems, Hart Crane – 1933

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

Imitation of Life, Fannie Hurst – 1933

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

My Life and Hard Times, James Thurber – 1933

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

The Rains Came, Louis Bromfield – 1937

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

High Sierra, W.R. Burnett – 1940

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

Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey – 1941

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

Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski – 1945

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

Shane, Jack Schaefer – 1949

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

The Town, Conrad Richter – 1950

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

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

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

A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes – 1957

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

Selected Poems, Langston Hughes – 1958

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

Women’s Suffrage and the Ohio Women’s Convention

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Suffragettes representing counties of Ohio.

The Ohioana Library Association was founded by Martha Kinney Cooper, First Lady of Ohio; the first book in Ohioana’s collection, History of the Western Reserve, was donated by its author, Harriet Taylor Upton; Ohioana’s first executive director was Florence Roberts Head, who helped Martha Cooper found the library. These are a few of the extraordinary women who are responsible for Ohioana’s existence thanks to their intelligence, expertise and dedication to the literature of Ohio. In 1929, the year of Ohioana’s founding, these women had had the right to vote for less than a decade.

Martha Kinney Cooper, Harriet Taylor Upton and Florence Roberts Head.

In 1919 the Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, prohibiting the states and federal government from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. In August of 1920, the amendment was ratified, and women’s suffrage was adopted nationally. Yet the struggle for women’s suffrage began nearly a century earlier, when women’s conventions began to be established in protest of the discrimination women were experiencing across the country. One of the most significant of these conventions, and the first that was organized statewide, was the Ohio Women’s Convention at Salem. The Convention met April 19-20, 1850 in Salem, Ohio, where more than 500 women were in attendance.

The Salem, Ohio 1850 Women’s Rights Convention Proceedings, complied and edited by Robert W. Audretsch, gives a history and full account of the proceedings of the Ohio Women’s Convention. An excerpt from the text reads,

“It is quite likely that the women who met in Salem for the convention did not realize the history they were making. It was the first women’s rights convention held west of the Alleghenies; it was very likely the second such convention held in the U.S.; and it is probably the first public meeting in the U.S. where the planners, participants and officers were exclusively women.”

Cover page of The Salem, Ohio 1850 Women’s Rights Convention Proceedings.

Conventions like these provided a place for women to meet and discuss some of the ways in which they were being discriminated against – such as the denial of the right to vote, unequal wages, unequal educational opportunities, and women not having control over their property. These meetings illuminated the fact that individual women were not alone in feeling they were being treated unfairly, and that they no longer wished to stand for it.

Cover of A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840-1910, from Ohioana’s collection.

The convention in Salem is regarded as a pivotal point for women’s suffrage in Ohio, which would continue earnestly for the next 70 years until the vote was secured. It’s unfortunate that many of the woman who organized and attended the convention did not see the day that women’s right to vote was recognized nationally – however, their efforts were essential in starting the conversation and movement that resulted in the nationwide change.

Cover page and inside front page of The Ohio Woman Suffrage Movement.

 One of the leading voices in support of women’s suffrage in Ohio leading up to 1920 was none other than Harriet Taylor Upton, who would become Ohioana’s first contributing author. Upton was born December 17, 1853, and during her life served as a key organizer and first president of the Suffrage Association of Warren, member and treasurer of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and president of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. More of her life and efforts are detailed in The Ohio Woman Suffrage Movement, a document compiled by Florence E. Allen and Mary Welles to detail the history of suffrage in the state of Ohio.

During this year, the 100th anniversary of the passing of the nineteenth amendment, we remember those who stood up against great odds in order to bring women closer to equality. The texts and images featured in this post, as well as many others regarding Ohio’s women’s suffrage movement, can be found in the Ohioana Library Association’s collection.

Anniversary of Ohio’s Man on the Moon

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Front page of the The Columbus Dispatch’s souvenir moonwalk section.
Envelope of The Columbus Dispatch’s souvenir moonwalk section.

Fifty years ago this summer the course of history was changed forever. On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon. This pivotal moment came after decades of preparation and planning and was a true feat of science and engineering – a remarkable achievement. The whole world watched on as the moment was punctuated by Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.

It was an iconic moment that, in a way, all started in Ohio. Before the race to the moon, spacesuits and zero gravity, Neil Armstrong was born in the small town of Wapakoneta in Northeast Ohio on August 5, 1930. Due to his father’s job as an auditor for the State of Ohio, the family moved often during Neil’s childhood and he also called the Ohio communities of Warren, Jefferson, St. Marys and Upper Sandusky his home. By the 1940s the family had returned to Wapakoneta, where Armstrong attended high school and developed a passion for flying. At the age of 16t he earned his pilot’s license in advance even of being issued a driver’s license, practicing flight in the grassy airfields surrounding Wapakoneta. After high school, he went on to college at Purdue University and later joined the navy.

Biography of Neil Armstrong published by the State of Ohio.

After graduation and his service, Armstrong began his career in NASA at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland. From there he held numerous other jobs and responsibilities at NASA, often acting as a test pilot, before eventually being selected for astronaut training in 1962. He served as a backup pilot on Gemini missions 5 and 11 and went to space for the first time as command pilot on Gemini 8. In 1968, Armstrong was offered the post of commander on Apollo 11, along with Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Commander Module Pilot Michael Collins. Less than a year later they would be the first humans to successfully land on the moon.

Articles from the Citizen Journal from July 1969 introducing the seven Ohioans who worked on the Apollo Program and the proposal of an Armstrong related museum in Wapakoneta.

With his accomplishments, Armstrong joined the leagues of other notable Ohioans involved in advancements in flight and space exploration. Col. John Glen, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Orville and Wilbur Wright are just a few air and space pioneers that Ohio claims.

Article from The Dispatch from July 1969 describing the ways in which Armstrong’s hometown was preparing for the big day.

In the days and weeks surrounding the Apollo 11 launch and first moonwalk, it seems natural that Ohioans across the state took a special interest in the event. This is apparent in the publications from the time such as The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Many newspaper articles and clippings pertaining to the event can be found in Ohioana’s collection. Articles covered all aspects of the moon mission from the astronaut’s daily routines while in space, to reports of how Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta was preparing for the momentous occasion.

There was no one prouder of Neil Armstrong that day than the family, friends and residents back in his hometown of Wapakoneta – or Wapak, as it’s known in the region. Mrs. Grover Crites, wife of Armstrong’s high school math and science teacher, was quoted saying, “There won’t be a dark house in the town of Wapak the night Neil walks on the moon.” Days before the moon mission, The Columbus Dispatch reported that “All 7,000 residents of Wapak … are excited, proud and concerned”. Two years later, in 1971, a museum dedicated to Neil Armstrong was opened in the town thanks to the help of members of the community and Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes. You can visit the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta today to see artifacts from Armstrong’s Apollo 11 and Gemini 8 missions. The museum, as well as the entire town of Wapakoneta, is holding celebrations of the moon landing anniversary all year. For more information visit: https://www.firstonthemoon.org/.

The anniversary of the moonwalk was celebrated everywhere this year – including in the 2019 Ohio State Fair’s annual butter sculpture depicting Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin.

All images courtesy of Ohioana’s collection.

OPHELIA’s Book-to-Movie Journey: An Interview with Lisa Klein

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By Kathryn Powers

Ophelia covers, courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

There are two sides to every story. The mad Prince of Denmark is the star of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but what if Ophelia had the chance to share her tale? This is the premise of Ophelia, the young adult novel by Columbus author Lisa Klein. Lisa was a professor of English before embarking on her career writing books for young readers. Dissatisfied with the original portrayal of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, she crafted a modern retelling of the classic tragedy. Ophelia became Lisa’s first published novel in 2006. And now—over a decade later—the book has made a remarkable journey to the big screen as a feature film!

After viewing the movie at Gateway Film Center, Ohioana’s office manager and kidlit enthusiast, Kathryn Powers, had the chance to interview Lisa regarding this exciting book-to-movie journey.    

1) The process of how a book becomes a movie is so mysterious! Can you describe how this happened with Ophelia?                  

Just after Ophelia was published, an independent producer “optioned” it, reserving the rights while he pulled a production together.  First came the script, which the producers used to attract a director, whose vision shapes the production. It’s important to sign well-known actors to round out the package and attract financiers. The producers have to scout locations for the filming, hire crew, and build sets. And everyone’s schedules have to match. It’s a complicated process, requiring patience and diplomacy.  Sometimes it falls apart (as when the director who was interested bows out), and the producer has to start over again. This happened more than once, which is why it took ten years to finally “greenlight” Ophelia!

2) Were you able to give any input regarding the Ophelia script?

Once I signed the contract, I effectively gave up creative control. I was shown the script early on, as a courtesy, and I offered some input.  A few of my suggestions were adopted. But the script is the creation of the screenwriter as much as the novel is the creation of the author, and I came to respect that distinction. The movie is not the book, but stands as its own wonderful reimagining of the Hamlet story.

3) Are there many differences between the book and movie?

Yes, several! The movie keeps the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia alive until the last possible moment (to please a movie audience), while the book emphasizes their conflict and Ophelia’s decision to go it alone.  The last quarter of the novel, which occurs in a convent, is reduced to a scene of a few seconds in the movie. My character Mechtild, an herbalist, is at the center of a new subplot, created to give the actress Naomi Watts a larger role. (She plays Queen Gertrude and her sister, Mechtild.)  There are other differences, but the story is still Ophelia’s, told in her voice.  And it’s visually stunning, so readers who prefer to bring a story alive in their own imaginations won’t be disappointed.

Ophelia official movie poster, credit to IFCFlims.

4) What was it like to visit the set in Prague?

Exciting and a bit unreal. My friend Jody Casella, who is also a writer, came with me. She kept pinching me (well, not literally) and saying “Can you believe these hundreds of people are all here making a movie because of a book you wrote?” We met Daisy Ridley and George McKay and Clive Owen and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy!) who were all very gracious. People kept thanking me for writing the book, and I was like, “Don’t thank me, thank Shakespeare. We all owe what we are doing to Shakespeare.”

5) Where can people view the movie?  

The movie is playing in select theaters through July, and is currently available for streaming online.

6) Additionally, is there anything you want to share with us about your writing or next projects?

It has been a thrilling journey having my book made into a movie, and now that I’ve seen it on the big screen and celebrated, it’s time to settle down and get back to my writing. What was I working on again? Oh, my first novel for adults, set in Venice in the 1500s.

To learn more about Lisa, Ophelia, and her other books, be sure to visit her website at http://www.authorlisaklein.com.

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!

A Statement from Ohioana

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The Ohioana Library Association thanks everyone who has expressed their views and concerns regarding diversity in our programming, particularly the 2018 Ohioana Book Awards held last October at the Ohio Statehouse, and the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival, held on April 27 at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library.

This year marks Ohioana’s 90th anniversary. Throughout our history, Ohioana has served diverse communities and looked for new ways to reach out to those communities, both live and virtual. Our programming and events are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or political beliefs.

More than 400 books every year are considered for the Ohioana Book Awards, which are the second oldest state literary prize in the nation. These books are nominated by authors, publishers, and the general public. There are only two criteria. First, the author must be an Ohioan or a non-Ohioan whose book is on an Ohio subject. Second, the book must have been traditionally published (not self-published) in the past year. Any author whose work meets these criteria is eligible. Five finalists are chosen by volunteer judges in each of six categories, and one in each is selected as the winner. Throughout the history of the book awards, the winners have reflected a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, including persons of color and other minorities.

The Ohioana Book Festival is open to any Ohio author who has had a book traditionally published in the past year. Ohioana takes applications from authors from July to November, and participants are selected in December. While some authors are specifically invited, including past Ohioana Award winners, the majority are chosen via the open application process. Every festival has included authors of color, authors who are LGBTQAI+, and authors with disabilities. The number of participants in these groups can vary from year to year, based on how many authors in these groups apply with books that qualify.

The festival itself is free and open to the public. April 27’s event, presented for the first time at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library, drew a record 4,400 attendees. They represented a wide and diverse audience of readers from Columbus and beyond, and 68% who took our on-site survey said it was their first festival. Reaching new audiences was an important goal in moving the festival to the Main Library.

We recognize we can do more to create a more diverse representation on all fronts: in our awards review process; in selecting authors for the book festival, including distributing the application in places where it can be found by writers who are not familiar with Ohioana or the festival; and in recruiting members for our board. Identifying ways to improve in these areas, and then implementing those identified changes, will be a major focus for the Ohioana Library over the coming months.             

We appreciate that several people, including those who have been among our biggest supporters and our most vocal critics, have expressed their willingness to help. We look forward to working with them and the community to discuss what next steps Ohioana can take, both formal and informal, to encourage greater diversity and inclusiveness.

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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