Friday, May 25, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Ohio writers weave letters into wealth of great literature


William Holmes McGuffey.

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Ask literary scholars about the contributions of Ohio authors and William Holmes McGuffey will probably not be mentioned.

Nevertheless, the man born in 1800 and raised on a farm near Youngstown compiled tools that taught a young nation to read. After his Peerless Pioneer Readers series, he created books with lessons in reading, pronunciation, elocution, and retention. More than 120 million McGuffey Readers were used by generations. McGuffey, also a president of Ohio University, is one of hundreds of Ohio writers whose words have made impressions on America and the world.

“Instead of a distinctive regional spirit, the writing of Ohioans shows a surprisingly complete representation of popular taste in the nation as a whole,” wrote William Coyle in Ohio Authors and Their Books, 1796-1950. He noted that more authors are from Ohio than in Ohio, still true as the state heads into its third century.

The books of two ex-Ohioans became 2002 films: Antwone Fisher's eponymous memoir, and Michael Cunningham's The Hours, a triptych of interwoven tales inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

Indeed, Ohio writers have enriched every corner of the union.

“The arts must become democratic, and then we shall have the expression of America in art,” wrote William Dean Howells. Dubbed the “dean of American letters,” he left Martins Ferry, Ohio, for the East Coast where he ran magazines, wrote prolifically, and edited writers including Mark Twain and Stephen Crane. His 1890 novel, A Hazard of New Fortunes, describes the natural-gas boom and its impact on Findlay.

Sherwood Anderson is known for his 1919 collection, Winesburg, Ohio, based on small-town life in Clyde, Ohio. As a child, his family moved around the state; most of his adult years were spent in Chicago and Virginia.

Zane Grey, who penned 69 popular adventures in the early 1900s, including Riders of the Purple Sage and The Thundering Herd, left Zanesville, Ohio, for California and Arizona.

During her 18 years in Cincinnati, Harriet Beecher Stowe gathered much of the material for her magazine stories, which she knitted into the 1852 international bestseller Uncle Tom's Cabin. Her book made Queen Victoria weep. When Abraham Lincoln met her, he remarked, “So here is the little woman who caused the big war!”

Humorist James Thurber wrote for Ohio State University's publications and the Columbus Dispatch before selling pieces to The New Yorker in 1927. His hometown of Columbus and his family members were central to his 23 books, two plays, stories, fables, and essays. In 1959, he wrote, “... half of my books could not have been written if it had not been for the city of my birth.”

Foremost among Ohio journalists is David Ross Locke, whose satirical letters written under the pen name Petroleum V. Nasby were published during the Civil War. Enjoyed by Lincoln, they helped solidify Northern opinion against the South. In 1865, after writing for papers in Mansfield, Bucyrus, and Findlay, Locke took editorial control of the Toledo Blade. He saw in the Weekly Blade the chance to have something for everyone in the family in a publication that circulated to about 2,000 readers in 1865.

By the mid 1870s, it had reached its peak, circulating more than 200,000 copies a week. Every post office in America received at least one copy of the national edition of the Weekly Blade.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, who was born in 1842 and died in 1914, was born in Meigs County. He is remembered for his macabre short stories, including Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, Can Such Things Be? and The Devil's Dictionary.

His service in the Civil War — he fought with the Indiana Volunteers at Girard Hills, Carrick's Ford, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Kennesaw Mountain — provided him with fodder for most of his works.

After the war, he traveled widely — to California where he wrote for journals and magazines, London where he did similar work, back to California where he developed a relationship with William Randolph Hearst and wrote for The Examiner in San Francisco, then to the East Coast where he wrote for newspapers, journals, and magazines, and finally Mexico where he was attracted by political disturbances there.

Mildred Wirt Benson, the late Blade reporter, wrote more than 100 books for youngsters. One year, she wrote 13 books while working as a reporter. Beginning with The Secret of the Old Clock in 1930, she penned 23 of the first 25 books in the Nancy Drew series. She died in May at 96.

Other Ohio journalists of note include Anne McCormick of Columbus (the first woman to win a Pulitzer for foreign correspondence in 1937), James Reston (Dayton), P. J. O'Rourke (Toledo), Clarence Page (Dayton), Terry Anderson (Lorain), Bob Greene (Bexley), and sports writer Christine Brennan (Toledo).

The extroverted Louis Bromfield, who turned his Malabar Farm in Richland County into an environmental experiment, won the 1927 Pulitzer for An Early Autumn.

Twentieth-century poet James Wright (Martins Ferry) tops poet Joel Lipman's list. “You really come to understand passion and how it manifests itself through language and its mindful, attentive use,” said the UT professor of art and English.

African-American writers who enhanced the American canon of literature included Langston Hughes (Cleveland), Paul Lawrence Dunbar (Dayton), Charles Chesnutt (Cleveland), Chester Himes (Cleveland), Toni Morrison (Lorain), Rita Dove (Akron), Nikki Giovanni (Cincinnati), and Toledo native Mari Evans.

Successful writers for young people include Lois Lenski (Springfield), Robert McCloskey (Hamilton), Virginia Hamilton (Yellow Springs), Mildred Taylor (Toledo), Sharon Creech (Cleveland), Sharon Draper (Cleveland, Cincinnati), and Denise Fleming (Toledo).

None, however, has sold as many books as Columbus native R. L. Stine, who has sent millions of children to bed with Goosebumps.

Writing teams include Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; Isaac Funk and Adam Wagnalls, founders of the reference book empire, and playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (Inherit the Wind and Auntie Mame).

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