October 2009 Issue
As it has for 67 years, The Ohioana Library Association pays homage to the Buckeye State’s best authors.
Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?
When it’s an Ohioana selection, you know it’s a winner before you even get to the title page. Since 1942, The Ohioana Library Association has made it its mission to collect, preserve, protect and promote the written works of writers, musicians and artists who live in or write about the Buckeye State.
And that includes the select group of authors who will be honored during the 2009 Ohioana Award luncheon on October 17 at the Ohio Statehouse. This year’s book-award winners — David Anderson (Ohioana Book Award for Career Achievement) William Greenway (Poetry), P.F. Kluge (Fiction), Peter Mansoor (Nonfiction), Amjed Qamar (Juvenile/Young Adult) and David Giffels (“About Ohio” award) — join an extraordinary legion of past recipients that includes James Thurber, Toni Morrison, Rita Dove and Bob Hope.
“We’re all about commemorating the accomplishments of Ohioans,” says Ohioana’s executive director Linda Hengst.
Which means there’s a lot to celebrate.
“We’re such a diverse state,” Hengst explains. “To paraphrase Louis Bromfield, ‘We’re the farthest north of the south, the farthest south of the north, the farthest east of the west and the farthest west of the east.’
“Ohio,” she adds, “will always be the heart of it all.”
Wherever P.F. Kluge’s travels and interests take him, a riveting book is sure to folllow: The years he spent in the Peace Corps led to The Day That I Die, a political thriller set in the Pacific Islands, and his fondness for ’50s music served as his muse for Eddie and the Cruisers. “Subjects choose authors,” he explains. “Authors don’t choose subjects. Life throws things at you, and if you’re a writer, you have to make use of them or life isn’t complete.”
Kluge’s latest work, Gone Tomorrow (The Overlook Press) is rooted in his present. The novel-within-a-novel centers on George Canaris, writer in residence at a small Ohio college. On the brink of forced retirement, he’s killed by a hit-and-run driver. Considered a has-been by many of his colleagues, Canaris may prove them wrong as the secrets of his life are revealed.
“There’s no denying there’s a lot of me in Canaris,” says Kluge, 67, writer in residence at Kenyon College.
“But,” he adds matter-of-factly, “I’m still alive and writing.”
Like his main character, Kluge revels in the printed word. A self-described “techno peasant,” he creates his stories the old-fashioned way: in longhand.
“I go to the discount store and buy spiral notebooks that have wrestlers or space cadets on them,” he says with a laugh. “And here’s a factoid for you: It takes 19 pencils to write a novel, before I type it on my collection of Royal, Underwood and Smith Corona typewriters.
“Holding a book,” he adds, “is very important to me.”
For David Giffels, there’s no place like home. So it’s no surprise that his new memoir could be construed as a love letter to Akron, the town he was born in, raised in and continues to live and work in.
“Writers see the real detail of their environment, but also the way it plays to the imagination,” he says. Akron does that all the time for me.”
Giffels, 45, an assistant professor of English who teaches creative writing at the University of Akron, aspired to be a writer since he was old enough to read. Through the years, his beloved city has provided fodder for two books he’s co-authored, Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron, and Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!, an account of the popular New Wave band from Akron.
“The idea of home and hometown started to take shape as the theme of my life,” he says. “And I knew I really wanted to write about it in large and small ways.”
The eloquent result is All the Way Home: Building A Family in a Falling-Down House (William Morrow), Giffels’ chronicle of the journey he and his wife, Gina, took to transform a Gilded Age mansion into their home.
“Buying the house was not just a real estate transaction for us,” Giffels explains. “It was a romantic ideal of something that could be.
“We were making a statement,” he adds, “that we are committed to staying here.”
William Greenway never fails to see humor in the ironic or a smile in the bittersweet. Whether it’s pondering who the residents will be in an assisted-living facility of the future or speculating how Joseph felt having God for a father-in-law, he pens poems readers can easily relate to.
“I feel,” he says with a grin, “that if something happened to me or if I wonder about a topic, other people are going to identify with it, too.”
Greenway, 62, a professor of English at Youngstown State University, credits the troubadours of his youth with serving as the springboard to his lifelong love of verse. “When all my friends were singing, ‘She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,’ I was listening to Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan,” he says. Greenway also drew inspiration from his Welsh ancestry, Southern Baptist childhood and the poets he read while a student at Tulane University — William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and fellow Georgian James Dickey, among them.
But although his influences are many, Greenway’s tone is his own. “I write,” he explains, “as though I am speaking directly to someone. It’s what keeps me honest.”
That sincerity is evident in Everywhere at Once (The University of Akron Press), filled with observations gleaned during the “long, long, nightmare” of 2005, which began with his wife Betty suffering a stroke and ended with Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects in her hometown of New Orleans.
“I write,” Greenway says, “what feels right to me.”
As a youth, David Anderson whiled away many a summer afternoon at the Lorain Public Library. His passion for the printed word was fueled by tales from authors who wrote about subjects close to home. He was captivated by Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson’s intimate portrayal of small-town life, and The Farm, a narrative by Mansfield’s Louis Bromfield, chronicling the settling of America. His fascination with those noted authors has made him a leading scholar on their lives and times. It’s an expertise that’s been recognized throughout academia: Anderson received honorary doctorates of literature from Bowling Green State University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees; and from Wittenberg University.
“Ohio is filled with wonderful writers,” Anderson, 85, says. “I think that’s because it was the first stop on the East-West journey from New England. People came to the Western Reserve, stayed and recounted their experiences.”
It didn’t take long for Anderson to discover that he, too, had stories to share. The retired Michigan State University professor has edited and authored 37 books and more than 300 essays, short stories and poems dealing with subjects ranging from his years in the Navy to travels abroad.
“I think,” Anderson notes, “that you owe something to your peers, you owe something to your profession, and you owe something to society. For me, that legacy is my work.”
“For me, that legacy is my work.”