June 2008 Issue
Rooted in Ohio
There is, muses Lisa Watts, something about Ohio.
The 48-year-old Cleveland native moved to Atlanta with her family when she was 3 and lived up and down the East Coast before settling in Wooster for nine years. Now she’s in North Carolina, where her husband teaches. But through all the packing and unpacking, Watts has stayed true to the Buckeye State and many of the people she’s met who are from here.
“There’s a sense of pride and self-esteem, along with a sense of being grounded,” Watts says. “Not to mention the hometown appeal where everybody says hi and knows your name.”
These accolades are at the heart of Good Roots: Writers Reflect on Growing Up in Ohio, a collection of vignettes published by Ohio University Press.
Watts’ idea for the collection was cemented after hearing celebrated author Susan Orlean reminisce at a writers’ conference about her formative years in Cleveland.
“Susan talked about how it was very noneventful,” she recalls, surprised by Orlean’s lack of angst about her early years.
Watts wondered if other celebrated authors felt the same way. A fan of memoir, she began querying her favorite scribes with Ohio connections. Their responses, she enthuses, were all she had hoped for.
“It was fascinating to learn what these writers’ backgrounds are, where they came from,” Watts says. “The Midwest friendliness is there in all of them, and they have a truly fond place in their heart for the state.”
The book spotlights the ties that still bind 20 poets, essayists, novelists and journalists to Ohio, no matter how far they have roamed. And their thoughts are as varied as the landscape:
Although political satirist P. J. O’Rourke lives in New Hampshire, the Toledoan rhapsodizes about his native city’s charms –– which include a sense of level-headedness.
While Elizabeth Dodd teaches creative writing at Kansas State University, her thoughts drift to Athens, which she describes as a “place-that-is-in-the-blood” with its hardwood forests and Ohio Valley humidity.
Novelist Julie Salamon, now a New Yorker, relates how her parents, survivors of the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, viewed her southern Ohio hometown of Seaman as The Promised Land.
And Orlean bittersweetly recalls summer afternoons spent slathered in Coppertone at the Shaker Heights pool.
“Each piece feels like a friend talking to you about their childhood,” says Watts. “It makes you feel good to be from Ohio.”