Columbus, Ohio USA
Return to Homepage

Ohioana Library Hears a 'Who'
at 2nd Annual book Festival

by Christine Hayes

July 2008 Issue

Underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar signs his work.

© Photos by Jonathan Achor

Who? Ohio writers, musicians and other artists – those born in the state and those who have lived in the state for five or more years. Where? The Ohioana Library, just a few short blocks east of the Short North at 274 East First Ave. at the site of the former Jeffrey Manufacturing. Linda Hengst, director of the Ohioana Library, tells the story well of her first involvement with the site: “They told me this would be our main room – as I was looking at greasy, oily railroad tracks and a debacle of debris everywhere.” The Ohioana Library and the State Library share the same site, both having moved from the newly restored Supreme Court Building downtown.

Child reading by the Jeffrey exhibit.

On May 10 of 2008 was the Second Ohioana Book Festival. I was honored to participate as the representative of the Aldus Society. You will find no greasy railroad tracks now – but shelves and displays of Ohio-authored material, meeting rooms, large spaces for gatherings – all pristine and white, with photo displays of the former use of the site. All the participants in May’s Festival had published work within the last two years. The authors ranged from fiction writers (such as Karen Harper and Donald Ray Pollock) to true-life narrator Harvey Pekar, to Ian Adams’ color photography, to Michelangelo Altiere’s three-dimensional novel in a box. Children’s writers and illustrators were also on hand.

The rooms were bustling with activity: the grand open space with stage; representatives of partnering literary groups; authors with stacks of their books; the Starbucks and Barnes & Noble sellers. Kent State University sent skilled childcare workers to create a room brimming with children’s activities. A cozy book corner, of course, was a feature of the room. Will Hillenbrand, children’s author and illustrator, spent time in the room entertaining the children as well. Simultaneous readings and discussions and browsing gave everyone plenty to do – the buzz might have been heard by Horton the Elephant or over on High Street and in the Governor’s Residence.

First Lady Frances Strickland presented the Robert Fox awards for Young Writers. She also showed off the new book about the Governor’s Residence, Our First Family’s Home. In the State Library and in the meeting rooms were discussions of topics such as “The Book That Changed My Life,” “Writing For the Young Audience,” “Copyright Law and Publishing,” “Reviewing in the Internet Age” with Bill Eichenberger and Kassie Rose.

Michael Duffy and Connie Schultz presented, “People, Politics, Power, and Prose.” Every ten minutes from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. was an author reading from his or her work. Featured authors had lengthier readings and question and answer sessions. Harvey Pekar and Mary Doria Russell spoke on “Transmuting Life Into Art.”

Marilou Suszko, author and chef.

Candice Watkins and Arnett Howard had learned from the pages of Harvey’s American Splendor that he was a resource on Cleveland’s jazz culture. Candice and her team of experts ran the logistics of the Ohioana Book Festival; Arnett provided the music, a trip through Ohio’s musical heritage as well as music inspired by his recent trip to New Orleans. Harvey brightened up when he saw Arnett. In his research for Jazz Ohio, a 1999 Ohio Historical Society touring show, Arnett had met Harvey when the famed life-into-graphics author was a mail clerk at Cleveland’s VA hospital. Harvey related their past adventure in searching out the sites of jazz clubs in Cleveland. One wonders whether the Ohioana Festival will appear in one of Harvey’s future works.

The lunchtime crowd also enjoyed outdoor music provided by Eugene Beer, the Piano Peddler (bike with piano). It was a beautiful day for dining al fresco. Jeni’s ice cream completed the literary picture, complete with literary-named flavors: Kryptonite Karamel (Superman’s creator is from Ohio); Goosebumps Berry Lavender (after RL Stine); Cooper’s Cocoa (after Martha Cooper, founder of the Ohioana Library); Strawberry Girl (the title of a Lois Lenski book).

I handed out every one of my Aldus Society leaflets, and talked to dozens of people. Some of the other partners who had materials for the gathering were Columbus Metropolitan Library, Experience Columbus, Ohio Center For The Book, Ohio University Press, the Thurber House, the Short North Arts District, the Institute for Collaborative Research and Public Humanities, the State Library of Ohio, The OSU Colleges of the Arts and Sciences, and The OSU University Libraries. We got to stuff bags – bright red ones – for all the authors with our

Donald Ray Pollock reads from his debut story collection, Knockemstiff.

literature, and stuff the festival browsers’ hands with them, too. As if all the paper information disseminated wasn’t enough, the authors all gave personal time at local schools, on the radio with Fred Andrle, or in other community service. The festival was, and future ones will be, free and open to the public.

The big plus was that I was able to attend the reception at the Governor’s Residence later that evening as a partner in the festival. Flags like those of an embassy and really cool sunglass-wearing bodyguards in dark suits lent an air of authority to the evening. The peacefulness and beauty both inside and outside the house were stunning. Ohio plants and Ohio artists were featured. All the food came from Ohio (a great spread hosted by Honda) under an onion-domed tent and a pergola. I was pleased to see Queen Brooks’ artwork on display along with the Alice Schille and the Howard Chandler Christy.

Frances Strickland spoke again as did David Weaver of the Ohioana Library.

I took the tour of the downstairs of the house led by Mary Alice, of the well-rounded tones and enthusiasm for the anecdotes of the artifacts. You can take the same tour in the pages of the new book! In summation of the day, we heard the “Who” of the Ohio authors, musicians, artists – and they are legion – saw the plethora of material in the Ohioana, the treasures in the Residence, heard the Ohio birds chirping in the wildlife area outside the Residence, (not seeming like it is in the heart of Bexley), heard the musical history of Ohio, and couldn’t help but feel proud and satisfied. Also, just a little bit jealous – must get my own book done! The pages of the Ohioana Quarterly are full of the new books brought out by Ohio authors. A goal for me, to be included in there someday.


For a complete list of participants, visit

2008 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

Return to Homepage