What makes an Ohio writer? What style do Ohio writers use? Broad questions like these invite generalizations, generalizations which might be wildly different from one another. However, authors Celeste Ng, Gene Logsdon, and Thrity Umrigar, all visiting Columbus on April 25 for the Ohioana Book Festival, have some very similar ideas.
Ohioana is an annual celebration of Ohio’s strong history of literature, journalism, and all other forms of writing. Among the festival’s featured authors is Celeste Ng, the author of several short stories and one novel, Everything I Never Told You, which won Amazon’s best book award in 2014.
Ng comes from Cleveland, and she’s much attuned to what people think of when she says that.
“I feel like Cleveland has the sort of status of the—I was going to say ‘lovable loser,’ but maybe not even lovable.”
Although Ng says, “I love Cleveland, and I think of it very fondly, ” she thinks that Clevelanders have to deal with others’ perceptions of the city and Ohio at large. She describes her Ohio writing colleagues as “dealing with expectations versus reality.”
Author Gene Logsdon, whose career writing about food and agriculture has spanned 40 years, also asserts the value of his home state. “Your part of the world is just as important as anybody else’s,” says Logsdon.
“If you can understand Wyandotte County, you can understand the world.”
Logsdon has picked up on the sorts of qualities that might define the style or genre of Ohio writers: “I think that writers in Ohio are—how shall I say it—more practical.”
“They write with a plainness that I find invigorating.”
Thrity Umrigar, a novelist, journalist, and professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, identified something akin to the Logsdon’s practicality in her fellow Ohio writers. “There’s a kind of rust belt toughness, a sense of having survived something.”
Along with toughness, Umrigar straightforwardly identifies Ohio writers as good. “It’s an embarrassment of riches,” said Umrigar when reflecting on the various writers that have come out of northeast Ohio’s Akron Beacon Journal and Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“It really is astounding, actually, when you think of it in terms of demographics and, sort of, regional size.”
Umrigar thinks that one of the virtues of Ohio writing is the supportive community of Ohio writers: “We really are there for each other. We encourage each other in our careers. That is a gift.”
The author finds that community to be a necessity because of the outside perspectives Ng also referenced. “We can’t look to the outside for affirmation. If there is affirmation to be had, we have to find it within ourselves and within our own communities,” said Umrigar.
When the Ohioana Book Festival arrives, that community of affirmation will be out in force.