On Being From Ohio

I grew up in Southwest Ohio. My father’s side of the family had been there for several generations, but my mother’s side was from Appalachia (Lee County, VA; I can trace my ancestry there back to the late 1600s) and only moved to Ohio in the 1950s to seek employment in Ohio’s many factories. While Ohio is a classic Rust Belt working-class state that has fallen on hard times, it’s also a very literary state. With its huge collection of prestigious colleges and universities (there are more colleges and universities per capita in Ohio than anywhere else in the US) and strong literary tradition, it’s kind of a writers’ heaven. Scores of famous writers have come from Ohio, and many more choose it as their home (partially because it’s so cheap to live there, which is good for writers with sporadic incomes, and partially because there’s just a lot of writers there already.)

Though I’ve spent almost 15 years living in Chicago (and I’ve travelled all over the world), I still consider myself an Ohioan at heart. And I’ve encountered quite a bit of snobbery and prejudice towards my humble Ohio origins in my life—-whether as a grad student studying literature and film at the elite University of Chicago, or in the theater, or in publishing (two industries dominated by East Coast bluebloods), ad nauseum. None of which makes sense to me when you consider how many literary giants and screenwriters have come out of Ohio, and even chose to live there after they became famous—-a few of whom even abandoned their high-flying Hollywood or NYC lifestyles in favor of a simple Ohio existence. I recently went home to Ohio for a mini-vacation, and the slow pace of life there (along with the many smart, well-read people you run into there) reminds me of why the state has so much appeal for writers.

Here’s a few writers you’ve probably heard of who are from Ohio; many of them chose to live there even after they became rich and famous. This is by no means an exhastive list, either:

Joe Eszterhas (screenwriter of BASIC INSTINCT and SHOWGIRLS, also former editor-in-chief of ROLLING STONE and bestselling author; he lives in Cleveland)
Dave Chappelle (writer/standup comedian; he lives in Yellow Springs)
Virginia Hamilton (bestselling children’s author; she also lives in Yellow Springs, a literary enclave of sorts)
Lori Foster, bestselling romantic thriller author (lives outside Cincinnati)
Jennifer Crusie, bestselling romance author (lives near Columbus, she’s originally from Cincinnati)
Sherwood Anderson (author of Winesburg, Ohio and other early 20th-century realist fiction, he lived in northeast Ohio)
Zane Grey (uber-famous author of pulp Western fiction; he was from Zanesville)
Harlan Ellison (science fiction writer, he was from Cleveland)
Paul Laurence Dunbar, (poet, from Dayton)
Rita Dove (poet laureate of the United States, from Akron)
Toni Morrison (Nobel Prize-winning novelist, from Lorain)
Erma Bombeck (humorist, she was from Dayton)
James Thurber (humorist, he was from Columbus)
Leigh Brackett (sci-fi novelist and screenwriter of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE LONG GOODBYE, THE BIG SLEEP, and RIO BRAVO; although she was from California and spent at least half of every year living and working there, she also maintained a residence in eastern Ohio and did most of her best writing there)

One of the nice things about being a writer is you can live anywhere. Sure, there’s a mystique that the best writers only live in big cities like New York or Chicago or L.A., but a lot more of them choose quieter lives in quieter places. Maybe if I ever become rich and famous, I’ll pull a Dave Chappelle and abandon my high-flying big-city-millionaire lifestyle in favor of running a small farm in Yellow Springs.

Peace.

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