A number of Ohio authors were journalists early in life. Through this experience, they learned to be concise in their writing and how to meet a deadline. The list also includes James Thurber, Conrad Richter, Jack Schaefer, Fletcher Knebel, Erma Bombeck, Ambrose Bierce, William Dean Howells and Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Many writers (including Lois Lenski, Sharon Draper, and Helen Hooven Santmyer) are quoted as saying they read everything they could get their hands on when they were growing up.
Toni Morrison and Alan Eckert are Ohio writers who like to start writing very very early in the morning.
Some of Ohio's authors, like John Jakes, Mildred Wirt Benson, Erma Bombeck and Dav Pilkey, published their first works when they were in high school or college.
Sherwood Anderson left a lucrative business career -- he was president of the Anderson Manufacturing Co., in Elyria, Ohio -- to become an author.
Arnold Adoff attended high school in Manhattan with an early goal of becoming a doctor.
Natalie Babbitt was only nine years old when, while reading Alice in Wonderland and marveling at the illustrations, she decided that she wanted to become an illustrator.
When you read Thomas Berger's books, you'll notice that his book-jacket photo has remained the same since the mid-1970s, although publishers have cropped the photo differently over the years.
According to his daughter Helen, Ambrose Bierce had a very strong connection with nature. During walks in the woods, he would call to animals and they would come to him. Bierce loved animals inside the house as well. His daughter says he always had a pet with him while he worked in his study. These pets could be anything from squirrels to lizards.
Earl Derr Biggers
For his twenty-fifth class reunion, Earl Derr Biggers wrote: "I am quite sure that I never intended to travel the road of the mystery writer."
When Shirley Temple came to Dayton for the premiere of her latest movie, Since You Went Away, Erma Bombeck interviewed her as one sixteen-year-old to another. Erma's story was published on the feature page of the Dayton newspaper.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Lois McMaster Bujold's father bought science fiction magazines and then gave them to his young daughter Lois after he had read them. Bujold believes that her real education came from "reading five books a week for ten years from the Ohio State University stacks and reading enormous amounts of (science fiction) as a teenager."
Charles W. Chesnutt
Charles W. Chesnutt's family operated a grocery store, and his parents expected him to drop of school at age fourteen to help. The school's principal talked them out of it, offering to let him stay in school as a combination student and teacher. Chesnutt later taught himself Latin, German, and French.
Hart Crane was ten years old when he discovered poetry. He was living with his grandmother and had the run of her impressive library, which offered the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Walt Whitman, Robert Browning and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Sharon says she was part of "a big, noisy family…with hordes of relatives telling stories around the kitchen table." She added, "I learned to exaggerate and embellish, because if you didn't, your story was drowned out by someone else's more exciting one."
Jane L. Curry
"I suppose that it meant that, if you could still keep writing after thirty-three different publishers had said (turned you down) and (you) had worked hard to improve your work each time before you sent it out again, then you were truly serious about being a writer."
Rita Dove loved going to the library because it "was the one place we got to go without asking really for permission."
Tracey E. Dils
Tracey E. Dils decided to become a writer in the third grade. She won a national creative writing contest when she was in high school, and her work was published in two magazines. Dils also directs her own company, which is called A Writer's Place.
Sharon Draper says that as a child she was an avid reader. "I read every single book in the elementary school library, all of them."
Paul Laurence Dunbar
In high school, Paul Laurence Dunbar was class president, and he was also the only black student in his class. Dunbar originally wanted a career in law, but his mother was a widow and they didn't have enough money for college.
"I was a child with an intense love of nature, which is rather strange, since the Chicago slums was hardly a place for developing an interest in wildlife," Eckert once told an interviewer. "Yet, I remember crawling about in the gangways between buildings or in vacant lots, overturning boards and pieces of tin and other debris and studying the creatures I found beneath -- mice, worms, spiders, centipedes, etc."
Harlan Ellison's writing career began as a result of a disagreement with his writing teacher. The instructor told Ellison he didn't have any talent. Ellison disagreed so strongly that he was kicked out of school.
Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia, but her sister called her "Nikki-Rosa." As she grew older, her nickname was shortened to Nikki, which eventually took the place of her birth name. Giovanni attended the prestigious, all-black Fisk University, but she was asked to leave when her outspoken style came into conflict with the school's dean of women. Giovanni later returned to Fisk and was able to work within the school's traditions.
James Cross Giblin
James Cross Giblin studied drama at Western Reserve University. He appeared in a number of stage productions and won a contest to costar in a radio drama in New York City with actress Nina Foch. Giblin changed his acting ambitions after he realized that being an actor meant following directions. He noted that "the actor has very little control over his situation, and I now knew that I wanted control. So I turned my attention to directing and playwriting."
Zane Grey was an incredible baseball player who had mastered the art of the curveball, which, at the time, had just been developed. He was offered a baseball scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania.
William Greenway says he carries a pen and notebook with him all the time because "poems can ambush you at the craziest times and in the most awkward places…I wouldn't want one of them to get away." Greenway originally wanted to be a folk singer. He switched to poetry when he realized that his lyrics were better than his music.
As a child, Virginia Hamilton's maternal grandfather Levi Perry escaped from slavery in Virginia and crossed the Ohio River to freedom. Hamilton was the first African-American author to receive the prestigious Newbery Award for her novel M. C. Higgins, the Great.
O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
William Sydney Porter was convicted of embezzlement in Texas and sentenced to five years in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. While in prison, Porter started writing short stories to earn money to support his daughter. Some of his stories were based on his fellow inmates and their lives. He used the pen name O. Henry.
Janet Hickman says that when she was little, she liked to read and tell herself stories, "but I never thought seriously about writing for children." As it turns out, her family's vacations were actually research trips in disguise. Hickman now sees this as "a bonus of (her) job as the creator of historical fiction for young readers."
H. M. (Helen Mary) Hoover
When H. M. Hoover decided to write using initials instead of the name Helen Mary, she says that the rejections she received were not quite as abrupt. "Mr. Hoover got more serious consideration than Helen ever did. He got letters, not preprinted rejection slips. He even got a note expressing interest in a book, with a luncheon invitation to discuss the same, from a young woman editor who rather awkwardly, but quickly, lost interest when I called to confirm a date."
Richard Howard's interest in books and writing began early: he was reading before his third birthday.
William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells was self-educated; he had to drop out of school to work in the family business, delivering newspapers in the early morning hours and then setting type for his father's daily publication, the Transcript. William Dean Howells originally wanted to be a poet but became a journalist instead. His success came as an editor, novelist, and critic.
Langston Hughes got his first job when he was seven years old - cleaning the lobby in the hotel near his school. Like many other experiences in his life, he used his memory of this job as the basis for one of his poems.
John Jakes published his first work as a high school student. Jakes' real name is John William Gates, but he also wrote under the pseudonyms William Ard, Alan Payne, Rachel Ann Payne, Jay Scotland, John Jakes, and John William Jakes. Jakes worked in advertising and wrote science fiction, mystery, suspense and children's books at night and in his spare time. He is best known for his historical novels, written for the United States bicentennial in 1976.
While Angela Johnson started writing at an early age (in her diary) she wrote for herself. In high school, she wrote poetry that reflected her anger. Johnson decided that she wanted to write books after attending the performance of a storyteller.
Carolyn Keene (Mildred Wirt Benson)
Mildred Wirt Benson got her pilot's license when she was 60 years old. She eventually held commercial, private, seaplane and instrument pilot licenses. Benson was also an amateur archaeologist who studied the Mayan civilization.
Daniel Keyes got a degree in psychology, was a fashion photographer and studied pre-med for a year before he decided to pursue writing as a career.
Fletcher Knebel credits H. L. Mencken with his career. After reading Mencken as a teen, Knebel decided to become a journalist and writer. Knebel is famous for his quip, "Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics."
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee began their collaboration well before Broadway. Friends introduced them in January 1942, and they immediately formed a partnership. They even joined the armed forces together that summer, creating programs for the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Lois Lenski wrote nearly one-hundred books, nearly half of which have been translated into as many as fourteen different languages.
Poet and critic Anthony Libby has translated Japanese poetry with Yung-Hee Kim; their book is titled Songs to Make the Dust Dance: the Ryojin hisho of Twelfth Century Japan.
Poet William Matthews's early works were influenced by jazz, primarily Charles Mingus.
Robert McCloskey spent his youth as an artist, doing artwork for school publications and playing the piano, harmonica, drums, and oboe. He later created the bas-relief decorations for the municipal building in his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio. McCloskey felt that "no effort (was) too great" if it helped him create his illustrations and drawings; while writing and drawing Make Way for Ducklings, he lived in an apartment for several weeks with a group of live ducks.
Poet Ron McFarland says that editing the student newspaper provided the impetus for him to write.
Toni Morrison once dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Instead, she became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Her book, Song of Solomon, published in 1977, was the first novel by a black writer to become a Book-of-the-Month Club selection since Richard Wright's book Native Son was published in 1940. Toni Morrison was the first black person, and only the eighth woman, to win the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature.
In the early 1930s, Mary Alice Norton's first publisher changed her name to Andre because he feared a female name would turn off potential science fiction readers, most of whom were male. Norton is one of the few writers to be awarded both the Science Fiction Writers of America's Grand Master Award and the Gandalf Award (chosen by science fiction fans). She was also the first woman to receive these awards.
Mary Oliver's life and poetry has been influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Oliver lived in Millay's house, and she writes lyric poetry, just as Millay did.
Dav Pilkey's real name is David. When he worked at Pizza Hut, a label-making device couldn't print the letter "e", so his name badge said "Dav" instead of "Dave". He liked the spelling and kept it.
When she was 14, Dawn Powell ran away from an abusive home to live with an aunt who encouraged her writing.
John Crowe Ransom
John Crowe Ransom, son of a preacher, didn't attend school until he was ten because his family moved so frequently. By that time, he had studied enough on his own that his teachers determined he should be in the eighth grade. When he was only fifteen years old, Ransom received the highest score on the entrance exam for Vanderbilt University in Nashville. According to school rules, he was too young to be admitted, but they let him in anyway.
Conrad Richter graduated valedictorian from high school in 1905 when he was fifteen years old. He rejected college (and a scholarship) because he didn't want to become a minister like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Instead, Richter spent four years in a variety of jobs -- working on farms, cutting timber, selling subscription magazines door-to-door, working as a clerk or bank teller -- before he got a chance to get paid for writing as a journalist.
Cynthia Rylant worked as a children's librarian and reviewed many children's books before she became a writer. Many of Rylant's books are related in some way to her life and draw on events that occurred while she was young.
Helen Hooven Santmyer
Helen Hooven Santmyer's novel …And Ladies of the Club weighs in at over four pounds with more than 1300 pages. And this is only two-thirds the size of her original manuscript! Santmyer was nearly 90 years old in 1984 when her novel became "an overnight phenomenon." She had finished her manuscript in 1975.
Jack Schaefer, author of Shane, believes that his study of Latin helped him in his creative writing because it gave him a better understanding of words and grammar.
Rod Serling is best known for his science fiction-fantasy series The Twilight Zone, but few people know that he used that medium to challenge prejudices and raise issues.
R. L. Stine
There are over 300 million copies of R. L. Stine's books in print, and he is listed in the Guinness World Records 2000: Millennium Edition as author of the world's top-selling children's stories. Stine keeps in tune with teens and their world by watching MTV and reading teen magazines.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was translated into thirty-seven languages. After Southerners attacked the book (and Stowe), she answered with a follow-up book, The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which she cites case histories to verify her account.
Mildred Taylor's drive to write came from the stories she heard as a child. As she grew older, her efforts were strengthened by a desire to "paint a truer picture of Black people…and families" than what was presented in schools. After graduating from the University of Toledo, Mildred Taylor joined the Peace Corps and taught English and history to children in Ethiopia.
When he wrote short stories, James Thurber would set his alarm clock for forty-five minutes so that he knew when to stop writing. Even though the first draft was written quickly, Thurber's work was typically polished through 8-15 rewrites. He said, "I don't know why … the first or second draft of everything I write reads as if it was turned out by a charwoman."
Poet James Wright remembers writing his first poem when he was eleven.
While Roger Zelazny was working as a claims representative for the Social Security Administration in Cleveland and in Maryland, he wrote and published his earliest works, mostly short stories and novellas. Zelazny's earliest works feature characters derived from Egyptian and Hindu mythology.