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Columbus Makes Art Presents: Ohioana Library’s David Weaver on Celebrating Ohio Literature

David Weaver David Weaver Columbus Makes Art Presents: Ohioana Library’s David Weaver on Celebrating Ohio LiteratureFormer Governor Bob Taft with attendees at the 2015 Ohioana Awards event. This year's event returns September 23. Photo courtesy of Ohioana Library.
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The annual Ohioana Awards are among the nation’s oldest and most prestigious state prizes for outstanding literary achievement. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the awards, which will be presented Friday, Sept. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Ohio Statehouse. The producer and emcee for the event is Ohioana Executive Director, David Weaver, a life-long Columbus resident and himself an author and performer.

Ohioana: What exactly are the Ohioana Awards?
David Weaver: The Ohioana Awards were created in 1942 to honor outstanding books by Ohio authors and about Ohio subjects. There are six book award categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, juvenile literature, middle grade/young adult literature and book about Ohio.

Ohioana: How are the award winners chosen?
David: From a pool of more than 300 qualifying books, a panel of jurors selects 30 finalists – five in each award category. The jurors then do a final review to select the winners, all of whom must be Ohioans, which we define as someone who was either born here or has lived here at least five years. There is one exception to that: a non-Ohioan can win the award for book about Ohio. For example, the winner in that category this year is noted historian David McCullough, for his book, The Wright Brothers.

Ohioana: Who are the other winners this year? Any from Columbus?
David: Wil Haygood, who was born and grew up in Columbus, is the nonfiction winner for Showdown, his book on Thurgood Marshall’s historic Supreme Court nomination. The other winners are Nin Andrews in poetry, Loren Long for juvenile literature, Shelley Pearsall for middle grade/young adult literature and Mary Doria Russell in fiction. Mary is also the winner of the first-ever Ohioana Readers’ Choice Award, chosen in an online poll of more than 1,100 readers. We’ll also present the 27th annual Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant to Eliese Colette Goldbach. The Marvin Grant is a special completive prize given to an Ohio writer age 30 or younger who has not yet published a book. The Marvin has helped launch a number of successful authors, including Anthony Doerr. Tony won the Marvin at age 26 in 2000 and last year won the Pulitzer Prize.

David Weaver and Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize and Ohioana Award winning author. Photo courtesy Ohioana Library.

David Weaver and Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize and Ohioana Award winning author. Photo courtesy Ohioana Library.

Ohioana: You’ve been Executive Director of Ohioana for three years. What brought you here?
David: I am an Ohio author myself. In 2004, I published a book called Black Diva of the Thirties, a biography of a pioneer African American soprano named Ruby Elzy. She was a graduate of The Ohio State University in 1930, who went on to be George Gershwin’s hand-picked choice to create the role of Serena in his landmark opera, Porgy and Bess. I became interested in her story because my background is in opera – I sang with Opera Columbus and was co-founder of Columbus Light Opera. After my book came out, I did a talk about it at Ohioana. And I ended up coming to work here in 2005 as the first Development Director. When my boss, Linda Hengst, retired in 2013, the board tapped me to succeed her.

Ohioana: As a life-long resident of Columbus, what do you like about living here? And about the arts?
David: The pace here is so relaxed. Whenever I visit a big city like New York, I feel anxious within a few days. And if you love the arts – whether it’s music, theater, dance, art or literature – there is always something going on here. There used to be a marketing slogan – “Columbus, We’re Making It Great!” (shades of Donald Trump!) But fact is, it is a great city, and has been for a long time.

Ohioana: Why is supporting – and recognizing – writers from Ohio so important to the Ohioana Library?
David: Our founder was Martha Kinney Cooper, who was First Lady of Ohio from 1929 to 1931. She was an avid reader, and when she and her family moved in to what was then the Governor’s Mansion (today it’s the home of the Columbus Foundation), she wanted to establish, right there in the Mansion, a library of books by Ohio authors. From that simple concept Ohioana was born. Within five years the library had outgrown the mansion. It’s moved twice since then, and at our current home on East First Avenue we now hold more than 75,000 items – books, sheet music, biographical files, scrapbooks, ephemera. All by Ohioans – or about Ohio.

There have been so many great writers from Ohio – from James Thurber to Toni Morrison, from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Tony Doerr. Mrs. Cooper felt to present awards to the best books and authors each year not only brought them honor and distinction – it brought the same to Ohio as their home. That’s why the Ohioana Awards were created in 1942. There are few noted Ohio authors of the past 75 years who have not been honored with an Ohioana Award. And that’s why they’re still here today. I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to produce this wonderful event and serve as emcee.

Enjoy the 2016 Ohioana Awards on Friday, Sept. 23 from 6-9 p.m. in the Ohio Statehouse Atrium. Tickets are available through ohioana.org and include the reception and awards program.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.

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