Ohioana Library Association's online literary trail has stops in central Ohio

Eric Lagatta
elagatta@dispatch.com
The Thurber House, where author, humorist and cartoonist James Thurber once lived at 77 Jefferson Ave. in Columbus, is part of the online Ohio Literary Trail.

Ohio is home to no shortage of famed authors and admired libraries.

From the northwest region, where American realist author Theodore Dreiser wrote his debut classic novel, "Sister Carrie," in 1900, to the house in Dayton where poet Paul Laurence Dunbar resided at the time of his death in 1906, the state is steeped in literary history.

The Ohioana Library Association, which has tasked itself with preserving this rich heritage, has printed and updated a map of literary sites every 10 years since 1957.

Now the nonprofit organization is evolving the concept for the digital era with the online Ohio Literary Trail that it released at the end of July.

With the help of the Ohio History Connection, Ohioana compiled a trail map with more than 70 sites to visit across the Buckeye State that recognize the authors, poets and illustrators who have called Ohio home, as well as other literary institutions and landmarks, said David Weaver, the executive director of Ohioana.

"So many people don't know all the great authors and all the great sites that are literally in their backyard," Weaver said. "People love the opportunity to meet authors or find the place where an author who wrote books they enjoy might have lived and worked."

The Ohio Literary Trail is divided into five geographic regions -- northwest, northeast, central, southwest and southeast -- with a downloadable map that has links to and details about each destination.

Central Ohio is home to eight sites, including perhaps Columbus' most famous literary landmark, the Thurber House.

The former home of humorist, author and New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber, the building is filled with artifacts, memorabilia and photographs commemorating the late writer, who lived there from 1913 to 1917. Although the museum is closed during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic -- and some summer events have moved online -- executive director Laurie Lathan is proud that the literary center at 77 Jefferson Ave. is included as a stop on the trail.

"The Ohio Literary Trail will be an interesting and educational journey for all Ohioans -- especially for those history and literary buffs," Lathan said.

Other central Ohio destinations on the map include Ohioana's headquarters at 274 E. First Ave. in Columbus; the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, which houses a massive collection of American comics and cartoons, at 1813 N. High St. on the Ohio State University campus; and the Wagnalls Memorial Library, a historic Tudor-Gothic style library built in 1925 at 150 E. Columbus St. in Lithopolis.

Traveling to many destinations on the trail might be impractical during the pandemic, so Weaver recommends checking each institution's website to ensure that it is open before making the trip.

Betty Weibel, a board member of both Ohioana and the Ohio History Connection, said many of the sites along the trail feature historical markers denoting places of literary significance. Central Ohio travelers can find one at 41 E. High St. in Mount Gilead, the hometown of author Dawn Powell, and at 102 W. Wiggin St. in Gambier, home of the Kenyon Review and its founder, John Crowe Ransom.

Columbus has two other locations: the Wilbur H. Siebert Collection of Underground Railroad materials on Ohio State's campus at 230 W. 17th Ave. and the Columbus Metropolitan Main Library at 96 S. Grant St., the first tax-supported free public library in Columbus that was launched in 1873.

"The trail was a unique opportunity to show the depth of Ohio's contributions to shaping literary culture," Weibel said.

But although the Ohio Literary Trail celebrates authors of the past, Ohioana also is connecting travelers to literature of the present and future by providing information on annual festivals in each region of the state: the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, Wooster's Buckeye Book Fair, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, Ohio University's Spring Literary Festival in Athens and Claire's Day in Toledo.

Some of these events have been canceled this year because of COVID-19 -- the Ohioana Book Festival will migrate online from Aug. 28 to 30 -- but Weaver remains hopeful that travelers soon can enjoy all that the trail promotes.

"I know everyone's ready to get out and get on the road," Weaver said. "Start planning your next literary trip because, as we know, this situation isn't going to continue permanently."

To access the literary trail, go to ohioana.org/resources/the-ohio-literary-trail.

elagatta@dispatch.com

@EricLagatta