10 Must-Read Authors from Ohio

Explore the literary landscape of the Buckeye State with our list of the top 10 authors from Ohio. Unearth diverse narratives that shape America’s heartland.

Ohio, the Buckeye State, is more than just a geographical location in the United States — it’s a hub of cultural vibrancy and historical richness that continually rouses artists. This is especially true for authors from Ohio who have contributed to and enriched the American literary scene. 

From the historic architecture of Shaker Heights to the entertainment in Youngstown, Ohio’s diverse landscapes and unique experiences have served as an endless source of inspiration.

We can see Ohio authors’ dedication to writing in Toni Morrison’s speech to the Ohio Arts Council in 1981, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Notably, the Ohioana Library is home to more than 45,000 books, a testament to the state’s thriving literary culture. If you’re interested in delving deeper into the state’s literary impact or discovering new books, check out Ohioana Library, which provides a fascinating insight into Ohio author’s literary prowess.

Do you want to know more about classic literature? See our article on the best 3rd-century authors.

Best Authors From Ohio Ranked

1. Toni Morrison

Toni morrison
Toni Morrison was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature

Toni Morrison, born in the quaint town of Lorain, Ohio, is rightly considered a titan in the literary world. This illustrious Ohioan author’s works primarily focus on the Black American experience. Her storytelling prowess was such that it earned her the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 — making her the first African-American woman to receive this honor.

Morrison’s most unforgettable work is Beloved, a chilling tale of a mother and her children haunted by slavery, even after they got their freedom. Another gem is The Bluest Eye, a critique of beauty standards and racial self-hatred set in the Great Depression that ended during World War II.

Morrison passed away in 2019.

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

Toni Morrison
Beloved
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02/18/2024 05:15 pm GMT

2. Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson
Sherwood Anderson enlisted in the army in 1898

Sherwood Anderson pioneered a new form of storytelling that profoundly influenced the American short story genre. Born in the small town of Camden, Ohio, Anderson’s writing focuses on the intricacies of small-town life in America. He is best known for his Winesburg, Ohioa collection of interconnected short stories that explore the lives of those in a fictional Ohio small town as they transition to the industrial age.

Though his writing was influenced by both World Wars I and II, he inspired many other authors, including Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and John Steinbeck. You might also be interested in our guide on the best authors from Florida.

“I go about looking at horses and cattle. They eat grass, make love, work when they have to, bear their young. I am sick with envy of them.”

Sherwood Anderson
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02/19/2024 09:27 pm GMT

3. James Thurber

James Thurber
James Thurber was virtually blind

James Thurber was a talented author, humorist, cartoonist, and playwright born in Columbus, Ohio. His experiences in the Buckeye State shaped his perspective and gave a distinctive flavor to his work. He turned the mundane of Ohio life into something fresh and comedic.

Perhaps his best-known work is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a humorous but poignant story about a man who daydreams and fantasizes. One day, he realizes those dreams. The novel was made into a blockbuster movie starring Ben Stiller.

The theme of juxtaposing the ordinary with the extraordinary is a common thread in Thurber’s work, making his stories an exciting exploration of the human condition. Another notable book is My Life and Hard Times, a semi-autobiographical memoir that provides a glimpse into Thurber’s own life, again characterized by his distinctive humor and sharp observation.

“Humor is a serious thing. I like to think of it as one of our greatest earliest natural resources, which must be preserved at all cost.”

James Thurber
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4. Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes was a pioneer in jazz poetry

Langston Hughes moved around with his family before they settled in Cleaveland, Ohio. In the heart of America, Hughes’ work often focused on the working African-American communities, which was revolutionary at the time.

He was known as the “busboy poet,” as he was discovered while working as a busboy in a Washington D.C. hotel. His poetry collection, The Weary Blues, demonstrates Hughes’ mastery of blending music and verse. His wanderlust also caused him to travel to various locations, with France being a favorite.

You should see Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred to understand his poems and style fully. It’s a sweeping epic of life in Harlem that sheds light on its inhabitants’ dreams, aspirations, and harsh realities.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

Langston Hughes

Have a look at our round-up of famous inspirational poets.

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02/19/2024 09:22 pm GMT

5. Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem once went undercover as a Playboy Bunny to expose the exploitation of women

Gloria Steinem, an influential figure from Toledo, Ohio, carved out a legacy as a fierce advocate for women’s rights. She’s also a pioneer of modern feminism. Before becoming an author, she was an American journalist, and one of her undercover operations was her Playboy Bunny exposé.

Her best-known works include Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions — a book of her essays, and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteema manifesto to empower women, spawning a revolution of thought.

When asked about her favorite authors, Steinem recommends Indian writer Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, South African Bessie Head, and many more “who are making the invisible visible.

The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving.”

Gloria Steinem
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02/19/2024 09:21 am GMT

6. Ernest J. Gaines

Ernest Gaines
Ernest J. Gaines once worked in the fields of rural Louisiana

Ernest J. Gaines, a notable Ohio-born author, hails from a background that shaped his narrative world. Raised in the rural community of River Lake Plantation, Louisiana, Gaines spent his early years laboring in the cotton fields.

His experiences in the South, coupled with his keen observation of racial dynamics, form the backbone of his literary pursuits. His most famous work is perhaps his eighth novel, A Lesson Before Dying. It earned him a nomination for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize and bagged him the National Book Critics Circle Award.

A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman are further examples of his unique narrative style. Here, he effortlessly weaves together complex characters and raw emotions against a backdrop of systemic oppression. In an interview with The New York Times, he said: “You must understand that the blacks who were brought here as slaves were prevented from becoming the men that they could be.”

I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to say something about home.

Ernest J. Gaines
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02/19/2024 09:22 pm GMT

7. Zane Grey

Zane Grey
Zane Grey held the world record for the largest Bluefin Tuna ever caught (1924)

When it comes to memorable stories of the American frontier, no conversation can be complete without mention of Zane Grey. Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Grey began his career as a dentist. But, his heart belonged to the boundless beauty of the American West. After his initial writings failed to gain traction, Grey spent time in the West for authentic inspiration. This resulted in his acclaimed Riders of the Purple Sagenow a classic that has shaped the Western genre in literature.

Young adults who are fans of rugged landscapes and daring adventures should read Grey’s literature. Cowboys? Check. Duels? Check. But they are more than just that — they are a celebration of the American spirit. His writings show off the raw beauty and untamed wilderness of the Old West.

I arise full of eagerness and energy, knowing well what achievement lies ahead of me.

Zane Grey
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02/19/2024 09:22 pm GMT

8. Will Hillenbrand

Will Hillenbrand
Will Hillenbrand is a renowned children’s book illustrator

Will Hillenbrand has etched his name into American literature, being one of the most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hillenbrand’s work has a unique appeal, resonating deeply with young readers across the Buckeye State and beyond. His stories, based primarily in small towns akin to his own upbringing, resonate with a heartwarming familiarity.

His Bear and Mole Series (Kite Day, Off We Go!) is a notable achievement. These books are excellent choices as bedtime stories for children and young adults. They are entertaining and educational.

My stories don’t necessarily talk about place because I pitch my stories into another reality.

Will Hillenbrand
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02/19/2024 09:26 am GMT

9. Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni has a spoken-word album with a gospel choir

As a writer, activist, and educator, Nikki Giovanni has her schedule filled to the brim. Her words resonate with a fiercely honest yet compassionate voice. Giovanni has received numerous awards, including the Langston Hughes Medal and the NAACP Image Award. She has also been nominated for a Grammy Award for her spoken-word album.

Giovanni’s most discussed work is Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her dynamic writing style and personal experiences concerning social and cultural issues make her a crucial voice of the era.

Giovanni’s collection of poems, Black Feeling, Black Talk, has also been widely regarded as a classic in African-American literature.

A lot of people refuse to do things because they don’t want to go naked, don’t want to go without guarantee. But that’s what’s got to happen. You go naked until you die.

Nikki Giovanni
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02/19/2024 09:37 am GMT

10. Wil Haygood

Wil Haygood
Wil Haygood once interviewed James Baldwin

Wil Haygood, born and raised in Columbus, the heartland of America, has written multiple critically acclaimed works. His most remarkable contribution is his 2013 The Butler: A Witness to History. It’s a gripping and intimate look into the life of Eugene Allen, a man who served eight American presidents as a White House butler. The novel was made into a blockbuster movie starring Forest Whitaker.

Haygood effectively threads history, race, and politics in a digestible manner. His writing opened many’s eyes to current and even past events.

Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it.

Wil Haygood
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02/19/2024 09:26 pm GMT