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Ohioana Book Awards turns 82, convene prize-winning authors Thursday

The Lantern
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(left to right) Ross Gay, Celeste Ng, Saeed Jones, Kelcey Ervick, Jasmine Warga, Marcy Campbell and John Scalzi are all Ohioana-Book-Award-winning authors for 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Kathryn Powers

The Ohioana Book Awards’ 82nd chapter, scheduled for 6-9 p.m., Thursday at the Ohio Statehouse, is shaping up to be a real page-turner.

Since 1942, the Ohioana Book Awards have been presented annually to outstanding Ohio authors, according to the Ohioana Library’s website . Two of this year’s notable winners include Celeste Ng and John Scalzi, the website states; additionally, Ohio State alum Kortney Morrow will take home the prestigious Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant for up-and-coming writers.

Ng said she always contextualized the world via stories but did not pursue professional authorship until attending graduate school at the University of Michigan.

“It kept tapping me on the shoulder like it was something that I needed to try,” Ng said. “So I gave myself some time to work on it and said, ‘This is how long I can afford to try and do this writing thing.’”

Having penned the bestselling novels “Everything I Never Told You” and “Little Fires Everywhere” — both of which are set in Ohio — Ng has effectively transformed her “writing thing” into a prominent literary career within the last decade. She said her latest work, titled “Our Missing Hearts,” published in October 2022, has merited the 2023 Ohioana Book Award for Fiction.

“Our Missing Hearts” follows a 12-year-old boy named Bird as he endeavors to find his long-lost mother, Ng said. Equal parts mysterious and moving, the dystopian novel reflects Ng’s feelings of maternal uncertainty throughout COVID-19, she said.

“It wasn’t until the pandemic started, actually, that this book felt really urgent to write,” Ng said. “I realized a lot of what I was thinking about were questions about parenting: How do you raise a child in a world that feels like it is falling apart, and everything is dangerous and everyone is isolated from each other?”

Similar to Ng, Scalzi discovered his passion for storytelling young. While taking an English composition class at age 14, Scalzi said he was the only student who received an ‘A’ on a fiction writing assignment, despite rushing to complete it the night before.

“I had an epiphany,” Scalzi said. “I was like, ‘Writing is easy for me, and literally everything else is hard. Therefore, I should become a writer.’”

Scalzi said he was both surprised and unsurprised upon learning his novel “The Kaiju Preservation Society” won the 2023 Readers’ Choice Award. Published March 2022, the science fiction story features Godzilla-type monsters and a pop-song-esque feel, he said.

Though Scalzi said “The Kaiju Preservation Society” is not the most introspective book he’s ever drafted, he recognizes its value as a playful escape from reality.

“Basically, I think people read it, and it was like, ‘This is light, and it was funny and it made me feel OK about myself and my place in the world,’” Scalzi said. “Sometimes you just get lucky, and I think this is one of those lucky books.”

Scalzi is unable to attend Thursday’s ceremony due to scheduling conflicts but said his wife Kristine and daughter Athena are going in his place.

“I’m really sad I can’t be there,” Scalzi said. “But as I tell people, they’ve actually got the two better Scalzis.”

For Morrow, earning the 2023 Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant has been an immensely joyful experience.

Morrow, who earned her Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Ohio State in 2022, said she submitted multiple essays to the Ohioana Book Awards for jury evaluation.

“I developed my essay skills while at Ohio State, so it was really a proud moment not only to just be honored in that way but to be honored for my essays,” Morrow said. “It was like an affirmation that I needed.”

Morrow’s winning entry is an updated reimagining of the American Girl doll brand’s well-known guide for preteens, called “The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls,” she said.

“I kind of was thinking through what would happen if we were able to receive multiple books like that, not just at this pivotal moment of adolescence, but also in your 20s and your 30s,” Morrow said.

Ultimately, Morrow views the Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant award as an incredible stop on her ongoing journey to write and inspire meaningful stories, she said.

“I always think of a little version of myself, and them being able to pull a book down from a shelf and feel seen, and feel excited and feel propelled to tell their own stories,” Morrow said. “I think people have an idea of what kind of stories they want from historically marginalized populations, and I want to just continue to disrupt people’s notions of what Blackness is and keep expanding the possibilities for what types of stories we can all be sharing.”

More information about the Ohioana Book Awards, including 2023’s full list of winners, can be found on the Ohioana Library’s website .

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