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LITERATURE

LITERATURE. Until the 1880s, Cleveland's literary life was wholly dominated by its literary societies and bookstores. The earliest bookstore on record appears in the 1820s; 4 more emerged in the 1830s, as Cleveland began to generate commercial and population growth. These stores carried the standard books of the day, mainly the older classics. The first literary society, the Newburgh Literary Society, was founded in 1826. As a result of a national "lyceum" movement, several others developed in the following 2 decades. The Cleveland Reading Room Assn., with 200 subscribers, was founded in 1835, followed in 1836 by the Young Men's Literary Assn., which in 1846 was consolidated with other literary societies to form the CLEVELAND LIBRARY ASSN. These societies, open only to men, provided members with a reading room and small library (that included magazines and newspapers) and sponsored debates and lectures.

Illustrated weeklies and quarterlies increased in availability in the late 1830s. The earliest of these to appear in Cleveland, such as the Edinburgh Review, primarily served a narrow readership with developed literary tastes. The curiosity aroused by CHAS. DICKENS'S VISIT TO CLEVELAND in 1842 was due more to his status as "a famous English author" than to widespread familiarity with his works. Access to literature increased in the 1840s and 1850s, as more bookstores opened and the repositories of the literary societies grew. Commercial libraries also began to emerge; in 1841 Sanford & Co., booksellers, advertised a circulating library of 500. In 1850 Harper's New Monthly Magazine came to Cleveland, bringing the novels of Dickens and other popular authors in serial form. Bestsellers in the 1850s included travel books, Emerson's essays, works by Washington Irving, and the poems of Longfellow, Bryant, and Whittier. Yearly lecture series, sponsored by the literary societies, were probably the most valuable sources of literary culture and general information. Lecturers such as Horace Greeley and P. T. Barnum were popularly favored over more literary figures. Although Emerson's first visit in 1857 was hailed as the most significant literary event ever in Cleveland, on his second visit, in 1859, one Cleveland newspaper criticized him as "not the man to talk to the people of the west about the `Law of Success.'" Into the 20th century, regional or "western-born" authors generally enjoyed a greater personal popularity in Cleveland than their eastern counterparts.

Between 1865-1900, the importance of the literary societies declined, while that of the bookstores grew. The city's bookstores benefited from improved transportation--easier access to eastern publishing houses--and the greater affordability of books due to cheaper printing costs. The emergence of the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY (ded. 1869) was also a factor in the city's literary development. The domination of eastern cities in publishing and in American's literary life in general impeded Cleveland, at this time, from developing as a literary center. Cleveland was served by 6 major bookstores, as well as small stationery shops with limited supplies of books. As Clevelanders were largely dependent on the recommendations of these dealers for what they read, the booksellers had an enormous influence in shaping their literary tastes. Cobb, Andrews & Co., the oldest and most fashionable, favored contemporary authors such as Henry James. BURROWS bought out Cobb, Andrews & Co. in 1888 and was the first store in Cleveland to come out with books by the Bronte sisters, Tolstoi, and George Eliot. Van Epps & Co., a smaller store, was the most conservative, primarily selling the works of established English authors. Bookstores such as Ingham, Clark & Co. occasionally promoted books by local authors, sometimes publishing them as well.

Cleveland's literary tastes largely reflected national trends. Romance, written by women for women, was the most popular; such stories were expected to be entertaining, yet tempered with morality. Local color (regional) stories were also popular. Historical romance and adventure stories came into vogue in the 1890s; Ben Hur was hugely popular in Cleveland. A range of writers, including Henry James and Wm. Dean Howells, were slow to gain acceptance. Like other Americans, Clevelanders, wanting to be positive about themselves and their country, did not wish to read anything too disturbing. The reception of poetry in Cleveland, however, did not reflect national trends. Cleveland, situated in the "West" but with New England roots, patronized the older New England poets and such western poets of the "homespun" school as Jas. Whitcomb Riley. Many poets popular in the East, such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, were largely ignored in Cleveland. From its beginning, the Cleveland Public Library waged a campaign against Clevelanders' preference for current popular fiction, especially domestic romances. The CPL attempted to promote "educational and elevating" books, but as a public agency it had to succumb to public demands; out of 3,980 books purchased in 1874, 1,550 were novels.

It was perhaps the best time to be an author in Cleveland; local pride was high, and publishing opportunities were at a peak. Of 11 Clevelanders to write romance, all women, only SARAH K. BOLTON received any sort of national acclaim. ALBERT G. RIDDLE and CONSTANCE WOOLSON, local-colorists, both attracted national recognition, Riddle for his sentimental novels about growing up in Geauga County. Humorist Artemus Ward (CHARLES FARRAR BROWNE)--largely a local product--was always popular in Cleveland. The type of fiction in which Cleveland authors excelled, however, in terms of both quantity and quality, dealt with socioeconomic issues. As a growing industrial center, Cleveland had its share of labor problems and growing social divisions between rich and poor. JOHN HAY's The Breadwinners, a national bestseller, presented a dim view of Cleveland's provincial society life. CHAS. CHESNUTT and Albion W. Tourgee, writing on race and Reconstruction, also added greatly to Cleveland's reputation in the socioeconomic category. Chesnutt was the first American writer to write about the Negro as a human being. Tourgee, whom Cleveland can partially claim, also achieved considerable success in this genre; his A Fool's Errand (1879) was a national sensation. Both authors were staunchly supported in Cleveland, where there had been strong antislavery sentiment prior to the Civil War. Although not the result of a unified literary movement, the socioeconomic novels that came out of Cleveland at this time form the only body of literature that can perhaps be uniquely linked to Cleveland.

Included in the abundance of nonfiction produced by Cleveland authors between 1865-1900 were 8 travel books, 6 volumes of war memoirs, 8 collections of essays, 6 sets of histories, 12 books on education, 45 biographies, and a plethora of religious literature. The best works were probably Riddle's Recollections of War Times (1895) and JAS. FORD RHODES's 7-volume History of the U.S. from the Compromise of 1850. At least 30 volumes of poetry were published, most of it conventional verse espousing either moral sentiment or homey philosophy. Edmund Vance Cooke enjoyed considerable local acclaim around the turn of the century.

Cleveland's other literary aspects included a number of minor journals, development of new literary societies, and continued lecture-appearances by well-known authors. The Magazine of Western History was the only journal possibly ranked by literary and artistic excellence, although only a small portion was devoted to poetry and fiction. Literary Life, which started in Cleveland in 1884, later moved to Chicago. Cleveland became a popular city on the lecture circuit of famous authors that included Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. The male-dominated literary societies that flourished prior to the Civil War were replaced by a multitude of literary groups with names such as East End Shakespeare and the Seventh Ward Literary Society. Most of them were composed of women and concentrated on reading and discussing established English authors. More scholarly societies, such as the NOVEL CLUB and ROWFANT CLUB, were founded in the 1890s.

During the first half of the 20th century, changes in the city's literary life were influenced by the development of leisure pursuits other than reading, the increased participation of women writers, and a growing preference for nonfiction over fiction. As Americans discovered other leisure pursuits, reading diminished as an entertainment. CLEVELAND TOWN TOPICS, the city's leading arts and entertainment magazine, in 1900 featured a full 2-page column, "In the Field of Literature," in which 15-20 books were reviewed weekly. Over the years, the column was shortened as coverage of other leisure interests, such as society, GOLF, AVIATION, etc., expanded. Among Cleveland readers, novels with a moral were still popular, as were light romances. In nonfiction there was a growing interest in other lands, and a continuing interest in religion and pseudo-science. By 1920 there was a substantially greater interest in realistic novels, especially those dealing with family and labor issues. Novels dealing with "insignificant sex matters" were also popular, although they generally received poor reviews. These interests all reflected national trends. The CPL continued its fight to upgrade the public's reading tastes. In 1910 an experimental rack of "classed books" was set up to counteract the "universal cry for the latest modern novels." The attempt faltered and, as a compromise, old favorites in fiction were substituted. The CPL's annual report in 1935, however, reported a decrease in "desultory" reading, and an increased demand for technical and business books, books on current world affairs, and practical how-to-do-it books.

As national literary reviews and bestseller lists became a dominant influence in shaping the nation's literary tastes, the influence of local booksellers decreased. In Cleveland, the major bookstores gave way to a proliferation of smaller, more diverse stores. The 2 most prominent of these were KORNER & WOOD and LAUKHUFF'S, both of which offered avant-garde literature, photographs, and the works of local artists. Cleveland department stores, such as HALLE BROS. CO., also entered into the book retail market. Bookstores serving Cleveland's substantial ethnic population began to prosper, including N. P. Popp's, the largest Croatian bookstore in the country. In 1930 Publisher's Weekly claimed that Cleveland, in terms of its book-distribution agencies, was "one of the best served cities in the country."

By the 1920s, Cleveland in its literary tastes was considered on a level with eastern cities. Despite this market classification, vestiges of Cleveland's western beginnings were evident in the frequent lampooning of eastern literary cliques, such as the Algonquin Round Table, in Cleveland literary columns. Smaller literary societies continued to form, many along social and economic lines. The CHESHIRE CHEESE CLUB was composed of male professionals who met weekly for lunch to discuss books. The Lincoln Literary Society was organized in an old settlement house on Woodland Ave. by young men from poor backgrounds who wished to improve their knowledge.

With fewer publishing opportunities, writers began to organize into mutual-support groups, the most active of these for women. The CLEVELAND WRITERS CLUB, which split from the Cleveland Women's Press Club in 1922, had a membership of 60. The League of American Penwomen (Cleveland chapter) was founded that year as a working group for those learning to write. In poetry, the Ohio Poetry Assn. was founded in CLEVELAND HTS. in 1931. In the 1930s, 31 Cleveland writers published The Life We Imagine, consisting of 41 pieces of poetry and fiction. The works of established Cleveland writers received extra local support by being featured at book fairs or special displays at the CPL.

It was at this time that Cleveland made perhaps its greatest contribution to the national literary scene. Both HART CRANE and LANGSTON HUGHES received national attention, and are still regarded in the top rank of American poets. Crane's influence in Cleveland was negligible other than in bohemian circles. Hughes maintained ties with the KARAMU HOUSE, inspiring the formation of groups for young black poets such as the JANUARY CLUB. Among other Cleveland writers of note, HERMAN FETZER, originally from Akron, refused New York offers and moved to Cleveland to write, under the byline of "Jake Falstaff," a popular column for the CLEVELAND PRESS and several books; at the time of his death in 1936, he was considered one of America's most promising poets. CARL WITTKE, a professor of history at Western Reserve Univ., published a number of significant studies on American culture. Dr. HARVEY CUSHING, a pioneer brain surgeon, won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Sir Wm. Osler.

Following World War II, Cleveland's literary life was largely dominated by the CPL, Cleveland newspapers and department stores, and a number of new writers' groups. But beginning in the 1950s, there was a decline in the number of older, downtown stores in favor of national chains--usually located in suburban shopping malls--and an unusually high percentage of secondhand bookstores. Laukhuff's closed in 1960, followed by Korner & Wood in 1965. Schroeder's, a Cleveland landmark on PUBLIC SQUARE, closed in 1979 after 71 years. One of the city's most popular bookstores, Publix, regionally known for its selection on art and the humanities, achieved another downtown comeback in 1986. Asphodel, a center for counterculture in the 1960s, moved to Burton. Bucking the national chains, Booksellers had established 3 full-service local bookstores by 1993. John T. Zubal could offer more than 1 million used books in a 3-story operation on W. 25th St.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of annual book fairs became established in Cleveland. In 1952 the first Children's Book Fair was held under the sponsorship of the CPL, the Cleveland Press, and other organizations. In 1966 the PLAIN DEALER introduced its Midwest Fall Book Festival. Although the annual event was later terminated--mainly because it was never closely involved with book retailers--it served as a model for similar events in other cities, including Boston. For many years the HIGBEE CO. was well known to the publishing industry for its innovative promotion of books. The first Book & Author Luncheon series, for many years sponsored by the Cleveland Press, was held in 1956. The luncheons have traditionally featured a wide range of authors, although celebrities-turned-author have generally drawn the highest attendance.

Since 1945 Cleveland has produced a number of notable novelists. JO SINCLAIR received the Harper Award and widespread critical acclaim for her first novel, Wasteland (1947). Among the handful of noted novelists to come out of Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s, Vance Bourjaily, Bentz Plagemann, Herbert Gold, Wm. Ellis, and Don Robertson were Clevelanders. Both Ellis and Gold had books published in Cleveland by the WORLD PUBLISHING CO. Ellis's Jonathon Blair won a Pulitzer Prize. CHESTER HIMES, a black writer, wrote several novels recognized as realistic and significant studies of race problems. In the late 1980s, Cleveland's ethnic mix and industrial grit made it a popular setting for the mystery genre, as exemplified in the work of a transplanted Los Angelino, Les Roberts. Among Cleveland's contributions in nonfiction were notable works from professors at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIV. Thos. Munro wrote a number of noted books on aesthetics and the fine arts, and for many years was editor of the Cleveland-based JOURNAL OF AESTHETICS & ART CRITICISM. Bertram Wyatt-Brown was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South.

Notable poets from this period included 2 Pulitzer winners, Mary Oliver and Richard Howard. Russell Atkins, perhaps Cleveland's most celebrated local poet, has been active in the city's poetry life since 1950 as editor of Freelance. Another well-known local poet was d.a. levy, who during the 1960s helped bring counterculture to Cleveland and established a sometimes controversial tradition of street poetry. Since 1961 Cleveland has emerged as a leading center for poetry. That year the poet Lewis Turco founded a poetry center at Fenn College, one of 5 such programs in the country at that time. In 1971 the center expanded its outstanding program of readings and workshops to include an annual chapbook series featuring nationally known poets, and a series for local poets. Later, as the CLEVELAND STATE POETRY CTR., the program was run by Alberta Turner and Nuala Archer, until 1994. In the 1960s and 1970s, area radio stations, notably WCLV-FM, aired ongoing book reviews by EUGENIA THORNTON-SILVER, and occasional poetry readings. Case Western Reserve Univ., under the leadership of English professor and poet Robt. Wallace, has produced a chapbook series, Bits, and an annual of light verse. Other forums for local poets include the readings and workshops of the Poets League and the more controversial Poetsbank, as well as occasional programs at CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE. Because poetry is less dependent on the eastern publishing houses for its expression, it has been allowed to thrive in cities such as Cleveland, where it has received significant encouragement from an enthusiastic minority.

As an industrial city, Cleveland has never been a place that attracts writers. The Cleveland Arts Prize, since 1961, has always included a category for literature, although many of the prizes have gone to former Clevelanders. There has also been occasional financial support since the 1970s--through the CLEVELAND AREA ARTS COUNCIL, for instance--given to some of the organized activities of writers' and poets' groups. Direct local support for writers has been almost nonexistent. Even so, support for Cleveland writers does exist in a number of writers' groups and workshops started in the 1970s. The Poets League, founded in 1974, is open to anyone interested in contemporary writing. It sponsors readings and other literary activities, and publishes a bimonthly newsletter. There is also a diversity of smaller groups that provide friendly criticism, an exchange of ideas, and mutual support. Workshops have also taken place under the auspices of Cuyahoga Community College, Karamu House, and Writers' Digest. The 1990s have brought a growing number of small presses, bookstores, and coffeehouses around the area which support literary events and ongoing poetry readings in a variety of venues. Although never a leading literary center, Cleveland has had a full and active literary life. It has been traditionally well-served by its bookstores and public library system, and is a highly regarded retail market among publishers. A respectable number of notable authors have come from Cleveland, and both writers and those with other literary concerns have generally been able to find adequate forums for their common interests. And in one area, as a center for poetry, Cleveland has distinguished itself since 1961.

Nina Gibans

James Shelley


Coyle, Wm., ed. Ohio Authors and Their Books (1962).

Ford, Margaret P. "The Cleveland Literary Scene" (Ph.D. diss., WRU, 1957).

Witchey, Holly Rarick. Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1994).

See also PRINTING & PUBLISHING INDUSTRY.