Cincinnati writer Dale Patrick Brown says, in her lively new book Literary Cincinnati, the city “can point to an impressive literary history, but rarely does.” Brown proceeds to remedy the situation with eminently readable accounts of literary figures, homegrown and visiting. Harriet Beecher Stowe is among them, of course, as well as Mrs. Trollope of Domestic Manners of the Americans, the Cary sisters and their poetry, the Mercantile Library and more.
This admirable book, subtitled The Missing Chapter, is a treat to read but has all the appropriate scholarly underpinnings. Plentiful footnotes are located at the back of the book rather than at the bottom of the page and are worth turning back for. Mrs. Trollope was so hard on us that it’s satisfying to find, at this late date, that she sometimes got her facts wrong. See Chapter 1, footnote number 4, which questions a hotel she names and suggests another.
Illustrations include a photograph of the original Queen City Club at Seventh and Elm streets where, later, an art deco building for the telephone company would rise. Sinclair Lewis holed up in this formidable mansion in the early 1920s to write Babbitt. Novelist Fanny Hurst went from Cincinnati to New York City, where her successful career eventually rewarded her with a triplex apartment and social interaction with the Lindberghs, the Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor) and others. Although seldom read today, her novel Back Street begins in the Queen City. Brown quotes a scholar as saying Hurst’s work “is ripe for rediscovery by feminist cultural historians.”
Perhaps the most fun is the final chapter, on the Elliston Poet-in-Residence program at the University of Cincinnati, a wonderfully un-Cincinnati-like mixture of prominent poets and parties. Brown gained access to “a meticulously kept, unpublished journal” for her description of the goings on. The program continues today, she writes, “but in a different way.”