The Ohio Connection
I began in Ohio.
I still dream of home.
–From “Stages on a Journey Westward,” by James Wright
- James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio on December 13, 1927. His father, Dudley, worked at Hazel-Atlas Glass, and his mother, Jessie, worked at White Swan Laundry in Wheeling.
- As a child, James Wright enjoyed nature walks, swimming in the Ohio River, and membership in the Boy Scouts-Flying Eagles of Troop 62.
- Wright grew up during the Great Depression, and some of his relatives dug a WPA swimming pool in a city park, about which he would later write a poem, “The Old WPA Swimming Pool in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” published in Two Citizens.
- Wright graduated as valedictorian from Martins Ferry High School in 1946.
- He attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, from 1948-1952. In college he wrote for HIKA literary magazine and won the school’s Robert Frost Poetry Prize, in addition to publishing more than twenty poems in literary magazines. He hosted a country & western radio show in the style of the Grand Old Opry called “The Great Speckled Bird.” He tried working at Hazel-Atlas Glass one summer and quit after a week, painting highway bridges in Ohio instead. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude.
- The title of Wright’s first published book, The Green Wall (1957), is intended to suggest the Ohio Valley hills.
- James Wright won the Ohioana Book Award of 1960 in the field of poetry, for his second book, Saint Judas.
- Many of his published books and volumes of poetry included people and settings from Martins Ferry, including the famous “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” which you can hear the poet read online. https://www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?45442B7C000C07010D77
- Beginning in April, 1981 and every April since, Martins Ferry has celebrated the James Wright Poetry Festival. https://www.eastern.ohiou.edu/events/jwright/jwfhome.htm
- On April 17, 2004, a historical marker was placed in Martins Ferry at the corner of Hanover and James Wright Place (5th St.), dedicated to James Arlington Wright and William Dean Howells.
In Martins Ferry today, there is no Wright museum. But John Storck of the Martins Ferry Library has put together a map of the town, featuring points of interest to James Wright and his devotees. The map includes excerpts from the poems in which Wright refers to the specific locations.