Mary Grimm, Author


In her short stories and novels, Mary Grimm has earned a reputation for writing compelling tales of regular, everyday people living their lives, often toiling in obscurity, yet often finding various levels of fulfillment. Her first novel, for example, Left to Themselves, published in 1993, chronicles a year in the lives of a working class Ohio couple. The quirky, distinctive and divergent nature of people’s stories is part of what impells Grimm  to write.

“It comes from knowing people or meeting people or hearing about people and wanting to do something with the material of their lives,” Grimm explains. “Sometimes I even have the feeling that I don’t want these stories to be lost, so writing serves as a way to capture and savor those stories.”

“Mary’s work is suffused with both compassion and interest in ordinary people,” says fellow author and friend Kristin Ohlson. “She is great at paying attention to the details and overall grandeur of ordinary people, the people whose lives the media and our culture, in general, don’t often pay much attention to, people who work in convenience stores and bank tellers and so on.”

Born in 1949 and raised in Cleveland, Grimm started writing when she was seven or eight, she says, so it’s always been part of her life. She also credits her parents’ desire to surround her with books and instill a love of reading as a formative inspiration.

“I know that my love of books would probably have happened anyway,” Grimm says. “But certainly the reason that it happened as early as it did is my mother read to me, and my parents made it a priority in our house that there were books to read and discuss.”

Grimm earned her BA in anthropology in 1980 and her MA in English in 1989 at Cleveland State University (CSU). She was the founder and editor, from 1987 to 1990, of Ohio Writer and, while attending graduate school at CSU, served as managing editor of The Gamut (1984 to 1989), a delightfully eclectic journal of wide-ranging articles whose passing left Cleveland the poorer.

She also became one of the first students at CSU to write a fiction thesis, since the university didn’t have a creative writing program at the time, but instead offered a concentration in creative writing. 
So, the extent of her formal training came through workshops with a few highly influential professors.

Alberta Turner was the first one who ever really read my writing,” Grimm told a reporter from Prime Magazine in 1999. “She was amazingly supportiveI kept hoping she’d say something bad, but she never did. And of course now I see that was good, that encouragement. John Gerlach was more helpful to me as an editor, a detail-oriented and critical reader of my work.”

Since 1989, Grimm has taught at Case Western Reserve University, where she was named an associate professor in the English department in 1995. As part of her writing career, she has published poems and written feature articles for several publications. Grimm has also given readings, lectured on writing and taught workshops at a variety of colleges and universities. In June of 1995, she presented her paper, “Reclamation of the Dead,” at the Virginia Woolf Conference at Otterbein College.

Grimm draws on all of her research for her teaching and a voluminous reading habit to shape her writing, Kristin Ohlson says: “I have never known anyone who reads as much as Mary does. So her writing is informed by a close reading of the writers who have come before her for the past 100 years.”

Soon after she committed to writing as a career in the mid-1980s, Grimm began publishing stories in such publications as The New Yorker, Redbook, Antioch Review and the Beloit Fiction Journal. Her work also quickly garnered numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for Fiction for “We,” after it was published in the October 17, 1988, edition of The New Yorker; “We” also appeared in a collection of her short stories entitled Stealing Time that was published by Random House in 1994.

Her long list of awards and grants include a Baker-Nord Senior Fellowship (2005), a nomination for a Pushcart Prize (2001) for her story “On Not Cleaning the House” and several stories named as one of the 100 Distinguished Stories in different years. In 1989 she won an Ohio Arts Council individual artist fellowship and was named the John Atherton Scholar for the famed Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont.

Regarding the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature that she won in 1993, Grimm says: “That was wonderful for a lot of reasons. First, it’s sort of a love letter from the city of Cleveland, and it’s a mark of the approbation of your peers. Also, it happened before my parents died, and my parents got to come and see me get this award. I was only the second person or so in my family who went to college, so that was wonderful for them to see the fruition of their emphasis on education.”

Currently, Grimm has two new books in progress: a novel, The Dead Have Dreams, and a memoir, Memoir in Two Voices.

—Christopher Johnston


Cleveland Arts Prize
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