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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less
Evelyn Ryan's family may have been one of the poorest in town, but her children did not go without the occasional taste of well-earned luxury. Their mother entered every contest imaginable (there were plenty in the '50s and '60s) and won everything from candy bars and basketballs to a trip to Switzerland and a down payment on the family's house. Terry Ryan ? poet, collaborating author of the long-running T. O. Sylvester cartoon, and sixth in Evelyn's brood ? offers this utterly heartwarming memoir about her mother's knack for keeping the family in shoes and in stitches when basic necessities and laughter would have otherwise been scarce. Ryan's memoir reveals as much about American consumers' relationship with postwar marketing as it does about her mother's wit and resourcefulness. Evelyn's jingles, crafted at the ironing board, made it into magazines, roadside Burma Shave signs, and ad campaigns all over the country. Her determination to share with her family every taste and experience that Privilege would never have deigned to grant them is deftly portrayed in this exhilarating tribute to spirit.
Synopses & Reviews
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s.
Stepping back into a time when fledgling advertising agencies were active partners with consumers, and everyday people saw possibility in every coupon, Terry Ryan tells how her mother kept the family afloat by writing jingles and contest entries. Mom's winning ways defied the Church, her alcoholic husband, and antiquated views of housewives. To her, flouting convention was a small price to pay when it came to securing a happy home for her six sons and four daughters. Evelyn, who would surely be a Madison Avenue executive if she were working today, composed her jingles not in the boardroom, but at the ironing board.
By entering contests wherever she found them — TV, radio, newspapers, direct-mail ads — Evelyn Ryan was able to win every appliance her family ever owned, not to mention cars, television sets, bicycles, watches, a jukebox, and even trips to New York, Dallas, and Switzerland. But it wasn't just the winning that was miraculous; it was the timing. If a toaster died, one was sure to arrive in the mail from a forgotten contest. Days after the bank called in the second mortgage on the house, a call came from the Dr Pepper company: Evelyn was the grand-prize winner in its national contest — and had won enough to pay the bank.
Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. From her frenetic supermarket shopping spree — worth $3,000 today — to her clever entries worthy of Erma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash, the story of this irrepressible woman whose talents reached far beyond her formidable verbal skills is told in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will triumph over the poverty of circumstance.
"Ryan's daughter tells her mother's story in a memoir that is both an excellent chronicle of the contest-crazy '50s and '60s and a moving portrait of a clever, determined woman. Don't be surprised if this sleeper of a story generates tremendous word of mouth." David Pitt, Booklist
"A good-natured memoir as compelling as a commercial jingle." Judith Stone, O Magazine
"Nabs first prize in the memoir genre." People
"Prize Winner is the most charming and inspirational book I've read in a long time. It bursts with stories of soul, humanity, cunning, courage, and humor in the face of desperate times, like the shopping cart heaped full of groceries won by the author's indomitable mother." Anne Lamott
"Terry Ryan's story of her amazing, prize-winning mother is simply fabulous. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a wonderful snapshot of mid-twentieth-century America — a heartwarming, marvelous story that deserves its place alongside the best nonfiction in modern literature. Patricia Cornwell
About the Author
Terry Ryan, the sixth of Evelyn Ryan's ten children, is the writing half of T. O. Sylvester, a long-running cartoon in the San Francisco Chronicle. The author of two books of poetry, she lives in San Francisco, California.
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