The definition of local books can be just about as broad as a reader wants to make it: books written by local people; books published by any of our handful of active presses; books published anywhere, written by anyone who uses the city or region or state or anything that happened here as subject matter; or even books recently released by authors who are stopping at one of our bookstores on a promotional tour. But some local books have more profound connections. Three recent ones delve into the lives and work of people who have influenced our lives.
Photographer Ron Kuntz took pictures of ball games, boxing matches and things that happened in Cleveland for half a century, and his pictures, published in The Plain Dealer, showed us what was going on around us. They were part of how we perceived ourselves. Choreographer Heinz Poll presided over an era of regional dance with his Ohio Ballet. His influence continues on with dancers from his company who are still active here in their own dance ventures. And the late Senator Howard Metzenbaum didn't have just any middling political career; he was known as a powerful liberal.
WITH THE HELP of his subject and a supply of his pictures, author Burt Graeff tells the story of longtime Plain Dealer photographer Ron Kuntz in A Cleveland Original: 50 Years Behind the Lens (Cleveland Landmarks Press, 112 pp., paper, 2009). It's a look at the life of someone who influenced the city's perception of itself during a 50-year career, documenting mostly baseball, football and basketball, but other events as well, including the Kent State shootings, the Hough riots, the Sam Sheppard trial and more.
Kuntz won awards, especially for his action shots of basketball stars in mid-air, boxers and their faces seeming to splash with the impact of a punch, and baseball players mid-swing. The photos themselves don't tell the whole story, though. Throughout his long career, Kuntz was motivated by faith in Jesus Christ, which spurred him to visit nearly 2,000 prisons as part of a prison ministry founded by former Browns player Bill Glass.
CHOREOGRAPHER Heinz Poll's influence on Cleveland's cultural life continues in the biggest remaining dance companies in town. GroundWorks Dancetheater and Verb Ballets keep his legacy alive by performing works he bequeathed to his dancers in his will. But in addition to the choreography he created and the dancers he trained during his 31-year tenure as founder and artistic director of the Ohio Ballet, Poll left a memoir of his life which Barbara Schubert has edited into A Time to Dance: The Life of Heinz Poll (The University of Akron Press, 214 pp., paper, 2008). Schubert's preface begins about the time Northeast Ohio was beginning to get to know the late choreographer, with a trip to Akron where she would become a volunteer and eventually associate director of the Ohio Ballet. Poll's story begins in the town of his birth, Oberhausen, Germany. He recalls time on the battle lines of Germany and Eastern Europe during World War II, as well as time in Berlin, Paris and New York after the war. It's not until chapter 18, two-thirds into the book, that he gets around to the founding of the Ohio Chamber Ballet at the University of Akron, which would become the Ohio Ballet and the instrument for the neoclassical choreography for which he is remembered.
FORMER Plain Dealer congressional and political reporter Tom Diemer covered the late Senator Howard Metzenbaum while he was in political office. But in Fighting the Unbeatable Foe (Kent State University Press, hardcover, 2008), he offers a much broader biography of the liberal whose clout, despite never holding an official party leadership position, earned him the nickname "Senator No" for his ability to derail legislation. Metzenbaum was never poor, but he made his money in a few investments, including land near what would become Cleveland Hopkins Airport, the parking lot company that would become AMPCO and the car-rental company that would become Avis. During a senatorial career that lasted two decades, he developed a reputation as a fighter for the consumer and the little guy, which would inspire Senator Edward Kennedy to refer to the "Metzenbaum mark" on a piece of legislation as a kind of political Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Diemer has what could be called institutional knowledge of Metzenbaum's life and career, having covered him for almost a decade. He does a fine job portraying this champion of gun control, abortion rights and people over business.