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John Baskin began work as a journalist at age 21, covering the civil resistance marches—and ensuing riots—in piedmont North Carolina during the 1960s. Graduate study with Fred Chappell at the University of North Carolina proved to be a formative event, for it was where he learned to look skeptically upon many of the sentences he had written in his previous existence. (“Death lurked on a windswept curve of Highway 109,” being one of them.)

After another tour through daily journalism in Greensboro, N.C., and Dayton, Ohio—he was named an Alicia Patterson fellow. With the grant, he moved into an abandoned farmhouse and became the last resident of the disappearing farming village of New Burlington, Ohio, a sad and dubious distinction. The resulting book, New Burlington, the Life and Death of an American Village, was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, an American Library Association book of the year, and commented on by his former teacher, Fred Chappell, who said, “it should be filmed in black and white by Ingmar Bergman and only shown at the Wadesboro, N.C., Public Library.”

For the most of a decade, he was a freelance writer, contributing articles and essays to The Nation, Mother Jones, the Yale Review, Harper’s Weekly, American Preservation, the Washington Post, and other publications. He was particularly fond of the New York Times and its op-ed page editors, Harrison Salisbury and Charlotte Curtis, the latter of whom would sometimes ring up Mr. Baskin to ask, “What is going on in the heartland these days?” Just as if he actually might have known.

His essays were collected in a W.W. Norton book, In Praise of Practical Fertilizer, and he teamed with noted sportswriter Lonnie Wheeler to write The Cincinnati Game, which the New Yorker’s Roger Angell called “the first original work on baseball that I’ve come across in years.” In the intervening years, he has been both editor and art director (most recently for Orange Frazer Press, which he cofounded with his friend Marcy Hawley), his design work appearing in Print, Communication Arts, and the New York Type Directors Show, and he is a three-time Ohioana Award winner.

A Ford Foundation grant led him back to his writing—and the discovery of an odd story about the rescue attempt of a Midwestern hardware salesman trying to get a thousand Jewish children away from the Nazis in the south of France. Buried in obscure documents and fading memories, the story required months of travel across five countries. The manuscript is tentatively entitled, A Superfluous Man: an Improbable Story of the Good War, and he awaits both publication and further inspiration.


His writing continues to find publication in such places as New Millennium Writings, Front Porch Republic, and Sport Literate, and in 2021, Lords of Smashmouth: The Unlikely Rise of an American Phenomenon, a cultural history of Ohio State’s vaunted football program, was released to favorable reviews by sportswriters, most of whom owed Mr. Baskin favors. 

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