The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less
Terry Ryan, 2002
Simon & Schuster
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.
Standing up to the church, her alcoholic husband, and antiquated ideas about women, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for innovation, all the while raising her six sons and four daughters with the belief that miracles are an everyday occurrence. The inspiration for a major motion picture, Evelyn Ryan's story is told by her daughter Terry with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit and sense of humor can triumph over adversity every time. (From the publisher.)
Prize Winner was adapted into a 2005 film with Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson.
• Birth—July 14, 1946
• Where—Defiance, Ohio, USA
• Death—May 16, 2007
• Where—San Francisco, CA
• Education—B.A., Bowling Green State University (Ohio)
After a long bout with cancer, Terry Ryan died peacefully at home on May 16, 2007. She had been buoyed throughout her illness by notes and calls from readers who had just finished reading the book or watching the movie, and couldn't wait to tell her how much they enjoyed it. More than anything, Tuffy Ryan loved to hear people's comments about her prize-winning mother, Evelyn, whose sense of humor and indomitable spirit surfaced so often in Terry's own response to life. After the shock of hearing her diagnosis in November of 2004, for example, Tuff said pensively, "Well, my old life is over, and my new life is just beginning." This is a legacy her fans have the privilege of carrying on every day. (From the book's official website.)
Terry "Tuff" Ryan was originally from Defiance, Ohio, resided in San Francisco for most of her adult life. She was best known for her memoir The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.
She was born to Leo (nicknamed Kelly) and Evelyn Ryan, and was the sixth of ten children. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio was a memoir of her life and that of her family, especially her mother, a 1950s housewife with 10 children who provided for the family by winning contests. The book was released as a theatrical film in November 2005. It stars Julianne Moore as Evelyn Ryan and Woody Harrelson as Kelly Ryan. Terry Ryan was a consultant on the film.
Ryan was also the creator of the long running cartoon T.O. Sylvester in the San Francisco Chronicle. She was married to her long-time partner, Pat Holt, on St Valentine's Day 2004. Her account of her wedding, titled We Do! was published by Chronicle Books.
In 2004, when the movie The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio was being filmed, Terry discovered that she had Stage IV brain cancer. On May 16, 2007, Terry died of cancer at her San Francisco, California home. (From Wikipedia.)
This plucky middle American chronicle, starring an unsinkable, relentlessly resourceful mother and her Madison Avenue-style magic, succeeds on many levels—as a tale of family spirit triumphing over penury, as a history of mid-century American consumerism, and as a memoir about a woman who was both ahead of her time and unable to escape it.
The New Yorker
A good-natured memoir as compelling as a commercial jingle.
O, The Oprah Magazine
In the 1950s, the Ryan family struggled to make ends meet. Ten kids and a father who spent most of his paycheck on booze drained the family's meager finances. But mom Evelyn Ryan, a former journalist, found an ingenious way to bring in extra income: entering contests on the backs of cereal boxes and the like. The author, Evelyn's daughter, tells the entertaining story of her childhood and her mother's contest career with humor and affection. She is not a professional narrator, but her love and admiration for her mother come through in every sentence. Evelyn won supermarket shopping sprees that put much-needed food on the table, provided washing machines and other appliances the family couldn't afford, and delivered cash to pay the mounting pile of bills. This well-told, suspenseful tale is peppered with examples of Evelyn's winning poems and slogans, taken from the years of notebooks that she saved and passed on to her daughter, and has a fiction-worthy climax that will keep listeners laughing even as they're glued to Ryan's tale.
Evelyn Ryan, wife of an alcoholic husband and mother of ten children, lived in a small town in a time and place when women did not seek "jobs." When finances ran low, feeling desperate, she turned to her parish priest who suggested she "take in laundry." Ryan had to laugh at the advice because she could barely keep up with her own family's washing and ironing. A lesser woman might have succumbed to poverty, but she was determined to keep her family financially afloat and to teach her children that the life of the mind was important. In the early 1950s, Ryan started entering contests, composing her jingles, poems, and essays at the ironing board. She won household appliances, bikes, watches, clocks, and, occasionally, cash. She won a freezer, and several weeks later, she won a supermarket shopping-spree. When the family was faced with eviction, she received a $5000 first place check from the regional Western Auto Store. Ryan's unconventionality and sense of humor triumphed over poverty, and her persistence makes the listener cheer her on. Read by the author, this story is delightful. Recommended for all public libraries. —Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL
(Adult/High School) While her sometimes abusive husband drank away a third of his weekly take-home pay, Evelyn Ryan kept her ever-growing family afloat by entering every contest she came across, beginning with Burma Shave roadside-sign jingles. In post-World War II America, money, appliances, food, excursions—anything you could think of-were routinely offered to the person who sent in the best jingle, essay, or poem, accompanied, of course, by the company's box-top or other product identification. Although she more often won prizes of products, such as a case of Almond Joy candy bars, Mrs. Ryan once won enough for a down payment on a house just as her family was being turned out of their two-bedroom rental house. That contest also won her a bicycle for her son. She entered so many contests, often several times under different forms of her name, that hardly a week went by without some prize being delivered by the postman. Charmingly written by one of her 10 children, this story is not only a chronicle of contesting, but also of her mother's irrepressible spirit. With a sense of humor that wouldn't quit, she found fun in whatever life sent her way, and passed that on to all her children who, despite the poverty they grew up in, lived and still live happy, useful lives. YAs who like family stories should love this winning account. —Sydney Hausrath, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
School Library Journal>
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio:
1. How would you describe Terry Ryan's mother Evelyn and the challenges she faced as wife, mother, and family breadwinner.
2. Could Evelyn survive, even triumph as she did, in today's world? Or is ours a different time with its own set of circumstances?
3. You might read and discuss this work in tandem with Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle: both books are memoirs about parenting and growing up in difficult circumstances.
4. Have some fun...set up a display of several personal or household items and devise clever prize-winning jingo entries for each, like Evelyn did. Not easy!
5. Watch the movie version, in part or full, and compare it to the book. How closely does the film follow the book, especially in its characters? Does Julianne Moore capture your idea of what Evelyn was like?
(From LitLovers. Please feel free to use these ideas/questions, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
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