Author and Butler County native, Leanna Renee Hieber will be the author-in-residence at The International Steampunk Symposium when it returns to the Tri-state area in June.
The convention, which will be at Eastgate Holiday Inn, attracts 300 to 400 attendees who are interested in steampunk — a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features Victorian settings and steam-powered machinery.
With a convention theme of “Under the Big Top,” the circus-themed, family-friendly event will include panels, performances, musical acts, vendors, creative costuming and much more.
The Journal-News spoke with Hieber to find out more about the event and her latest book, “A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts.”
Weekend passes for the International Steampunk Symposium, which is June 16-18, are $70 for adults (21 and older), $50 for ages 13-20 and $30 for ages 6-12. Day passes are also available. For more details, go to https://steampunksymposium.com.
Q: Why did you want to be a part of the International Steampunk Symposium?
Leanna Renee Hieber: I have been part of this great convention from its very first years, serving as a core part of programming. While I have been a New Yorker for eighteen years, I’ll also always be an Ohioan, so the Symposium always serves as a homecoming. The event brings together positive people, creative minds and unique talents interested in reimagining a past, present and future that is artistic, fun, empowering, diverse and innovative. Steampunk can create an opportunity to reframe history, to both lift up marginalized and hidden histories and also reimagine a way for stories that have been sidelined to have new lives in our modern world, prompting us to create an imaginative and inclusive community into the future.
Q: What are you most excited about?
A: I am particularly excited to share my lectures on ghost lore. I’ll be discussing the vital importance of ghost stories, the many misconceptions about the famous widow Sarah Winchester, her mysterious house and more. I’m excited to reconnect with artists, makers, storytellers, and historians. As a lifelong Goth, I particularly can’t wait for the Goth dance party on Saturday night, themed “Steampunks Discover Black” hosted by DJs Zophiel and Professor Verminoid.
Q: You are a Butler County, Ohio native. How has being from the area influenced your work?
A: Butler County is full of rich history. Not only has this area been a cultural and educational hub from the 19th century onwards, but so many renowned institutions, from Music Hall to all the amazing colleges in the area, are still standing, educating, and enriching. I enjoyed a great education at Miami University, where I received a BFA in theatre performance with a focus study in the Victorian era. My broad range of liberal arts classes and study abroad scholarships have helped shape the course of my research and publications, from plays to novels to non-fiction. My years performing with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival helped shape a professional career that has a great foundation in classical repertoire, which translates brilliantly into all my public lectures as an author and guide focusing on historical subjects.
Q: Can you reflect on being from Ohio and what you appreciate the most about the state?
A: Because so much of my writing and performing focuses on the innovations, spiritual expansions and carving out of rights and freedoms that coalesced during the late 19th century, I love that I can point to several Ohio institutions, universities, educators, and artists as leading the way into our modern era. Ohio is a state full of hard workers and creative minds. When I began working on “By the Light of Tiffany: A Meeting with Clara Driscoll,” a one-woman performative lecture about the unsung designer, I was thrilled to learn that she was an Ohioan who moved to New York in 1888 to pursue a career in the arts, much like I did. Driscoll managed a team of women artists, the “Tiffany Girls” and she designed incredible, award-winning lamps. The Kent State University special collections library houses boxes of her letters she wrote back home to her family in Ohio, letters that helped historians pin her down as the designer of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s most famed lamps. Those letters became a source text for much of my performative lecture. Another 19th century leader and Ohio native, Captain Mary Becker Greene, became the first steamboat woman to obtain her pilot’s license in 1892 and she went on to run Greene Line Steamers and was famed for her skill and hospitality. I loved getting a chance to write about her- and the ship she still haunts, the Delta Queen, for “A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts.” I love writing about inspiring women living, working and creating on their own terms and Ohio is full of them.
Tell us about your book.
A: “A Haunted History of Invisible Women” explores the intersection of women’s history and ghost stories. By choosing a range of stories from around the country, my co-author Andrea Janes and I examine tropes within ghost lore. From Maidens to Spinsters, “Witches” to “Madwomen,” we unpack the truths of real women’s lives; what may have been said about them in life that contributed to how they were discussed in death, or how their spirits subvert the expectations put upon them while alive. We share uncanny stories of inexplicable hauntings as well as pointing out frauds and mythmaking. It’s a deep dive into a wide range of haunted lore, from the perspective of two ghost tour guides who have been steeped in this compelling material for decades.
It’s been a delightful shift into non-fiction, from the perspective of a ghost tour guide and a storyteller.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I hope to see folks there. Come by our table, I’d love to sign a book for you and share interesting tidbits of history and paranormal intrigue.