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Aarons, Edward Sidney (1916–16 June 1975), mystery writer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Aarons (also known by the pen names Paul Ayres and Edward Ronns) worked variously as a newspaper reporter, millhand, salesman, and fisherman to support himself while attending Columbia University. In 1933 he won a collegiate short story contest. In 1936, with the publication of his first mystery novel, he decided to make writing his career....

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Abbey, Edward (29 January 1927–14 March 1989), essayist, novelist, and radical ecologist, was born in Home, Pennsylvania, the son of Paul Revere Abbey, a farmer, and Mildred Postlewaite, a public schoolteacher. He was raised, with four siblings, on a hardscrabble farm. A turning point in late adolescence came out of some months of hitchhiking around the western United States, with which he ever after fervently identified himself....

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Elisabeth Sherwin

Adams, Alice (14 August 1926–27 May 1999), writer, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the daughter of Nicholson Barney Adams, a professor of Spanish at the University of North Carolina, and Agatha Erskine Boyd Adams. An only child, Adams grew up in a Chapel Hill, North Carolina, farmhouse. As Adams recalled in a July 1996 talk at the University of California, Davis (UCD), “I was one of those really horrible children who wrote poetry. I came from an extremely literary little town, Chapel Hill, so writing was considered a marvelous thing to do. For me to become a writer was not the least rebellious, it was conformity.” She described her family as “three difficult, isolated people” and her mother as a depressed person and failed writer. “My mother read all the time so I thought: ‘If I'm a maybe she'll like me’” (quoted in ...

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Adams, Andy (03 May 1859–26 September 1935), writer of novels and stories about the cattle country, was born in Thornecreek Township, Indiana, the son of Andrew Adams, a farmer, and Elizabeth Elliott. His father came from Ireland and his mother’s parents from Scotland. Andy called his parents’ place a “stock farm,” by which he meant that cattle as well as crops were raised there. Young Andy developed a special feeling for cattle, and this feeling was reinforced by his reading of the Bible with its many references to pastoral life. In his maturity Adams often said that cattle possessed “primal values”: humans depended on them and felt affection for their companions “through the ages.”...

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Adams, Henry (16 February 1838–27 March 1918), historian, novelist, and critic, was born Henry Brooks Adams in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Francis Adams, a diplomat, legislator, and writer, and Abigail Brooks. He enjoyed unparalleled advantages, chief among them his famous name and many family connections: he was the great-grandson of President ...

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Adams, Samuel Hopkins (26 January 1871–16 November 1958), muckraker and writer, was born in Dunkirk, New York, the son of Myron Adams, Jr., a minister, and Hester Rose Hopkins. He attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, from 1887 to 1891, with a semester at Union College. After graduation he was a devoted alumnus, serving as trustee (1905–1916), winning election to Phi Beta Kappa (1907), and receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 1926....

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James Agee Photograph by Walker Evans, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103100).

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Agee, James Rufus (27 November 1909–16 May 1955), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Hugh James Agee, a construction company employee, and Laura Whitman Tyler. The father’s family were poorly educated mountain farmers, while the mother’s were solidly middle class. Agee was profoundly affected by his father’s death in a car accident in 1916. He idealized his absent father and struggled against his mother and her genteel and (he felt) cold values. “Agee’s mother wanted him to be clean, chaste, and sober,” the photographer ...

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Aiken, Conrad (05 August 1889–17 August 1973), author and critic, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the first child of Dr. William Ford Aiken, an ophthalmological surgeon, and Anna Potter, transplanted New Englanders. Aiken’s father was brilliant but unstable, hectored increasingly by bouts of paranoia in the late 1890s. The main targets of his rage during these seizures were his wife, who strove vainly to convince relatives in the North of his worsening mental condition, and his oldest son, who was often beaten for slight or imaginary wrongs. Aiken later said of this period, “I hardly ever forgot what it was to be afraid.”...

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Louisa May Alcott. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-452).

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Alcott, Louisa May (29 November 1832–06 March 1888), author, was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott, an educator and philosopher, and Abigail May, the energetic, philanthropic daughter of a prominent liberal Boston family. Louisa grew up in Concord and Boston, suffering from poverty as a result of her selfish idealist father’s inability to support his family. Bronson Alcott habitually sacrificed his wife and daughters by refusing to compromise with a venal world, most conspicuously when he subjected them to an experiment in ascetic communal living at Fruitlands farm in 1843. However, the Alcotts’ intellectual environment was rich and stimulating: Louisa’s parents assiduously encouraged her writing, and their friends included leaders in abolition and women’s rights, including the Transcendental philosophers ...

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Bess Streeter Aldrich. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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Aldrich, Bess Streeter (17 February 1881–03 August 1954), author, was born Bess Genevra Streeter in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the daughter of James Wareham Streeter, a farmer and miller, and Mary Wilson Anderson. Aldrich was the youngest of eight children and the only one born in Cedar Falls, where her parents had moved a few years prior to her birth. Her mother and several of her brothers and sisters wrote poetry. Aldrich began writing short stories as a child; her first writing prize came at the age of fourteen when she won a camera for a children’s story sent to the ...

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Aldrich, Thomas Bailey (11 November 1836–19 March 1907), author and editor, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Elias Taft Aldrich, a businessman, and Sarah Abba Bailey. Aldrich was educated in Portsmouth under Samuel De Merritt, and the Portsmouth environs furnished the background for much of his work, as did the backdrops of New York City and Boston, where he spent his adult life. Aldrich moved to New York City at age sixteen to work in his uncle’s commission house. After reading ...

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Alger, Horatio, Jr. (13 January 1832–18 July 1899), author, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the son of Horatio Alger, a Unitarian minister and farmer, and Olive Augusta Fenno. After graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Harvard College in 1852, Alger worked for several years as a teacher and journalist while contributing, sometimes pseudonymously, to such New England literary weeklies as ...

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Nelson Algren. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97839).

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Michael J. Devine

Algren, Nelson (28 March 1909–09 May 1981), writer, was born Nelson Algren Abraham in Detroit, the son of Gershom (later changed to Gerson) Abraham, a machinist and factory worker, and Goldie Kalisher. When Algren was three years old, the family moved to Chicago where he attended public schools. An indifferent student and a class clown, he enjoyed city league sports, especially basketball, and gambling and carousing with his friends. He worked his way through the University of Illinois and graduated in 1931 with a journalism degree....

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Allen, Henry Wilson, Jr. (29 September 1912–26 October 1991), novelist and short-story writer, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Henry Wilson Allen, Sr., a dentist and oral surgeon, and Ella Jensen, a portrait painter. Allen’s father, descended from the American revolutionary war hero ...

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Allen, Hervey (08 December 1889–28 December 1949), writer, was born William Hervey Allen, Jr., in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of William Hervey Allen, Sr., an inventor and speculator, and Helen Eby Myers. Allen was reared in a middle-class environment, about which he rarely wrote or spoke. He admired his paternal grandfather, an engineer and pioneer, but was deeply critical of his father’s impractical schemes, which brought the family to the brink of bankruptcy. He was also ambivalent toward industrial, urban Pittsburgh and, even as a young man, enjoyed family trips and individual excursions to the countryside....

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Allen, James Lane (21 December 1849–18 February 1925), writer, was born on a farm near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Richard Allen and Helen Jane Foster. The effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction depleted the family fortune but not Allen’s love for the antebellum South. Almost all of his works display a tension between the idealized and the romantic, and the realistic and pragmatic. In 1872 Allen received a B.A. degree with honors from Kentucky University (later Transylvania College) after working his way through school. He later received an M.A. degree from Kentucky University (1877) and began a twelve-year teaching career that included public and private schools in Kentucky and Missouri and culminated in a professorship in Latin at Bethany College, West Virginia....