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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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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...

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Doctorow, E. L. (6 Jan. 1931–21 July 2015) novelist, short story writer, and essayist, was born Edgar Lawrence Doctorow in the Bronx, New York, the second son of David Richard Doctorow and Rose Levine Doctorow, both first-generation Russian Jews. He was named after the writer Edgar Allan Poe, whom Doctorow himself called America’s “greatest bad writer.” His father owned a musical instrument store; his mother was an accomplished pianist. During the Great Depression the family suffered serious financial setbacks, and Doctorow’s father lost his store. He then turned to selling home appliances. Despite his family’s financial difficulties, they provided their children with a rich cultural environment, frequently attending concerts and plays....

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Heller, Joseph (01 May 1923–12 December 1999), novelist, playwright, and memoirist, was born in New York City, the son of Isaac Heller, a delivery truck driver, and Lena Heller (maiden name unknown). His father died when Heller was five. Heller's childhood centered on the streets of Coney Island, where he became known for his acerbic one-liners and practical jokes. His reading choices were typical for his age—books such as ...

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Mailer, Norman (31 January 1923–10 November 2007), novelist, biographer, and journalist, was born Norman Kingsley Mailer in Long Branch, New Jersey, the eldest child of Isaac Barnett (Barney) Mailer, a Jewish immigrant from South Africa whose family originated from Lithuania, and Fanny Schneider Mailer, whose family also originated from Lithuania. Barney Mailer was an accountant who was often unemployed during the Depression; he was also a gambler and narrowly escaped prosecution for embezzlement. Fanny Mailer’s family ran hotels in Long Branch, a seaside resort town, and Fanny herself was “the motor of the family,” Norman Mailer said, “and without her I don’t know what would have happened to us.” She was her son’s greatest booster during her long life (1891–1985), although he identified closely with his father’s secret rebelliousness. When Mailer was five years old the family moved to Brooklyn, and Mailer maintained a home there for most of his life....

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Miller, Merle (17 May 1919–10 June 1986), novelist and biographer, was born in Montour, Iowa, the son of Monte Merle Miller and Dora Winders, farmers. He graduated from high school in nearby Marshalltown, Iowa, and then attended the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1938 and 1939 to 1940; he spent the intervening year on scholarship at the London School of Economics. Miller excelled in college, winning numerous writing and speech awards as well as editing the undergraduate daily paper, but his personal dislike of required ROTC classes led him to depart without graduating....

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Conrad Richter Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117696).

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Richter, Conrad Michael (13 October 1890–30 October 1968), novelist and essayist, was born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the son of John Absalom Richter, a general merchant and later a Lutheran minister, and Charlotte Esther Henry, daughter, niece, and sister of Lutheran ministers. Both religion and family strongly influenced Richter’s writing by providing him with subjects, character models, and idealistic themes....

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Rosenfeld, Paul Leopold (04 May 1890–21 July 1946), music critic, essayist, and novelist, was born in the Mt. Morris section of the Bronx, in New York City, the son of Julius Rosenfeld, a successful manufacturer of textiles, and Sarah Liebmann, of the wealthy Liebmann Brewery family, a serious amateur pianist. His father was steeped in literature, music, and art. When Rosenfeld was ten years old his mother died, and his father sent him to live with his maternal grandmother, who three years later enrolled him at the Riverview Military Academy in Poughkeepsie, New York. He skipped athletics, studied music and literature, and on Saturday afternoons boarded the train for New York City to attend concerts and the theater. In 1908, just as Rosenfeld was about to enter Yale University, his father died....

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Shellabarger, Samuel (18 May 1888–21 March 1954), novelist and biographer, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Robert Rodgers Shellabarger, a lawyer, and Sarah Rivera Wood. After the death of both parents when he was a baby, he was raised by his grandfather ...

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Albert Payson Terhune. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42643).

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Terhune, Albert Payson (21 December 1872–18 February 1942), novelist and essayist, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of the Reverend Edward Payson Terhune, a Presbyterian clergyman, and Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune, a novelist and essayist who used the pen name Marion Harland. When his mother’s health proved delicate, the family went to Europe (1876–1878), where Terhune attended school in Paris and Geneva. After their return to the United States, Edward Terhune took up pastorates in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Brooklyn, New York. Albert Terhune obtained a B.A. from Columbia University in 1893, then returned to Europe, went to Egypt, lived briefly among Bedouins, visited leper colonies, and crossed the desert in Syria on horseback. Home again, he joined the editorial staff of the New York ...

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Marshall Boswell

Updike, John (18 March 1932–27 January 2009), writer, was born John Hoyer Updike in Reading, Pennsylvania, the only son of Wesley Russell Updike, a high school science teacher, and Linda Grace Hoyer, a frustrated writer who published two books in her lifetime, a novel, ...

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John Updike Promoting his new book in New York, 28 March, 1988, 1988. Courtesy of AP Images.