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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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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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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....

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Anderson, Poul (25 November 1926–31 July 2001), science fiction and fantasy writer, was born Poul William Anderson in Bristol, Pennsylvania, the son of Anton William Anderson (né Andersen), an engineer, and Astrid Hertz, a secretary. The son of Danish immigrants (his mother was born in Denmark and his father was educated there), he resisted his elementary school teachers' recommendation that he anglicize his first name—a Danish form of Paul, pronounced ...

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Sherwood Anderson Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42477).

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Anderson, Sherwood (13 September 1876–08 March 1941), writer, was born in Camden, Ohio, the son of Irwin McClain Anderson, a harnessmaker, and Emma Jane Smith. For the first thirty-five years of his life, Anderson made himself into just the man that the culture considered ideal. His father was a wayward man, barely able to support his wife and seven children. When Anderson was nineteen his long-suffering mother died, after which, having tried so hard to earn money in Clyde, Ohio, where the family had settled, he became known as “Jobby,” and having completed less than a year of high school in the process, he set out for Chicago in search of his fortune....

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Angoff, Charles (22 April 1902–03 May 1979), editor and author, was born in Minsk, Russia, the son of Jacob Joseph Angoff, an unskilled laborer, and Anna Pollack. Young Angoff grew up in the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods of Boston, where his family moved in 1909 and which he later used as a backdrop for his fiction. Entering Harvard University on scholarship in 1919, Angoff studied philosophy with ...

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Appel, Benjamin (13 September 1907–03 April 1977), novelist and short story writer, was born in New York City, the son of Louis Appel, a successful real estate businessman, and Bessie Mikofsky, both Polish émigrés from once-wealthy families. He grew up in a largely immigrant section of Hell’s Kitchen on the West Side of Manhattan, and his parents did their best to shield their son from the deprivation and periodic violence that often plagued their neighborhood. Such concerns form much of the substance of Appel’s early novels....