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Ardrey, Robert (16 October 1908–14 January 1980), anthropologist, playwright, and novelist, was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Robert Lesley Ardrey, an editor and publisher, and Marie Haswell. Ardrey earned a Ph.D. in the natural and social sciences from the University of Chicago in 1930. After taking a writing course taught by ...

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Sholem Asch. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112710).

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Asch, Sholem (01 November 1880–10 July 1957), Yiddish novelist, dramatist, and short story writer, was born in Kutno, Poland, a small town near Warsaw, the son of Moishe Asch, a cattle dealer and innkeeper, and Malka Wydawski. Asch was raised in a small town and was essentially self-educated. His father taught him the alphabet from the Bible, which was, as Asch later noted, “the first book that I ever held in my hand” (Siegel, p. 3). The Bible served as his grammar, geography, and history textbooks, as well as a storybook of sorts; later the Scriptures became a source of continual literary inspiration. As an adult Asch became a serious collector of rare biblical editions. He attended local schools to train for the rabbinate, studying the Talmud but also reading German classics and Shakespeare. Finally, against his family’s wishes, Asch made up his mind to become a writer....

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Biggers, Earl Derr (26 August 1884–05 April 1933), novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, was born in Warren, Ohio, the son of Robert J. Biggers and Emma E. Derr, occupations unknown. He was a colorful student at Harvard, where he loudly voiced his preference for ...

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Djerassi, Carl (29 Oct. 1923–30 Jan. 2015), organic chemist, novelist, and playwright, was born in Vienna, Austria, the only child of the Samuel Djerassi (Bulgarian) and Alice Friedmann (Austrian), both assimilated Jews. Samuel was a physician who specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases, calling himself a dermatologist to protect his wealthy clients’ reputations. Alice was a dentist and physician. Djerassi lived in Sofia, Bulgaria until he was five and then moved to Vienna with his mother following his parents’ divorce. He went to the same Viennese school formerly attended by Sigmund Freud. Every summer Djerassi returned to his father in Bulgaria....

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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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Herbert, F. Hugh (29 May 1897–17 May 1958), dramatist, screenwriter, and novelist, was born Frederick Hugh Herbert in Vienna, Austria, the son of Lionel Frederick Herbert, a stockbroker, and Paula Knepler. His family moved to London when he was young, and he was educated at Gresham Public School. He entered the London School of Mines with the intention of becoming an engineer, but his schooling was interrupted by World War I, during which he served with the Royal Garrison Artillery in London and Jamaica....

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Heyward, DuBose (31 August 1885–16 June 1940), novelist, dramatist, and poet, was born Edwin DuBose Heyward in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Edwin Watkins Heyward, a mill hand from an old and distinguished southern family ruined after the Civil War, and Jane Screven DuBose, also descended from once-prosperous plantation owners. His father died when Heyward was two, and his mother was reduced to taking in sewing to support the family. He attended a private school until he was nine and entered public school in the fourth grade but was, as he later described himself, “a miserable student,” uninterested in schoolwork. He dropped out in his first year of high school, at the age of fourteen, to work as a clerk in a hardware store and later worked among African-American stevedores as a checker for a steamship company. Often sick as a child, he got polio when he was eighteen; two years later he contracted typhoid fever and the next year pleurisy. At twenty-one, Heyward and his friend Henry T. O’Neill organized a real estate and insurance company. A skilled salesman of great personal charm, he succeeded in making himself financially independent....

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Jessop, George H. (1850?–22 March 1915), playwright and novelist, was born in Ireland to a family of the landed gentry. Biographical sources do not give his parents’ names or specify the date or place of his birth. It is known that Jessop attended Trinity College, Dublin, and was awarded medals for literary essays. In a novel by Jessop that its preface identifies as a thinly fictionalized autobiography, ...

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Carson McCullers Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1959. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 796 P&P).

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McCullers, Carson (19 February 1917–29 September 1967), novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Lamar Smith, a jewelry store owner, and Vera Marguerite Waters. Lula Carson, as she was called until age fourteen, attended public schools and graduated from Columbus High School at sixteen. An unremarkable student, she preferred the more solitary study of the piano. Encouraged by her mother, who was convinced that her daughter was destined for greatness, Carson began formal piano study at age nine but was forced to give up her dream of a career as a concert pianist after a childhood case of rheumatic fever left her without the physical stamina necessary for the rigors of practice and a concert career. While recuperating from this illness she began to read voraciously and to consider writing as a vocation. In 1934 she sailed from Savannah to New York City, supposedly to study piano at the Juilliard School of Music but actually to pursue her secret ambition. Working various jobs to support herself, she studied creative writing at Columbia University and Washington Square College of New York University. Back in Columbus in the fall of 1936 to recover from a respiratory infection, she was bedridden several months during which time she began work on her first novel, ...

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Nash, N. Richard (07 June 1913–11 December 2000), playwright and novelist, was born Nathan Richard Nusbaum on the gritty south side of Philadelphia, the son of S. L. Nusbaum, a bookbinder, and Jenny Singer Nusbaum. A scrapper from his early years on, Nash grew up on rough streets and first worked as a ten-dollar-a-match boxer. But he was also a good student, attracted to ideas. After graduating from South Philadelphia high school in 1930, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, where his studies in English and a budding impulse to write vied with his penchant for philosophy. He combined both when he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1934, publishing two books on philosophy, ...

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Perelman, S. J. (01 February 1904–17 October 1979), short-story writer, dramatist, and novelist, was born Sidney Joseph Perelman in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Joseph Perelman and Sophia Charren. The only child of Russian immigrant Jews, Perelman grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. His father, who once backed an unsuccessful attempt to adapt Sir Walter Scott’s ...

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S. J. Perelman Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116967).

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Sklar, George (31 May 1908–15 May 1988), playwright, novelist, and screenwriter, was born in Meriden, Connecticut, the son of Ezak Sklar and Bertha Marshak, the owners of a sporting-goods store. From high school in Meriden, Sklar entered Yale, where he took part in the student Dramatic Association as a writer and actor. After election to Phi Beta Kappa and graduation in 1929, he remained at Yale for two years to study playwriting in the School of Drama under ...

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Booth Tarkington Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115907).

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Tarkington, Booth (29 July 1869–19 May 1946), novelist and playwright, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of John Stevenson Tarkington, a lawyer and judge, and Elizabeth Booth. Named for his uncle Newton Booth, the governor of California, Tarkington never used “Newton” and was always known by his middle name. He lived most of his life in Indianapolis, watching it grow from a small city into a large industrial complex. He attended high school in Indianapolis but transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire; he began college at Purdue but finished at Princeton in 1893 without taking a degree. He never wanted to be anything but a writer and for six years after college lived with his parents and collected rejection slips. His persistence paid off, however, when he sent the manuscript of ...

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Wheeler, Hugh Callingham (19 March 1912–26 July 1987), playwright, screenwriter, and mystery novelist, was born in Northwood, Middlesex, England, the son of Harold Wheeler, a civil servant, and Florence Scammell. His early education began at the Clayesmore School in Salisbury. Following his graduation from secondary school, he was admitted to the B.A. degree program in English literature at London University, from which he graduated in 1933. After completing his education, Wheeler immigrated to the United States in 1934, taking up residence in New York City. Two years later he entered the literary world with the publication of the first of a series of mystery novels, many co-written with Richard Wilson Webb....

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Thornton Wilder Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1948. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42494).

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Wilder, Thornton (17 April 1897–07 December 1975), novelist and playwright, was born Thornton Niven Wilder in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of Amos Parker Wilder, a diplomat and editor of the State Journal, and Isabella Thornton Niven. As a young child, Wilder lived in Madison, but in 1906 his father became consul general in Hong Kong, and the family moved overseas....