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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, 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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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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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....

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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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Arenas, Reinaldo (16 July 1943–07 December 1990), novelist and political activist, was born in Holguín, a town in rural eastern Cuba, the son of Oneida Fuentes, a poor peasant woman, and a peasant father who abandoned his unborn child. Barely sixteen years old at the time of the Cuban Revolution, Arenas received excellent instruction during the Campaigns against Illiteracy conducted by volunteers sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s ideals. Such an opportunity for self-improvement was unheard of during the regime of the deposed leader, Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Arenas received a scholarship so that he might pursue a career in accounting in Havana....

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Arthur, Timothy Shay (06 June 1809–06 March 1885), editor, temperance crusader, and novelist, was born in Orange County, New York, the son of William Arthur and Anna Shay, occupations unknown. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Timothy Shay, an officer in the revolutionary war. By his mid-twenties, Arthur had yet to identify a profession or receive an education. In the 1830s, however, he began an intense program of self-education as well as a writing career as a journalist in Baltimore, where he quickly became a well-known and articulate champion of numerous social causes including temperance, Swedenborgianism, feminism, and socialism. In 1836 he married Eliza Alden; they had seven children....

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Asch, Nathan (10 July 1902–23 December 1964), novelist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, the son of Sholem Asch, a well-known Yiddish writer, and Mathilda Spira. The Asch family moved from Warsaw to Paris in 1912 and then to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War I. They settled permanently in the United States, on Staten Island, in 1915. Asch completed public schooling in Brooklyn, New York, and then attended Syracuse and Columbia universities. He never received a degree, deciding instead to leave school and to devote his energies to learning the craft of writing....

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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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Bacheller, Irving (26 September 1859–24 February 1950), novelist and publishing executive, was born Addison Irving Bacheller in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, New York, the son of Sanford Paul Bacheller and Achsah Ann Buckland, farmers. Irving attended local schools in Pierrepont, then switched to an academy in Canton, New York, after his family moved there. His secondary education at Clinton Academy was sporadic, however, as he spent long periods during his teenage years working at various jobs—telegraph operator, laborer, post office clerk, bookkeeper, salesman, teacher—to help support the family....

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Basso, Hamilton (05 September 1904–13 May 1964), novelist, was born Joseph Hamilton Basso in New Orleans, the son of Dominick Basso, owner of a small shoe factory, and Louise Calamari, both of Italian descent. Growing up in New Orleans, Basso attended Colton Grammar School and Easton High School. In 1922 he entered Tulane University to study law. Finding himself more interested in history and literature than law, he became friends with a number of writers and intellectuals associated with the literary periodical the ...

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Beach, Rex (01 September 1877–07 December 1949), novelist and scenarist, was born Rex Ellingwood Beach in Atwood, Michigan, the son of Henry Walter Beach, a fruit farmer, and Eva Eunice Canfield, a former schoolteacher. When Beach was nine years old, he and his two older brothers accompanied their parents when they left their ill-paying farm and sailed with two neighboring families on a schooner to Chicago, into and down the Illinois River, to the Mississippi River, and on to Tampa, Florida, where they homesteaded on a farm. Beach attended the preparatory department of Rollins College, at Winter Park, Florida, beginning in 1891, then Rollins College, where he earned his tuition money by managing a laundry. He studied well, played intercollegiate baseball, and edited and managed the school literary magazine. In 1896 he left school short of graduating. Joining his brothers, both lawyers in Chicago, he performed odd jobs for them and studied at the Chicago College of Law. He played football and water polo on teams sponsored by the Chicago Athletic Association—mainly to eat at its training table. He was 6′ 1″, weighed just over 200 pounds, and had a correspondingly large appetite....

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Edward Bellamy Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42652).

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Bellamy, Edward (26 March 1850–22 May 1898), novelist, was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, the son of Rufus King Bellamy, a Baptist minister, and Maria Putnam. One of four children raised in a strict Calvinist household, he was educated at local schools and briefly attended Union College in Schenectady, New York. As a young man, he developed a strong social interest in poverty, unemployment, and other ill effects of industrialization, which he presumably witnessed not only in the mill towns of western Massachusetts but also in Europe, where he lived for a year in 1868....

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Bellow, Saul (10 June 1915–05 April 2005), novelist and short story writer, was born Solomon Bellow in Lachine, Quebec, the fourth child of Abram Belo and Lescha (Liza) Gordin, Russian-Jewish immigrants from St. Petersburg. His sister, Zelda (Jane, 1906), and two brothers, Movscha (Maurice, 1908) and Schmule (Samuel, 1911), were born in Russia. Upon settling in Canada in 1913, immigration officials changed the family name from Belo to Bellows, which would be shortened to Bellow in 1924. In St. Petersburg the Bellows occupied a much higher social position than the one they found in the New World. Abram Bellow lost thousands of rubles that he had smuggled from Russia, and he undertook a series of unsuccessful jobs as a baker, junk dealer, and bootlegger, later importing alcohol across the U.S.-Canada border. Young Saul sometimes helped with the illegal deliveries. Liza Bellow was religiously devout and wished Saul would become either a violinist or a rabbi. Though she died when Saul was seventeen years old, her influence on him was significant. He became an accomplished amateur violinist, and his writing addressed questions of the human soul and what it means to live a moral life. He suffered her loss his entire life....

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Saul Bellow Courtesy of AP Images

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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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Binns, Archie (30 July 1899–28 June 1971), novelist and historian, was born Archie Fred Binns in Port Ludlow, Washington, the son of Frank Binns, one of the early pioneers of western Washington, and Atlanta Sarah McQuah. Growing up in the Puget Sound area of northern Washington, Binns was nourished by both the soil and the sea. He spent his childhood working on the farm his father had cleared near Shelton and attending the district school he had established. Although Binns’s upbringing was distinctly rural, the Puget Sound region—which he would later describe as the “Sea in the Forest”—helped to sustain his interest in seafaring. Family tradition may have also fueled his sea-interests; his mother had been born aboard the SS ...

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Maxwell Bodenheim. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112040).