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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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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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Charles Brockden Brown. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; given in loving memory of Katharine Lea Hancock by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Brown, Charles Brockden (17 January 1771–22 February 1810), novelist, historian, and editor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Elijah Brown, a merchant and land conveyancer, and Mary Armitt. The fifth of six children in a prosperous Quaker family in the nation’s most cosmopolitan city and first capital, Brown was shaped in his early years by his Quaker background and the era’s tumultuous revolutionary politics. From 1781 to 1786 he received a classics-oriented secondary education under Robert Proud at the Friends’ Latin School of Philadelphia and displayed an enthusiasm for literary composition. Although his earliest work is lost, he composed derivative poetry in the “primitive” vein, based on the Psalms and Ossian and planned but never completed verse epics on the exploits of Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortez. The period’s political and ideological conflicts touched Brown’s family directly when revolutionary authorities exiled his father to Virginia for several months, deeming the father’s Quaker position of principled neutrality an aid to the British. While Brown’s Quaker background facilitated his early exposure to progressive British dissenting writers such as William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who would become crucial influences, it left him outside the period’s Congregationalist and Presbyterian cultural elite and predisposed him to his lifelong stance of reasoned skepticism of utopian or perfectionist notions for political change. That is, Brown’s background and early years helped shape his career-long concern with the violent ideological controversies of the early republic, as well as his characteristic tendency to see both the destructive and productive aspects of the period’s far-reaching political upheavals....

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Clark, Walter Van Tilburg (03 August 1909–10 November 1971), novelist and teacher, was born in East Orland, Maine, the son of Walter Ernest Clark, a teacher and university president, and Euphemia Abrams. Clark once suggested that landscape creates character, implying that landscape not only forms the person but also the writer. He was speaking of the American West, which was essential to his own writing, giving him theme and setting for all of his best works. But the irony is that, Clark was not a native westerner. He was born in the East, and instead of spending his childhood on a ranch, he was reared as the eldest child of intellectuals. His father was head of the department of economics at City College of New York and was selected president of the University of Nevada in 1917; and his mother was a talented amateur musician. Being an outsider and an intellectual made Clark even more aware not only of landscape, but also of people’s relations to one another and to the natural world....

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Coffin, Charles Carleton (26 July 1823–02 March 1896), novelist, journalist, and lecturer, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the son of Thomas Coffin and Hannah Kilburn, farmers. He grew up on the family farm, attended the village school, and studied for a year at the local academy. Coffin, after his marriage to Sallie Russell Farmer in 1846, earned his living by farming and surveying, a skill he had taught himself. The couple had no children. In 1852, with his brother-in-law ...

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Crawford, F. Marion (02 August 1854–09 April 1909), novelist and historian, was born Francis Marion Crawford in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, the son of Thomas Crawford, an American sculptor, and Louisa Cutler Ward. The family lived in Rome, where Crawford began a cosmopolitan education in places that would later form the settings of his novels. Crawford’s parents made certain that their children never lost sight of their American roots. After her husband’s death in 1857 Louisa married Luther Terry, an American painter, and continued to make her home in Rome. Crawford’s early education was conducted mainly by private tutors until 1866 when he was sent to St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. After his return to Rome in 1869, he studied in a variety of places: Rome, England, Germany, and India. He left India in 1880, returned to Rome, and the following year came to Boston to seek literary employment and perhaps to enter politics....

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Davis, William Stearns (30 April 1877–15 February 1930), historian and novelist, was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, the son of William Vail Wilson Davis, a Congregational minister, and Frances Stearns, both from old New England stock. Davis stated that one of the strongest influences of his boyhood was his maternal grandfather’s large library. William Augustus Stearns was president of Amherst College, Massachusetts, and Davis was born in his mansion. Because of the family’s frequent moves when William Davis accepted calls to new parishes, the library became a constant in his education. One of his favorite boyhood occupations was to study world atlases, which he read while standing on a hassock at a library table....

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Eggleston, Edward (10 December 1837–03 September 1902), author and historian, was born in Vevay, Indiana, the son of Joseph Cary Eggleston, a lawyer, and Mary Jane Craig. Often too ill to attend school, he read widely in his father’s private library but took too seriously such priggish books as ...

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Jones, James Athearn (17 October 1791–07 July 1854), novelist, poet, and folklorist, was born in Tisbury, on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, the son of Ebenezer Jones, a farmer, and Susanna Athearn, the daughter of a county probate judge in Tisbury. Several bands of Gay Head Indians lived within a few miles of the Joneses. Young Jones’s grandfather had a lonely coastal farm, where the boy was born and lived, where Indians were employed as field hands, and where an Indian nurse cared for him until he was fifteen. Her stories about fabulous Indians inspired his lifelong fascination with Native-American folklore. Denied formal schooling by the remoteness of his home, he read voraciously and studied under ministers at Tisbury and nearby Edgartown. He visited the West Indies on a few occasions and also sold or bartered food and other items with sailors anchored off Martha’s Vineyard. Jones has been described as tall, slender, a little vain and quarrelsome, and in later years slightly deaf....

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Krause, Herbert Arthur (25 May 1905–22 September 1976), novelist, English professor, poet, and naturalist, was born near Friberg, Minnesota, the son of Arthur Krause, a farmer and blacksmith, and Bertha Peters. Krause’s parents were first-generation descendants of devout German immigrants who settled as farmers in the hill country north of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Their folkways and fundamentalist Lutheran religion were important concerns in his first two novels....

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Lin Yutang Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 1218 P&P).

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Lin Yutang (10 October 1895–26 March 1976), novelist, linguist, and philosopher, was born Lin Ho-lok in Amoy, Fukien Province, China, the son of Lin Chi-shing, a Presbyterian minister, and Young Shun-min. At age seventeen, he changed his given name, meaning peaceful and happy, to Yutang, meaning elegant language, and came to be known as Lin Yutang. Lin attended English-language schools and graduated from St. John’s University, a private western-oriented institution in Shanghai, in 1916. In the same year he became a teacher at Tsing Hua College in Peking. In January 1919 he married Liu Tsui-fung, a wealthy classmate of his sister; eventually the union produced three children. In the fall of 1919 he embarked with his wife to study comparative literature at Harvard....

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Rivera, Tomás (22 December 1935–16 May 1984), novelist, poet, and university administrator, was born in Crystal City, Texas, the son of Florencio Rivera Martínez and Josefa Hernández Gutiérrez, migrant farmworkers. From his early years until 1954, Rivera traveled with his family, joining the migrant stream that left Crystal City around mid-April, searching for farm work as far north as Michigan and Minnesota and returning around the beginning of November. Years later, in much of his writings, and especially in his novel ...