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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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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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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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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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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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Ballou, Maturin Murray (14 April 1820–27 March 1895), writer, editor, and publisher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Rev. Hosea Ballou and Ruth Washburn. His father was a distinguished Universalist minister and the author of more than 100 books. Ballou attended Boston’s English High School and, as a teenager, contributed travel sketches and other pieces to his cousin ...

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Bernstein, Herman (21 September 1876–31 August 1935), writer, was born in Neustadt-Scherwindt (Vladislavov), Lithuania, Russia, the son of David Bernstein, a merchant, and Maria Elsohn. When he was five, Bernstein’s family moved to Mogilov, Belorussia, where he received a traditional Jewish education as well as a thorough grounding in secular subjects. The family emigrated to New York in 1893, where Bernstein rapidly mastered English well enough to create poems in the language, published in 1899 as ...

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Ambrose Bierce Photograph by Arnold Genthe Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G39-T-8065 ).

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Bierce, Ambrose Gwinnett (24 June 1842–1914?), author and journalist, was born in the Horse Cave settlement in Meigs County, Ohio, the son of Marcus Aurelius Bierce and Laura Sherwood, farmers. The family was poor and moved several times, eventually settling in Elkhart, Indiana. His parents were strongly evangelical Protestant, but Bierce early resented his religious indoctrination and moved toward agnosticism. He briefly attended the Kentucky Military Institute in 1859. He enlisted at once in the Union army when the Civil War began in 1861 and was soon appointed a sergeant. He was later commissioned a second lieutenant and had risen to first lieutenant when invalided out of the army because of wounds in January 1865. He was brevetted major by President ...

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Bradford, Roark Whitney Wickliffe (21 August 1886–13 November 1948), fiction writer and journalist, was born on his family’s cotton plantation in Lauderdale County, Tennessee, near the Mississippi River, the son of Richard Clarence Bradford, an affluent lawyer and planter, and Patricia Adelaide Tillman. Growing up on the plantation, Bradford played with the children of the nearly twenty black families that worked there. He frequently visited the black quarters and the local black church, all the while absorbing the stories and songs of the black plantation culture. This landscape proved to be the major influence on Bradford’s subsequent literary career, providing the basis for the settings and characters of much of the fiction that won him acclaim in the 1920s and 1930s....

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Louis Bromfield Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103721).

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Bromfield, Louis (27 December 1896–18 March 1956), novelist, experimental farmer, and newspaper columnist, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of Charles Bromfield, a banker and local Democratic office holder, and Annette Marie Coulter. His father was from an old New England family, and his mother was the daughter of a pioneer family of Richland County, Ohio; both ancestries would influence his later fiction. Bromfield attended Mansfield public schools, spending summers on his mother’s family’s farm. In 1914–1915 he studied agriculture at Cornell University and then briefly attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He then studied journalism at Columbia University until his enlistment in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service in June 1917. He served with Section 577, attached to the French army, from December 1917 to February 1919. He participated in seven major battles during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was discharged in June 1919 while still in France....

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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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Bunner, Henry Cuyler (03 August 1855–11 May 1896), author, was born in Oswego, New York, the son of Rudolph Bunner, a lawyer and editor, and Ruth Tuckerman. Bunner had a nomadic boyhood; his family moved frequently, living in several places in and around New York City, which became the locus of his literary works. Educated with the intent of attending Columbia College, he was unable to enroll because of his father’s financial difficulties. After a brief, unhappy stint with L. E. Amsinck & Company, a wine importing firm, he turned to journalism. He contributed several pieces to the short-lived ...

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Burnett, Whit (14 August 1899–22 April 1973), anthologist, editor, and short story writer, was born Whitney Ewing Burnett in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Benjamin James Burnett, a contractor, and Anna Marian Christensen. He began his career in 1916 working as a reporter for a newspaper in Salt Lake City. His other early positions included reporter for the ...

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George Washington Cable. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102501).

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Cable, George Washington (12 October 1844–31 January 1925), author, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of businessman George Washington Cable, Sr., and Rebecca Boardman. His parents were originally northerners, and this fact contributed ultimately to accusations in the southern press that Cable did not present the South accurately in his writings. In fact, Cable was deeply immersed in both the contemporary life and the rich history of Louisiana, and he was particularly sensitive to the complex interactions of race, gender, and economics in the Deep South....