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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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Ferber, Edna (15 August 1885–17 April 1968), novelist, playwright, and short story writer, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the daughter of Jacob Ferber, a shopkeeper, and Julia Neumann. The Ferbers, of Jewish ancestry, suffered from the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Kalamazoo, which contributed to the family’s frequent moves throughout the Midwest. They spent time with Ferber’s maternal grandparents in Chicago. By the time the family settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, Ferber’s mother assumed the obligations of shopkeeping from Jacob Ferber, now an invalid, and became the head of the family....

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Gale, Zona (26 August 1874–27 December 1938), novelist and playwright, was born in Portage, Wisconsin, the daughter of Charles Franklin Gale, a railroad worker, and Eliza Beers. Gale’s father introduced her to the intellectual life through diverse writings by Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson...

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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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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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Rinehart, Mary Roberts (12 August 1876–22 September 1958), novelist, playwright, and journalist, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Beveridge Roberts, a sewing machine salesman, and Cornelia Gilleland. After high school, disappointed in her desire to study medicine, she entered the Pittsburgh Training School for Nurses. At this time, her father’s business career, already marginal, slipped further until, in 1895, he committed suicide. The next year, she married Dr. Stanley Rinehart, a surgeon, and between 1897 and 1902 gave birth to three sons....

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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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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....