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Akins, Zoë (30 October 1886–29 October 1958), playwright and screenwriter, was born in Humansville, Missouri, the daughter of Thomas J. Akins, a postmaster, and Elizabeth Green. During Zoë’s childhood, the family moved to St. Louis, where Thomas Akins was postmaster as well as a member of the Republican national committee. At age twelve, Akins was sent to Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, and later to Hosmer Hall in St. Louis....

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Anderson, Maxwell (15 December 1888–28 February 1959), playwright, was born James Maxwell Anderson on a farm near Atlantic, Pennsylvania, the son of William Lincoln Anderson, a lumberman and later a railroad fireman and Baptist preacher, and Charlotte Perrimela Stephenson. His restless parents moved the family to Andover, Ohio, in 1890; to Richmond Center and then Townville, Pennsylvania; and in 1895 to Edinboro, Pennsylvania, where Anderson first went to school. They lived in McKeesport, New Brighton, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; moved to Jefferson, Ohio, in 1901; then to Algona, Iowa; and in 1904 to New Hampton, Iowa, where Anderson first attended high school. In 1907 they moved again, to Jamestown, North Dakota. A year later Anderson graduated from high school and entered the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, graduating in 1911. That same year he married Margaret Ethel Haskett; the couple had three children....

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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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Baum, L. Frank (15 May 1856–06 May 1919), children's author, journalist, and playwright, children’s author, journalist, and playwright, was born Lyman Frank Baum in Chittenango, New York, the son of Benjamin Ward Baum, a cooper and sawyer who had made a fortune in Pennsylvania oil, and Cynthia Stanton. He grew up on the family estate, “Roselawn,” outside Syracuse, New York. Suffering from a congenitally weak heart, he was educated at home. A stay at Peekskill Military Academy beginning in 1868—which gave Baum a lifelong antipathy to academics and the military—ended less than two years later in his having a heart attack. Back home, he published a family newspaper and periodicals on stamp collecting and the breeding of fancy chickens. In 1881 he studied theater in New York City and joined a repertory company, then managed an opera house in Richburg, New York, from 1881 to 1882, and, with his father’s financing, toured successfully with ...

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Burgoyne, John (24 February 1723–04 August 1792), British soldier and dramatist, was born in London, England, the son of Captain John Burgoyne, a soldier, and Anna Maria Burneston. The popular belief that he was the natural son of Robert Benson, Lord Bingley, may have been true, but legally he was the son of Burgoyne. Educated at Westminster School, he entered the army at the age of fifteen, joining the Third Regiment of Horse Guards. Three years later he became a cornet in the Thirteenth Regiment of Light Dragoons and was promoted to lieutenant in 1741. In 1743 Burgoyne eloped with fifteen-year-old Lady Charlotte Stanley, daughter of Edward Stanley, earl of Derby; they had one child, who died at the age of ten. Lord Derby disapproved of the marriage; he gave his daughter only a small dowry and refused to see her or her husband. With Lady Charlotte’s money, Burgoyne purchased a captaincy in the Thirteenth Dragoons, and for three years the couple lived in London. After that time gambling debts forced Burgoyne to sell his commission. He and his wife retired to a quiet life in the French countryside near Chanteloup, where they lived for seven years on Lady Charlotte’s money and the proceeds from the sale of Burgoyne’s captaincy....

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Burnett, Frances Hodgson (24 November 1849–29 October 1924), author and playwright, was born Frances Eliza Hodgson at Cheetham Hill, Manchester, England, the daughter of Edwin Hodgson, a shopkeeper and silversmith, and Eliza Boond. After her father’s death in 1853, her mother attempted to maintain both his small business and the comfortable middle-class position that the family held, but she finally failed. Frances and her four siblings—she was the third child and first daughter—were soon moved, first to the home of relatives in Seedley Grove and then, in 1855, to Islington Square, a shabbily genteel address deep in industrial Manchester and surrounded on every side by the hovels of impoverished mill workers. Here, where smut rained down from mill smokestacks and pigs rooted in the garbage that lay piled in the streets outside their square, Frances’s mother lived in fear of her children’s infection not only by the physical diseases of the poor but also by their manner of speech. Some protection against the latter threat was offered by the local dame school, which provided Frances with her only formal education. Finally, however, the school neither quashed her fascination with dialects—which would emerge in her later fiction—nor satisfied her intellectual curiosity. In the slums of Manchester she became the autodidact she would remain, one with a self-sustaining imagination and a marked interest in storytelling....

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Burrows, Abe (18 December 1910–17 May 1985), author, comedian, and theatrical director, was born Abraham Solman Borowitz in New York City, the eldest of three children of Louis Borowitz, a businessman, and his wife Julia Saltzberg Borowitz. Burrows's high school education was spread among New York's boroughs. While working as a runner on Wall Street, Burrows attended City College of New York, New York University's school of finance, and the Pace Institute of Accounting....

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Bynner, Witter (10 August 1881–01 June 1968), poet and playwright, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Thomas Edgarton Bynner and Annie Louise Brewer. His parents separated when he was seven as a consequence of his father’s alcoholism, and he and his younger brother lived for three years with his mother and her family in Norwich, Connecticut. After his father’s death in 1891, the family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, to live with his father’s sisters....

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Connelly, Marc (13 December 1890–21 December 1980), playwright, screenwriter, and journalist, was born Marcus Cook Connelly in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, the son of Patrick Joseph Connelly and Mabel Fowler Cook. The elder Connelly, as a young man, had been an actor and the manager of a theatrical company. His wife, who had dared the wrath of her parents to elope with him, acted in his company. While they were on tour, their first child, a daughter, died of pneumonia. Believing that this melancholy event might not have occurred had they had a regular home life, they left the stage and settled in McKeesport, where the senior Connelly bought a hotel. Connelly’s first experience of theater came at age seven, when his parents took him to nearby Pittsburgh to see ...

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Cowl, Jane (14 December 1884–22 June 1950), actor, producer, and writer, was born Grace Bailey in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Charles A. Bailey, a provision dealer and clerk, and Grace Avery, a singer and voice teacher. Around 1887 the family moved to Brooklyn, where Jane published verses in ...

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Cullen, Countée (30 May 1903?–09 January 1946), poet and playwright, was the son of Elizabeth Thomas Lucas. The name of his father is not known. The place of his birth has been variously cited as Louisville, Kentucky, New York City, and Baltimore, Maryland. Although in later years Cullen claimed to have been born in New York City, it probably was Louisville, which he consistently named as his birthplace in his youth and which he wrote on his registration form for New York University. His mother died in Louisville in 1940....

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Custis, George Washington Parke (30 April 1781–10 October 1857), playwright, was born in Mount Airy, Maryland, the son of John Parke Custis, a wealthy landowner, and Eleanor Calvert. His father, the son of Martha Washington from her first marriage, died when George was very young, and the boy was brought up in one of the most famous homes in the nation, Mount Vernon. He studied the classics at Princeton (but received no degree) and was commissioned (but never served) in the U.S. Army in 1799 with the rank of colonel. In 1804 Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh and lived with her on his own estate in Arlington, Virginia. Here, while he managed his 8,000 acres and 300 slaves, Custis devoted himself to literary pursuits, which included writing a column for the ...

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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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Feuchtwanger, Lion (07 July 1884–21 December 1958), author, was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Sigmund Feuchtwanger, owner of a margarine factory, and Johanna Bodenheimer. After graduating from the Wilhelms-Gymnasium in Munich, supplemented by private instruction in Hebrew and Jewish religion, Feuchtwanger attended the universities of Munich and Berlin, majoring in German philology and history. He obtained his Ph.D. in Munich in 1907, writing a dissertation on Heinrich Heine’s unfinished historical novel, ...

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Fiske, Minnie Maddern (19 December 1864?–15 February 1932), actress, playwright, and director, was born Marie Augusta Davey in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Thomas Davey, an actor-manager, and Minnie Maddern, a musician and actress. As an infant she performed during the entr’actes in her parents’ company. Her dramatic debut occurred at the age of three, as the duke of York in ...

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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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Gillette, William Hooker (24 July 1853–29 April 1937), actor and playwright, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the youngest of six children of Francis Gillette, a politician who once filled out an interim term as a U.S. senator, and Elizabeth Daggett Hooker. He early displayed histrionic abilities and was a leading orator in high school. Some uncertainty exists about his subsequent education. He claimed at one time or another to have studied at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, and the City College of New York, but records show he was graduated from none of these. In his later years he did receive several honorary degrees, however, including one from Yale....

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Glaspell, Susan Keating (01 July 1876–27 July 1948), writer, was born in Davenport, Iowa, the daughter of Elmer S. Glaspell, a feed dealer, and Alice Keating. She began her journalistic career upon graduating from high school in 1894, working first for the Davenport Morning Republican...

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Graham, Shirley (11 November 1896–27 March 1977), musical composer and director, author, and political activist, also known as Shirley Graham Du Bois, was born Lola Bell Graham in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of the Reverend David A. Graham, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Etta Bell. She accompanied them when her father held pastorates in New Orleans, Colorado Springs, and Spokane. He delighted her with stories about important blacks in American history. In his churches, she learned to play the piano and the pipe organ and to conduct choirs. In 1914 she graduated from high school in Spokane, took business school courses, and worked in government offices in Spokane and Seattle. After she married Shadrach T. McCanns in 1921, she gave private music lessons and played the organ in white movie theaters, hidden backstage. She had two sons, Robert and David, and was either widowed in 1924 or obtained a divorce in 1929. (In many respects, biographical data concerning Graham are in dispute.)...