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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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Margaret Anderson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112044).

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Anderson, Margaret (24 November 1886–19 October 1973), editor and author, was born Margaret Carolyn Anderson in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of Arthur Aubrey Anderson and Jessie Shortridge. Anderson’s father was a railway executive who provided a comfortable middle-class existence for his wife and three daughters. Anderson, whose chief interest as a young woman was music and literature, was soon regarded as the rebel of the family. After three years at Western College for Women in Ohio, she dropped out and made her way to Chicago, hoping to find work as a writer. After various stints as a bookstore clerk, print assistant, and part-time critic, Anderson decided to start her own literary journal. With little money but a great deal of enthusiasm and support from friends, Anderson founded the avant-garde ...

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Ray Stannard Baker Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1914. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0825).

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Baker, Ray Stannard (17 April 1870–12 July 1946), journalist and author, was born in Lansing, Michigan, the son of Joseph Stannard Baker and Alice Potter. A descendant of pioneering stock, he grew up in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, where his family moved in 1875 and his father worked as a land agent. Baker later boasted that he had been brought up on the “last frontier.” His mother died in 1883, but his father, a Civil War veteran, strongly impressed Baker with his rugged character, integrity, and common sense. He attended the local schools, discovered the world of books in his parents’ library, and in 1885 enrolled at Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing. In college Baker discovered a special liking for science courses and also edited the school newspaper. After receiving the B.S. degree in 1889, he returned home to work in his father’s land office. In January 1892 Baker entered law school at the University of Michigan but dropped out after a few months. Meanwhile, he became interested in journalism, partly as the result of a seminar at the university. In the summer of 1892 he found a job with the Chicago ...

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Bentley, William (22 June 1759–29 December 1819), clergyman, scholar, and journalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joshua Bentley, a carpenter, and Elizabeth Paine, the daughter of a merchant. Bentley was raised in the home of William Paine, the prosperous grandfather for whom he was named, and he was educated at the Boston Latin School before entering Harvard College in 1773. After graduation in 1777, Bentley taught school. He returned to Harvard in 1780 as a tutor in Latin and Greek and prepared for the ministry. Ordained at the Second (East) Congregational parish in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1783, Bentley served in its pulpit until his death thirty-six years later....

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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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Bishop, James Alonzo (21 November 1907–26 July 1987), journalist and author, was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of John Michael Bishop, a police lieutenant, and Jenny Josephine Tier. The son of devout Catholics, Bishop attended St. Patrick’s parochial school in Jersey City, graduating in June 1922. Except for a few courses in typing and shorthand at Drake Secretarial College in Jersey City, this ended Bishop’s formal education. According to his 1981 autobiography, ...

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Braden, Anne (28 July 1924–06 March 2006), civil rights activist and journalist, was born Anne Gambrell McCarty in Louisville, Kentucky, to Gambrell and Anita McCarty. Because her father was a traveling salesman, she grew up in various southern states, but mostly in rigidly segregated Anniston, Alabama. Her conservative white Episcopal parents fully embraced  the norms of southern racial hierarchy, and they remained comfortable throughout the Depression years of her childhood, but the young Anne, idealistic and devoutly religious, was troubled by the suffering around her. After graduating from Anniston High School in 1941, she left home to study literature and journalism at two Virginia women’s colleges, first Stratford Junior College and then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, where she discovered the life of the mind in a serious way and first met critics of racial segregation. In 1945, upon graduation from Randolph-Macon, she returned to postwar Alabama as a newspaper reporter, first for the ...

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Brant, Irving Newton (17 January 1885–18 September 1976), biographer, journalist, and historian, was born in Walker, Iowa, the son of David Brant, the editor of the local newspaper, and Ruth Hurd Brant. Irving Brant decided on a career in journalism. He was educated in local schools and at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, from which he earned a BA in 1909....

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Callender, James Thomson (1758–17 July 1803), political writer and newspaper editor, was born in Scotland, the son of a tobacconist. Of his childhood and youth little is known, except that he was raised as a Presbyterian and received a classical education. He first came to prominence in 1782 when he published a work critical of Dr. Samuel Johnson. A supplementary volume published in 1783 was less successful, and for the next seven years he worked as a clerk. During this period he married (wife's name unknown), eventually having four children. Displaying early a strong sense of self-righteousness and a Calvinist contempt for human depravity, Callender destroyed his career as a clerk by agitating for the dismissal of a superior, whom he accused of corruption. Thereafter, from about 1790, he moved toward radicalism, writing a number of anonymous pamphlets critical of British politics and extolling Scottish nationalism. In 1792 he became a member of the Scottish Friends of the People, attending the Edinburgh Convention in December 1792 as a militant radical. Later that month, Lord Gardenstone, his patron, admitted to the authorities Callender's authorship of ...

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Cantwell, Mary (10 May 1930–01 February 2000), writer, was born Mary Lee Cantwell in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Leo Cantwell, a man of Scottish descent who worked as a production manager in a rubber plant, and Mary Lonergan Cantwell, a former teacher and the descendant of nineteenth-century Irish immigrants. As described in her nostalgic memoir ...

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Childs, George William (12 May 1829–03 February 1894), publisher, biographer, and philanthropist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. The names of his parents are not known. In Recollections (1890), his autobiography, Childs shrouds his family origins in mystery, making no reference to his parents or early childhood, beginning instead with an explanation of how he had had from a young age “a rather remarkable aptitude for business.” At twelve he worked a summer job as an errand boy in a Baltimore bookstore for two dollars a week. He reflects in ...

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Considine, Bob (04 November 1906–25 September 1975), newspaper reporter and author, was born Robert Bernard Considine in Washington, D.C., the son of James Considine, a tinsmith, and Sophie Small. Considine dropped out of high school in 1923 at age seventeen to become a government employee. Over the next four years he worked as a messenger boy in the Census Bureau and in the Bureau of Public Health, a typist in the Treasury Department, and a clerk in the Department of State. During these years, Considine studied journalism in night school at George Washington University....

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Malcolm Cowley Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1963. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106863).

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Cowley, Malcolm (24 August 1898–28 March 1989), literary critic and editor, was born in a farmhouse near Belsano, Pennsylvania, the son of William Cowley, a homeopathic physician, and Josephine Hutmacher. After attending Pittsburgh public schools, in which he began a lifelong friendship with the critic ...

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Benjamin De Casseres Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-4766-008).

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De Casseres, Benjamin (1873–06 December 1945), author and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of David De Casseres, a printer, and Charlotte Davis. On his father’s side he was a collateral descendant of Spinoza. De Casseres left high school at thirteen and went to work as a four-dollar-a-week office boy for ...