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Arenas, Reinaldo (16 July 1943–07 December 1990), novelist and political activist, was born in Holguín, a town in rural eastern Cuba, the son of Oneida Fuentes, a poor peasant woman, and a peasant father who abandoned his unborn child. Barely sixteen years old at the time of the Cuban Revolution, Arenas received excellent instruction during the Campaigns against Illiteracy conducted by volunteers sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s ideals. Such an opportunity for self-improvement was unheard of during the regime of the deposed leader, Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Arenas received a scholarship so that he might pursue a career in accounting in Havana....

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Burdick, Eugene Leonard (12 Dec. 1918–26 July 1965), novelist and political scientist, was born in Sheldon, Iowa, to John J. Burdick, an Irish immigrant house painter, and Marie Ellerbroek Burdick. His father died when he was four, and two years later his mother, of Dutch descent, married Fritz Gaillard, an émigré cellist from the Netherlands. The family moved to Los Angeles, where Gaillard played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. From childhood onward, Burdick excelled in both academics and sports. After attending classes at Santa Monica and Santa Barbara junior colleges, he enrolled as a scholarship student at Stanford University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology in ...

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Churchill, Winston (10 November 1871–12 March 1947), novelist and politician, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Emma Bell Blaine and Edward S. Churchill. His mother died shortly after his birth. Left in the care of his maternal grandmother until her death two years later, he was a short time thereafter taken in and raised by his mother’s half sister, Louisa Blaine Gazzam, and her husband, James Braiding Gazzam, who lived in genteel poverty. Two manuscripts written later in his life (Jonathan and Gideon mss., Baker Library) demonstrate the influence of Churchill’s upbringing on both his personal life and his novels. The absolute standards that the Gazzams instilled in him left him with lifelong feelings of guilt and inadequacy....

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Jeremiah Clemens. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109966).

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Clemens, Jeremiah (28 December 1814–21 May 1865), politician and novelist, was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of James Clemens, a merchant. His mother’s maiden name was Mills, but her first name is unknown. Clemens spent the formative years of his life in the northern Alabama upcountry town of Huntsville with his affluent family. He entered La Grange College in 1830, but in 1831 he moved to the newly opened University of Alabama, graduating in 1833. He also spent a year studying law at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1834 he married Mary Read; they had one child....

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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...

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McCall, Mary C., Jr. (4 Apr. 1904–3 Apr. 1986), screenwriter, labor activist, and novelist and short story writer, was born Mary Caldwell McCall Jr. in Manhattan, New York, the only daughter of Mary Caldwell Burke and Leo Horan McCall of Manhattan. Though she would be teased at school by the boys for the “Jr.” suffix in her name, at the time, it was not unusual for independent-minded mothers to name their firstborn daughters in this way. McCall’s future Hollywood colleagues, actress and executive Cobina Wright Jr. and writer Harriet Frank Jr., also maintained their “Jr.” status throughout their careers....

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Pelley, William Dudley (12 March 1890–01 July 1965), novelist, religious and political leader, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the son of William George Apsey Pelley, a Methodist minister and printer, and Grace Goodale. Pelley's family lived in several Massachusetts communities during Dudley's childhood. He dropped out of Springfield Technical High School during his sophomore year at the behest of his father, who needed his son to help him in a toilet paper factory he co-owned....

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Sinclair, Upton (20 September 1878–25 November 1968), novelist, reformer, and politician, was born Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr., in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Upton Beall Sinclair, Sr., a wholesale liquor salesman, and Priscilla Harden. Sinclair’s father was irresponsible and alcoholic and left the boy’s care to his mother, who encouraged him to read. In 1886 or 1887 the family moved to New York City, where in 1889 Sinclair attended public school classes for the first time. During the next two years he completed eight elementary grades and in 1892 enrolled in the City College of New York. In 1894 he began to sell jokes and puzzles to children’s periodicals and a year later was selling stories to juvenile magazines to support himself. He graduated from City College with a B.A. in 1897, abandoned an ambition to become a lawyer, and enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University, all the while writing almost a hundred “half-dime” novels for Street and Smith, America’s leading pulp-fiction publisher. Attracted to courses in music, contemporary politics, and poetry, especially that of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sinclair decided to become an influential man of letters. In May 1900 he left Columbia without a graduate degree, rented a cabin for three months in southern Quebec, and wrote an idealistic novel, ...

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Whitlock, Brand (04 March 1869–24 May 1934), novelist, reform mayor, and diplomat, was born Joseph Brand Whitlock in Urbana, Ohio, the son of Elias D. Whitlock, a Methodist clergyman, and Mallie Lavinia Brand. Known by his middle name from childhood, Whitlock grew up in a number of western Ohio communities where his father held pastorates. He graduated from high school in Toledo and accepted a job in 1887 as a reporter for the ...