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Alger, William Rounseville (28 December 1822–07 February 1905), author and religious leader, was born in Freetown, Massachusetts, the son of Catherine Sampson Rounseville and Nahum Alger, a teacher. Apprenticed at seven to a New Hampshire farmer, Alger worked at a variety of menial jobs during his hardscrabble boyhood. He earned a ministerial diploma from the Harvard Divinity School in 1847 and became pastor of All Souls’ Unitarian Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The same year, he married Ann Langdon Lodge; they had seven children. In 1855 Alger moved to the Bulfinch Street Church in Boston, where he gained a reputation as an orator. The next year, he published ...

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Isaac Asimov Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115121).

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Asimov, Isaac (02 January 1920–06 April 1992), writer, was born in Petrovichi, USSR, the son of Judah Asimov, a merchant, and Anna Rachel Berman. Asimov’s Russian-Jewish father and mother emigrated to New York City in 1923. After a number of years working odd jobs, they bought a candy store in Brooklyn in 1926, the first of many in that borough that Asimov would help run until he was twenty-two years old. Working long hours in the candy store left Asimov’s parents with little time to raise their children. His mother was especially hard on him, frequently hitting him when she lost her temper and reminding him that he was responsible for their hand-to-mouth existence. Asimov was a precocious child who taught himself to read before he was five, and he read omnivorously thereafter. At seven he taught his younger sister to read, “somewhat against her will,” he confesses in his memoir, ...

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Auslander, Joseph (11 October 1897–22 June 1965), poet, editor, and translator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Louis Auslander and Martha Asyueck. He attended Columbia University from 1914 to 1915, then transferred to Harvard, receiving his B.A. in 1917. In 1919 he became an instructor in English at Harvard. He pursued graduate studies there until 1924, with the interruption of one year (1921–1922) at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he went on a Parker Traveling Fellowship. His poetry began to appear in national magazines in 1919, and his first volume, ...

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Arna Bontemps Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100856).

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Bontemps, Arna Wendell (13 October 1902–04 June 1973), writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923....

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William Stanley Braithwaite Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1947. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 142 P&P).

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Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont (06 December 1878–08 June 1962), poet, critic, and anthologist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Smith Braithwaite and Emma DeWolfe. Of his two preoccupations—American poetry and the status of the American Negro—the second clearly had its origins in an unusual cultural heritage. The Braithwaite family, of mixed black and white descent, was wealthy and held prominent positions in British Guiana. Braithwaite’s father studied medicine in London but quit because of apparent mental strain and moved to Boston, where he married DeWolfe, whose family had been in slavery. His father remained aloof from neighbors, educating his children at home. Braithwaite’s autobiography mentions no employment held by his father, whose death, when his son was eight years old, left the family destitute....

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Brownson, Henry Francis (07 August 1835–19 December 1913), editor and publisher, was born in Canton, Massachusetts, the son of Orestes Augustus Brownson, a philosopher and publisher, and Sarah Healy. Handicapped somewhat in youth by poor health, Brownson nonetheless excelled in school. He attended Holy Cross College from 1844 until 1848, when he was thirteen. On 18 November 1844, a month after his father’s conditional baptism into the church, he was baptized into the Roman Catholic church. He was joined at the college chapel font by his brother William Brownson; by ...

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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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Child, Francis James (01 February 1825–11 September 1896), philologist and editor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Child, a sailmaker, and Mary James. After attending the Boston Latin School, he matriculated at Harvard College; he ranked first in his class and was elected class orator. Following his graduation in 1846, he became a tutor in mathematics at his alma mater and then, in 1848, in history and political economy. Also in 1848 he published his edition of ...

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Clarke, Mary Bayard Devereux (13 May 1827–30 March 1886), poet and editor, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Thomas Pollock Devereux—Yale graduate, lawyer, and owner of several large plantations—and Catherine Anne Johnson, great-granddaughter of Samuel Johnson (1696–1772), first president of King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York. Among her other ancestors were five colonial governors. Her brother, John, was educated at Yale; and after her mother’s death in 1836, Mary and her sisters were taught at home by an English governess who closely followed the Yale course of study....

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Coggeshall, William Turner (06 September 1824–02 August 1867), journalist, state librarian, and diplomat, was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, the son of William C. Coggeshall, a coachsmith, and Eliza Grotz. At the age of eighteen he headed west and settled in Akron, Ohio. There he launched his career by starting the ...

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Conroy, Jack (05 December 1898–28 February 1990), author and editor, was born John Wesley Conroy in Monkey Nest, a coal-mining camp near Moberly, Missouri, the son of Thomas E. Conroy, a coal miner and union organizer, and Eliza Jane McCollough McKiernan. Conroy’s father was killed in a mine explosion in 1909. Two years later his mother married an unreliable alcoholic; Conroy left school at the age of thirteen to work in a Wabash Railroad car shop in Moberly. He joined two railroad workers’ unions and became an officer in one. In his free time he read voraciously, developed a prodigious memory, attended church and rowdy gatherings alike, and enjoyed listening to old timers’ yarns. When the United States entered World War I, Conroy, though an anticapitalist pacifist, sought to enlist but was rejected because of a heart murmur....

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Dannay, Frederic (20 October 1905–03 September 1982), writer and editor of mystery and detective novels and short stories, was born Daniel Nathan in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Meyer H. Nathan, a liquor dealer, and Dora Walerstein. After graduating from Boys’ High School, Brooklyn, Dannay worked primarily as an advertising copywriter until he became a full-time fiction writer in 1931. He married three times: in 1926 to Mary Beck, with whom he had two children; in 1947 to Hilda Wiesenthal, with whom he had one child before her death in 1972; and in 1976 to Rose Koppel....

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Dunbar-Nelson, Alice (19 July 1875–18 September 1935), poet, journalist, and political activist, was born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Joseph Moore, a seaman, and Patricia Wright, a seamstress. Dunbar-Nelson graduated from Straight College (now Dillard University) and began her teaching career at a New Orleans elementary school in 1892....

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Clifton Fadiman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Fadiman, Clifton (15 May 1904–20 June 1999), literary critic, anthologist, and radio personality, was born Clifton Paul Fadiman in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants Isidore Michael Fadiman, a pharmacist, and Grace Elizabeth Fadiman (maiden name unknown), a nurse. Fadiman, who was known to friends and family as “Kip,” began his lifelong passion for reading at age four, when he reportedly read his first book. By the time he was a teenager, he had read most or all of Sophocles, Dante, and Milton, among others. Fadiman later remembered that “by the end of high school I was not of course an educated man, but I knew how to try to become one” (quoted in Cross)....

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Foley, Martha (21 March 1897–05 September 1977), editor and writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Irish-American parents, Walter Foley, a physician, and Millicent McCarty, a schoolteacher who had also written a novel and a book of verse. When both of her parents fell ill, Foley was sent with her half-brother to stay with a family who, she later wrote, “either did not like or did not understand children.” It was a harsh and brutal period in her life, mitigated only, she recalled, by the fact that her parents’ library went with her. “Those books became home to me,” she wrote, “the only home I was to know for a long time.”...

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Gassner, John Waldhorn (30 January 1903–02 April 1967), critic, educator, and author, was born in Szeged, Hungary, the son of Abraham Gassner, a furrier, and Fanny Weinburger. Until age eight he was educated at home while the family moved to Budapest, Vienna, and Rotterdam, emigrating to the United States in 1911....