Iowa's Famous Authors
Pg. 397 - 400
So much attention is paid to the material endowments and advantages of Iowa,
people often forget the artistic and literary achievements of the state. The
fact remains that while Iowa leads in corn and hogs, and has factories in large
number, turning out finished products which go around the world, Iowa is
likewise in the vanguard of the states which have given, and are giving, the
nation its best literature. The Iowa honor roll of authors is a notable one.
In a literary sense, Iowa is divided into two camps: the native born and those
who have spent part of their lives here, but who, no matter where they may have
roamed, have always considered Iowa at least partially their home and have been
glad to return to it whenever possible and to pay every honor to it.
Some fifteen years ago, at a Homecoming of Iowa Authors, more than a score of
notable men and women, either born in Iowa or reared here, came back to Des
Moines and participated in a three-day Homecoming which opened the eyes of the
nation to the literary achievements of the state. Prominent among those who were
here at that rally were Hamlin Garland, Herbert Quick, Emerson Hough, Rupert
Hughes, Arthur Davidson Ficke and Alice French, better known as Octave Thanet.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Ranking highest in the list of those great writers in whom Iowa may claim at
least part credit was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known to the world, for all
time, as Mark Twain. Clemens was born in Missouri, but spent many years of his
young manhood in Muscatine and Keokuk, being closely identifed with the latter.
His brother, Orion Clemens, generally said to have been the original of Twain's
famous "Pudd'nhead Wilson," spent most of his life in Keokuk and legends are
interwoven concerning him and Twain until it is hard to tell which is which.
It is known to be a fact, however, that Sam Clemens helped his brother, who was
older, got out a paper in Muscatine and that he worked for a job printer, named
Rees, in Keokuk, getting out a city directory in which he included himself as an
"antiquarian," for the reason, as he rather ruefully expressed it, that there
were no antiquarians listed in Keokuk and every city should have one.
In 1855, Sam Clemens came to Keokuk from St. Louis and began working, more or
less steadily, for his brother Orion, for $5 a week and board. The office at
that time was on the third floor of No. 52 Main street. He seems to have taken
quite an active part in the social life of the river town and to have acquired
some local reputation as a humorist, but gave little promise of the great artist
he was to become.
In his three-volume Biography of Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine tells the
turning point of his life, in Keokuk, in this manner:
"It was a day in early November, bitter and gusty, with curling snow; most
persons were indoors. Samuel Clemens, going down Main street, saw a flitting bit
of paper pass him and lodge against the side of a building. Something about it
attracted him and he captured it. It was a fifty dollar bill. He had never seen
one before, but he recognized it. He thought he must be having a pleasant dream.
The temptation came to pocket his good fortune and say nothing. His need of
money was urgent, but he also had an urgent and troublesome conscience. In the
end he advertised his find.
" 'I didn't describe it very particularly and I waited in daily fear that the
owner would turn up and take away my fortune. By and by I got so I couldn't
stand it any longer. My conscience had gotten all that was coming to it. I felt
I must take the money out of danger. I advertised the find and left for Arizona
the same day,' a statement which we may accept with literary discount.
"As a matter of fact, he remained ample time, for nobody ever came for the
money. It may have been swept out of a bank or caught up by the wind from some
counting room table. It may have materialized out of the unseen - who knows? At
all events it carried him on the first stage of a journey, the end of which he
With so much money, Clemens decided to see the world. He got no farther than St.
Louis, when he returned to Keokuk, burning with a brilliant idea. He would
travel all over the globe, to South America first, and send articles back to the
Saturday Post, of Keokuk, then a rather prosperous paper, giving itself certain
The publisher, Rees, agreed to take the letters, at the rate of five dollars for
each one. Twain started his trip; promptly mailed back one letter from
Cincinnati; sent the second four months later, still from Cincinnati; and never
sent another. The important thing, however, is that these articles were the
first for which he was ever paid any money.
In later years, after Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Indian Joe, Mulberry Sellers and
Pudd'nhead Wilson had made him immortal, he frequently returned to Keokuk, so
that he never quite grew away from that city, or Iowa in general.
Another adopted son of Iowa was Rupert Hughes, who was born in Missouri, January
31, 1872, but spent most of his boyhood and young manhood in Keokuk, where his
father was general counsel for the Keokuk and Western Railroad. Rupert sold his
fist articles while living in that city. A few years ago his annual income from
writing was said to be greater than the salary of the President of the United
States. At any rate, he was one of the most popular society novelists of many
years. Among his best known books are "The Old Home Town," "Excuse Me," "The Old
Nest," "Souls for Sale," "Love Affairs of Great Musicians," "Empty Pockets,"
"The Man Without a Home," and "The Thirteenth Commandment." Incidentally, Rupert
Hughes is the uncle of the young millionaire aviator, Howard Hughes, who holds
the record for flying around the world in the shortest time. The aviator's
father, Howard Hughes, the elder, likewise lived in Keokuk for many years.
Rupert Hughes has written and directed many motion pictures.
Another adopted son was Hamlin Garland, who was born in Wisconsin, but lived the
greater part of his boyhood and young manhood in and around Osage. His "Boy Life
on the Prairie," published in 1907, is a graphic account of his experiences as a
farm boy. "A Son of the Middle Border," published ten years later, continued his
vivid descriptions of Iowa life and people of the pioneer age, following the
Civil War, and makes him generally recognized as the Iowa historian of that
particular age. "Main Traveled Roads," a collection of short stories, "The Gray
Horse Troop," "A Daughter of the Middle Border," "Cavanagh, Forest Ranger," "A
Member of the Third HOuse," and "The Tyranny of the Dark" are among his best
Emerson Hough is a notable name in the roster of Iowa writers. He was a product
of Newton and devoted the major years of his life to producing notable
historical novels covering the Middle West and Rocky Mountain West in their most
picturesque days. "The Covered Wagon," published in 1922, an epic of the Oregon
Trail of 1848, followed by "The Story of the Cowboy," "54-40 or Fight," "North
of 36," and many other notable books, established him as a front-rank writer, of
whom Iowa is justly proud.
Perhaps the best delineator of pioneer life in Iowa, before the Civil War, when
the plow had just begun to break the virgin prairie, was Herbert Quick, whose "Vandermark's
Folly" was the first of three novels dealing with early Iowa life, followed by
"The Hawkeye" and "The invisible Woman." Quick was born in Missouri, but spent
the impressionistic years of his life in Grundy county, Iowa, which still
proudly displays and marks the schoolhouse where he really got his start in
life. His autobiography entitled "One Man's Life," rounded out his life and is a
textbook, most interesting and charming, on Iowa pioneers.
Major S.H.M. Byers
Major S.H.M. Byers, formerly of Oskaloosa and Des Moines, now deceased, was born
in Pennsylvania, but was educated in the public schools of Iowa. He served four
years in the Union Army, was captured at the battle of Chattanooga. While in
prison at Columbia, South Carolina, he wrote "Sherman's March to the Sea," a
song that gave its name to the great campaign, and sold more than one million
copies. Following the Civil War he was in the United States consular service
abroad for twenty years, then returned to Iowa and took an active part in
literary affairs. Among his historical volumes are "Iowa in War Times," "The
March to the Sea, or the Story of the Great Campaign," "With Fire and Sword," a
prose account of his own adventures in the Civil War, and "Glorietta, or the
City of Fair Dreams," a poetical romance of Monterey, California. His volumes of
poetry include "The Honeymoon," "The Belle of Capistrano" and "Complete Poems."
Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook
Susan Glaspell and her famous husband, George Cram Cook, helped to make the
Provincetown (Massachusetts) Players famous in the beginning of the Little
Theatre movement in America. After the death of her husband, in Greece, Susan
Glaspell returned to the United States and continues to turn out good books and
plays, all too few considering her great genius. Among her best known books are
"The Road to the Temple," "The Glory of the Conquered," "Brook Evans," "The
Visioning," "Suppressed Desires," "Lifted Masks," and "Fugitives's Return." Her
play, "Alison's House," based on the life of Emily Dickinson, won the Pulitzer
drama prize in 1930. She was for several years a reporter on Des Moines
Others whose names must be included in the list of those who contributed
gallantly to the literary life of Iowa in days now gone by are Ellis Parker
Butler, humorist, whose best known work if "Pigs Is Pigs"; Robert Burdette,
better known as "Bob," one-time editor of the Burlington Hawkeye, whose humorous
book, "The Rise and Fall of the Mustache," was tremendously funny; George Fitch,
of Council Bluffs, whose Siwash College stories made him famous; Dr. G.
Barr, of Keokuk, whose political novel, "Shacklet," gave him momentary fame; and
Alice French, of Davenport, nom de plume Octave Thanet, whose best known book is
"Knitters in the Sun."
Ottumwa has the honor to furnish two famous Iowa authors, one by birth and the
other by adoption. Honore Willsie Morrow was born there and has added lustre to
the list of Iowa notables. For many years she was editor of 'The Delineator'.
Among her best books are "Heart of the Desert," "On to Oregon," "Forever Free,"
" With Malice Toward None," "The Last Full Measure," "The Enchanted Canyon" and
"Splendor of God." She died in 1940.
Edna Ferber was born in Michigan but spent her girlhood in Ottumwa, and often
publicly declares that her home. Her best known books are "Dawn O'Hara,"
"Buttered Side Down," "Emma McChesney and Co.," "So Big," "Roast Beef Medium,"
"Mother Knows Best," "Cimarron," "Come and Get It," and "Show Boat." In
collaboration with George S. Kauffman and others, she has produced several
notable stage successes, including "The Royal Family" and "Dinner at Eight."
Late Iowa Writers
Among the later school of Iowa writers should be included the following:
James Norman Hall, born in Colfax, who, with Charles Nordhoff, wrote "Mutiny on
the Bounty," "Men Against the Sea," "Pitcirn's Isand," "The Dark River," "The
Friends," and "The Hurricane," all epics of the South Seas.
MacKinlay Kantor, a product of Webster City, who is coming to be acknowledged as
the historian of the dramatic phases of the Civil War, whose book, "Long
Remember," the title being taken from Lincoln's Gettysburg speech, is already a
classic on that famous batle. Other books include "Diversey," "El Goes South,"
"The Voice of Bugle Ann," "Arouse and Beware," "The Noise of Their Wings," and a
book of verse called "Turkey in the Straw." Mr. Kantor is a prolific and popular
Phil Stong, whose kin live in Keosauqua, and who has used that locale and Des
Moines for the scenes of some of his best writing. He is noted for "State Fair,"
"Stranger's Return," "Village Tale," "Farmer in the Dell," "Hawkeyes! An
Intimate Biography of the State of Iowa," and "Buckskin Breeches." Thousands of
people who never read his "State Fair," enjoyed it as a moving picture, with the
late Will Rogers in the leading role.
Ruth Suckow, born in Hawarden, who is devoting her life to depicting Iowa farm
life; whose best known books are "County People," "The Odyssey of a Nice Girl,"
"Iowa Interiors," "Cora," and "The Folks." Miss Suckow is one of the most
devoted realists Iowa has produced and is a writer of top rank.
Cornelia Meigs, another Keokuk product, whose "Trade Wind" won a $2,000 prize in
1927 and whose other popular productions are "Kingdom of the Winding Road,"
"Clearing Weather," "Rain on the Roof," "As the Crow Flies," and "Invincible
Louisa," which won the Newberry medal in 1934.
Bess Streeter Aldrich, born in Cedar Falls in 1881, author of "A Lantern in Her
Hand," "A White Bird Flying," and "Song of Years."
Arthur Davison Ficke, of Davenport, a poet of marked ability, whose sonnets are
highly acclaimed by literary critics; his best known volumes being "From the
Isles," "The Happy Princess," "The Man on the Hilltop," and "The Secret and
Lewis Worthington Smith, professor of English at Drake University since 1902;
author of a large number of textbooks and volumes of poems, including "In the
Furrow," "The English Tongue," and "The Art of Life," a play.
~ ~ Transcribers notes:
additional information on these Iowa authors:
1) Samuel Langhorne Clemens - born November 30,
1835 in Florida, Missouri and died April 21, 1910 in Redding,
Connecticut. Parents were John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton
Clemens; and siblings Orion (July 17, 1825-December 11, 1897), Henry
(July 13, 1838-June 21, 1858), Pamela (September 19, 1827-August 31,
1904), Margaret (May 31, 1830-August 17, 1839), Benjamin (June 8,
1832–May 12, 1842) and Pleasant (1828–1829 at age 6 months).
2) Rupert Hughes, born in
Lancaster, Missouri in 1872. Died in 1956. Parents were Felix Turner
Hughes and Jean Amelia Summerlin; his brother was Howard R. Hughes
SR (father of Howard Hughes, the aviator)
3) Hamlin Hannibal Garland - born September 14, 1860, in West Salem, Wisconsin.
He died March 4, 1940 in California.
4) Emerson Hough - born in Newton, Iowa in 1857 and died in 1923.
5) John Herbert Quick - born in Grundy co., Iowa and died in Columbia, Missouri
in 1925. Parents were Martin and Margaret (Coleman) Quick.
6) Major S.H.M. Byers - Samuel Hawkins Marshall "Marsh" Byers was born in
Pennsylvania ca 1838 and died in 1933.
7) Susan Glaspell - born in Davenport, Iowa 1876 (some sources give birth year
as 1882), and died in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1948.
8) Ellis Parker Butler - born in Muscatine, Iowa on December 5, 1869 and died
September 13, 1937 in Williamsville, Massachusetts.
9) Robert 'Bob' Jones Burdette - born in Greensboro, Pennsylvania on July 30,
1844 and died on November 19, 1914 in Pasadena, California.
10) George Helgesen Fitch - born in Galva, Illinois in 1877; died August 9, 1915
while visiting in California.
11) Dr. G. Walter Barr - born in Medway, Ohio, October 25, 1860.
12) Alice French, aka Octave Thanet - born in Andover, Massachusetts on March
19, 1850. She died January 9, 1934. Parents were George Henry and Frances Wood
(nee Morton) French
13) Honore Willsie Morrow - born in 1880, and died in Connecticut on April 17,
1940. Daughter of William D. McCue and Lilly Head McCue.
14) Edna Ferber - born August 15, 1885 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her parents were
Jacob Charles and Julia (Neumann) Ferber. She died April 16, 1968 in New York
15) James Norman Hall - born in Colfax, Iowa on April 22, 1887 and died on July
5, 1951 in Tahiti.
16) MacKinlay Kantor - born in Webster City, Iowa on February 4, 1904 and died
October 11, 1977 in Sarasota, Florida.
17) Phillip 'Phil' Duffield Stong - born in Pittsburg, Iowa on January 27, 1899.
He died in Connecticut in 1957 and is buried in Keosauqua, Iowa.
18) Ruth Suckow - born in Hawarden, Iowa on August 6, 1892. Parents William S.
and Anna (Kluckhohn) Suckow. She died in California on January 23, 1960.
19) Cornelia Lynde Meigs - born in Rock Island, Illinois on December 6, 1884 and
moved with her parents, Montgomery Meigs and Grace Lynde Meigs. to Keokuk at age
one month; died September 10, 1973 in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
20.) Bess Streeter Aldrich - born February 17, 1881 in Cedar Falls, Iowa; died
August 3, 1954 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
21) Arthur Davison Ficke - born in Davenport on November 10, 1883. Parents
Charles August Ficke and Frances Davison Ficke. He died in Hudson, New York on
November 30, 1945. Used the pseudonym 'Anne Knish'
22) Lewis Worthington Smith - born in Malta, Illinois on November 22, 1866 and
died in Des Moines in December 1947.