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Iowa Official Registers


State of Iowa Official Register

 Thirty-Ninth Number, 1941-1942

~ transcribed by S. Ferrall for the IAGenWeb Special Project - Iowa History


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 little dreamed."

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 literary airs.

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.

Rupert Hughes.
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.

Hamlin Garland
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 known books.

Emerson Hough
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.

Herbert Quick
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 newspapers.

Additional Authors

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. Walter 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 magazine contributor.

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 Other Poems."

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 City.

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.


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