Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) gained fame with autobiographical writing about growing up as an American pioneer in her Little House series of books for young readers. Born in a log cabin on the edge of an area called “Big Woods” in Pepin, Wisconsin, she lived the life that she eventually described in her classic books.
The Ingalls family traveled by covered wagon through Kansas and Minnesota in a covered wagon with all that they owned, until finally settling in De Smet, Dakota Territory. The family loved the the open spaces of the prairie, farming, and raising animals.
The Ingalls moved around a lot, and though it wasn’t an easy life, it gave Laura a rich trove of memories and experiences to draw upon when she began writing many years later. Though Laura wasn’t conventionally educated, she managed to get her teaching certificate at the age of fifteen. Read More→
Virginia Woolf (January 21, 1882 – March 28, 1941), born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London, epitomized rare literary genius. Despite debilitating battles with mental breakdowns, Woolf produced a body of work considered among the most groundbreaking in twentieth century literature. Her father was a literary critic, and her mother a renowned beauty and artists’ model. Her mother’s sudden death when she was 13 may have been the catalyst for the first of her recurrent nervous breakdowns.
As a young woman, Woolf developed her writer’s voice with a number of literary pursuits. She reviewed books for the Times Literary Supplement, wrote scores of articles and essays, and for a short time, taught English and history at Morley College in London (she herself had never earned a degree). Read More→
Edith Wharton (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937), was born Edith Newbold Jones in New York City. One of the Grande Dames of American letters, everything about her, from her wealthy background to her stately demeanor suggests a woman in possession of herself. However, beneath the surface was a deep insecurity about her talent and abilities, one she gradually overcame — in a very substantial way.
Most of us have heard the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses,” but it might come as a surprise that this doesn’t refer to a hypothetical family, but Edith Wharton’s parents. Born into the rarified late nineteenth-century world of wealth and privilege, her formative years consisted of riding, balls, coming-out parties, teas, and extended stays in Europe.
Despite having homes in New York City and Newport, and the kind of money that gained them access to the finer things in life, culture and learning weren’t particularly valued by her family. And though she lacked for nothing, it was a less-than-ideal upbringing for a bookish, dreamy girl. Read More→
Dorothy West (June 2, 1907 – August 16, 1998) was an American author and editor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Boston, she started writing as a child and began receiving accolades and awards while still in her teens. Her writing is admired for its nuanced views of middle and upper middle-class African-American communities and how it comments on gender, class, and social structure through storytelling.
In the 1920s, at age seventeen, Dorothy West submitted her first short story, “The Typewriter,” to a writing contest. She traveled to New York City to accept an award for it, and shared first prize with Zora Neale Hurston, who was several years her senior. So impressed was Zora by Dorothy’s precocious talent, that she took her under her wing and introduced her to the world of the Harlem Renaissance. The two maintained a warm friendship for some years. Dorothy was known by her contemporaries as “The Kid,” an affectionate nickname given to her by poet Langston Hughes. Read More→
Eudora Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an American author whose work spanned several genres — novels, short stories, and nonfiction. Much of her writing focused on realistic human relationships — conflict, community, interaction, and influence. As a Southern writer, a sense of place was an important theme running though her work, as well.
Eudora grew up in a close-knit, contented family in Jackson, Mississippi. Her parents instilled a love of education, curiosity, and reading to her and to her brothers, with whom she was close. She was always a star student, from early grades through college. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. She did her graduate work at Columbia University School of Business, heeding her father’s suggestion to study advertising. But since she finished her degree just as the depression was worsening, she struggled to find work. Read More→