Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
Frederick (Ogden) Nash remembers being able to think in terms of rhymes as early as 1908, when he was only six years old. As a child Nash lived with his mother and father who moved up and down the east coast from New York to Georgia. From 1917-1920 he attended St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island for high school, after which he completed only one year of study at Harvard in 1920/1921. In his early years Nash would try his hand at teaching, selling bonds on Wall Street, and working in advertising for publishing companies. His first book of poetry, Hard Lines, was published in 1931 and was so well received that Nash quit his job in order to write full time. Most of the poems that filled Nash's books were light, humorous, and made use of extensive rhyme and word play. Sometimes he would write poems that were more politically satirical or serious in nature which were seen as complimentary contrast to his lighter works.
Nash's personal life changed dramatically over the next few years: he married Frances Rider Leonard in 1931, the couple moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1934, and by 1936 they had two young daughters. His growing family influenced his writing, leading him to write poetry for and about children. Nash did occasionally experiment with writing outside the realm of poetry; he wrote screenplays, children's books, musicals, but none of these were received as well as his poetry. He often contributed poems to the New Yorker. In his lifetime he published more than fifty literary works. During the 1950s and 1960s Nash was thought of as one of America's favorite contemporary poets. Poets and critics alike agree that Nash's poetry was unique and very difficult to imitate well. Even though Nash doubted his own legacy or timelessness, many regard him as one of the best poets of the 20th century.
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Karl Shapiro (1913-2000)
Born in Baltimore, Maryland in November 1913, Karl Shapiro was the son of Joseph and Sarah Shapiro. Shapiro's adolescence was mainly uneventful, a less successful student than his brother, his father encouraged him to begin preparing for a business. Early on Shapiro struggled with his identity as a third generation Jewish American raised in the South. Shapiro claimed that he always had a feeling that he was meant to be a poet, but he was unsure if he would ever be published without a more Anglo-Saxon name. After making the decision not to change his name, Shapiro decided that he should write about his personal experiences, including what he called his "Jewishness." His twenties lacked direction, as he travelled in between working stints in his father's business. In 1935 Shapiro published a collection of poems that earned him a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University, which he attended between 1937 and 1939 although he did not complete a degree.
Shapiro was drafted into the army in 1941 at the age of 28. He wrote profusely during his time in the army, completing four volumes of poetry in 5 years. The collection of poems Person, Place and Thing was published in 1942 and was very well received by critics. Shapiro earned a Pulitzer prize for his collection V-Letter and Other Poems, published in 1944. In 1945 Shapiro married Evalyn Katz, a literary agent who had helped get his poetry published during the war. Shapiro returned to Johns Hopkins in 1948 as an associate professor of writing. In 1956 Shapiro was offered a full time faculty position in the English department at the University of Nebraska. During his time at the University of Nebraska Shapiro published two volumes of poetry, Poems of a Jew (1958) and The Bourgeois Poet (1964). Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Shapiro continued to write and publish poetry, as well as teach at multiple universities across the United States. Shapiro published the first of two volumes of an autobiography in 1988, written in third person The Younger Son chronicles his early life up to 1945. The follow-up Reports of My Death (1990) picks up when Shapiro returned from World War II, and follows his personal and professional life up until 1985. Shapiro died in New York in 2000, his last collection of works, Coda: Last Poems was published post mortem in 2008.
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Reed Whittemore (1919-2012)
Edward Reed Whittemore was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He attended Phillips Academy and Yale. After graduating from Yale in 1941, Whittemore was drafted into the army and served three years in the Mediterranean as an officer in the Air Force. After returning from the war, he studied briefly at Princeton in the history program before accepting a teaching position at Carleton College. Whittemore's first volume of poetry, Heroes and Heroines was published in 1946. During the 1960s Whittemore became very involved in the professional literary scene in the United States. Between 1964 and 1965 Whittemore served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress; he was a director of the Association of Literary Magazines of America; and from 1969 to 1973 he was the literary editior of the New Republic. In 1968 Whittemore was named a Professor of English at the University of Maryland, where he taught until 1984. From 1985 to 1988 Whittemore served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland.
Whittemore has published eleven collections of poetry in his lifetime, and is best known for his light verse that overflows with wry humor and wit. Whittemore is said to have changed the course of American literature through his work editing literary magazines, as well as the time devoted to teaching English at Carleton College and the University of Maryland. His last published work to date was in 2007, when he published a memoir, Against the Grain: The Literary Life of a Poet. Today he lives in College Park, Maryland with his wife.
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John Barth (1930-)
John Barth, son of John Jacob Barth and Georginia Simmons, was born and raised in Cambridge, Maryland. Barth began his collegiate career studying music at the Julliard School of Music in New York City, but soon returned to Maryland after being offered an academic scholarship to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Barth received both a bachelor's degree (1951) and a master's degree in creative writing (1952) from Johns Hopkins, but his background in music has always influenced his writing process.
Barth's first novel, The Floating Opera was published in 1956, and sold just over 1,600 copies. The first three novels that Barth published were regarded well by critics but were met with little commercial success. The transition between Barth's third and fourth books mark his transition from modernist to post-modernist. In 1973 Barth received the National Book Award for his work Chimera. Today he is seen as one of the most prominent American post-modern authors.
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James Cain (1892-1977)
James Cain's childhood in Annapolis, Maryland was hardly an inspiration for the rough and violent plots that he would become famous for. The son of Rose Mallahan (an opera singer) and Jim Cain (a high school principal then College president), Cain completed high school early, and started his undergraduate studies at Washington College in 1907 at the age of fifteen. Upon completing his bachelor's degree in 1910, Cain struggled with adapting to pressures of the real world. Between 1910 and 1913 Cain held many different jobs for very brief tenures. In 1917 Cain returned to Washington College and earned a master's degree in English drama and the American short story.
Cain got his first writing job in 1917 (at the Baltimore American) and worked principally as a journalist for the next fourteen years. Desiring a change from the east coast newspaper world, Cain landed a job writing scripts for Paramount. Between 1931 and 1948 Cain worked on and off for at least seven different movie studios. It was during his tenure in Hollywood that Cain began to write and publish novels. His first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice was published in 1934 and was an instant success. Despite Cain's many protests he was branded a "tough" and "hard-boiled" writer because of the characters and plots he employed. After a handful of similarly written and similarly successful novels, the beginning of World War II changed the moods of Americans. During the war, people were not interested in Cain's tales of immoral characters trapped in a world of sex, betrayal, and murder. Though Cain continued to write novels through the 1960's, he would never again enjoy the critical or commercial success of his early years.
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Tom Clancy (1947-)
Tom Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was brought up in a middle class family, his father worked for the post office, and his mother worked in a department store. Clancy attended Roman Catholic schools as a child, and earned a bachelor's degree in English from Loyola College in 1969. Clancy had always been interested in the military as a child and had hoped to follow his father's example into military service, but was unable to serve during the Vietnam War because of his poor vision. The summer following his college graduation Clancy married Wanda Thomas, and shortly thereafter began working for her family's insurance company. During the next ten years, Clancy would continue to feed his interests in the military and technology by reading a plethora of journals and magazines. He purchased his wife's family's company in 1980, and began to spend any and all of his free time pursuing his interest in writing. In 1984 the Naval Institute Press published its first piece of original fiction, Clancy's The Hunt for Red October. At least partly due to an endorsement from then President Ronald Reagan, the book did extremely well and was viewed as a huge commercial success.
Clancy's books focus on the American military and intelligence agencies in their fight against the world's evil powers, first the Soviet Union and then Middle Eastern extremists and terrorists. His main character, Jack Ryan, serves as the hero in many of his novels. Ryan begins as a CIA consultant but throughout the course of many adventures is continually promoted until he is elected president. Throughout the 1980s Clancy continued to publish best-seller after best-seller, establishing himself as the eminent author in the techno-thriller genre. Many of his novels (including The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger) were made into very successful movies. Though critics may not receive Clancy's books as works of modern classic literature, it is acknowledged that he is a truly excellent storyteller who has had a large impact on popular literature in the United States.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
“I love Baltimore more than I thought— it is so rich with memories— it is nice to look up the street and see the statue of my great uncle & to know that Poe is buried here and that many ancestors have walked in the old town by the bay. I belong here […]”
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Though little-known, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s connection to Maryland runs deep. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, came from a Maryland family, and his great-great-great-grandfather was the brother of Francis Scott Key’s grandfather, giving him a connection to the famous Maryland son that went beyond his name. Despite growing up in New York and Minnesota, he spent many boyhood summers in Montgomery County. He entered Princeton University in 1913 but never graduated. In 1919, H.L. Mencken became his first editor and published Fitzgerald’s story “Babes in the Woods.” The next year Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre, a Southern belle from Montgomery, Alabama, and their tempestuous relationship would shape much of his writing.
The next decade was filled with travel and writing for Fitzgerald, as he and Zelda seldom stayed in one place longer than six months. He published This Side of Paradise in 1920 and The Great Gatsby in 1925. He then settled in Baltimore for five years while his wife was hospitalized at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins. He wrote Tender Is the Night while renting the La Paix estate in Towson. After its publication he resumed his travels once more, sinking deeper into the alcoholism that had plagued him for years. He died in 1940. Fitzgerald was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery in Maryland, but was moved at his daughter’s request to the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville in 1975. Rockville considers Fitzgerald a native son and named the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre after him.
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George Pelecanos (1957-)
As a child George Pelecanos' father, Peter Pelecanos, immigrated with his family to Washington, D.C. from Greece due to political strife after World War I. George Pelecanos was born in D.C. in 1957 but when he was eight years old the family moved out of the district into Silver Spring, Maryland. In 1980 Pelecanos graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a bachelor's degree in Film Studies. After graduating he got a job working for a successful appliance company, moving his way up to general manager in only six years. Unhappy with his work, in 1989 Pelecanos quit his job in order to write a novel. He had been inspired by the "hard-boiled" genre of the early 20th century and encouraged by the punk scene in D.C. in the 1980s to write fiction that was relatable because it focused on the working class. It took one year of waiting for Pelecanos to be offered an advance for his first book, Firing Offenses, which was published in 1992. It was not well supported by the publisher and did not fare well commercially, selling less than one thousand copies in its first printing.
Pelecanos worked to perfect his craft while writing his next few novels, experimenting with different narrators and taking on more ambitious and complicated plot arcs. Pelecanos' books were generally well recieved by critics, whose opinions only improved with each new book. As Pelecanos' matured his novels became less auto-biographical in nature to focus on issues that were important to Pelecanos including racial disharmony and violent gun crime in D.C., as well as the exploitation of children. With an aggressive ad campaign by the publisher Pelecanos' tenth book, Hell to Pay earned a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list in 2002.
His growing popularity caught the attention of HBO executives who brought Pelecanos in to work on the television series The Wire, a gritty drama set on the streets of Baltimore. Pelecanos began as a story editor but he also served as writer and producer; he was nominated for an Emmy for his writing on the show. After his work on The Wire was so well received he was asked to write for HBO's The Pacific and Treme. Though he has had great success in television, Pelecanos has continued to publish novels throughout the decade, and is currently working on a new book.
Anne Tyler (1941-)
Anne Tyler and her parents, Lloyd and Phyllis Tyler, moved frequently and lived largely in communes during Tyler's adolescence. They settled in Raleigh, North Carolina and Tyler remained in the state to complete her undergraduate degree at Duke University. While there, she wrote profusely winning several awards for her short stories and other creative fiction. After earning her bachelor's degree in Russian in 1961, Tyler moved on to Columbia University to pursue a doctoral degree in Russian. In 1963 Tyler married Taghi Mohammed Modaressi. In the early years of their marriage Tyler published her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes. After the couple's two daughters were born in 1965 and 1967 the family settled in Baltimore, Maryland. Tyler raised her children and supported her family, in addition to publishing eighteen novels between 1964 and 2010.
Tyler has always been a very private, almost reclusive author; she does not make public appearances or accept teaching positions and she rarely consents to interviews. She is celebrated for using simple yet eloquent prose to tell stories about every day, relatable families. Themes of Tyler's work include the influence of family on the individual, the process of maturing and developing as an individual, and the dichotomy between the desire to settle down and the desire to be free of any physical or emotional ties. Her novels have always received mostly positive reviews, and began to grow in commercial popularity after the famous literary critic John Updike wrote a glowing review for her sixth novel, Searching for Caleb which was published in 1976. Tyler's eleventh novel Breathing Lessons (published in 1988) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest novel Noah's Compass, was published in January of 2010.
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Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
Rachel Carson grew up on a farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania with her father, mother, and two siblings. Carson had a very close relationship with her mother who took it upon herself to teach her about the natural history of the family's farmland from an early age. After completing high school, Carson enrolled at the Pennsylvania College for Women. Though her original educational interest was in literature and composition after the influence of her biology teacher, Mary Scott Skinker, Carson decided to major in Natural Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Natural Science in 1929 and was accepted into the Johns Hopkins University graduate program in zoology. During her time at Johns Hopkins Carson's financial responsibilities to her family grew. In 1931 Carson completed her master's degree in marine biology, but never finished her doctoral studies. For most of her life Carson was able to combine her interests in natural science and writing.
Early on in a position with the Bureau of Fisheries an introduction that Carson wrote for a brochure was published as an article in The Atlantic Monthly. This article led to the publication of Carson's first book, Under the Sea-Wind: A Naturalist's Picture of Ocean Life, in 1941. This book exemplifies Carson's ability to write about scientific topics in an artistic and literary way. Throughout the 1940's Carson continued to work for the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as publish articles for magazines. World War II created an immense amount of new scientific and oceanographic research and Carson was one of the first to publish some of this research for the public. Her next book, The Sea Around Us, was published in 1951 and was a critical and commercial success.
Carson's views were largely influenced by the state of current affairs; during the Cold War she began to doubt her previous beliefs that the ocean and other natural resources were on a scale too large to be affected by human interference. Carson wrote Silent Spring (published in 1962) in response to concerns about the effects of pesticides. Silent Spring was Carson's last work completed during her lifetime and it is often seen as Carson's most significant work because of the effect that it had on the environmental movement and environmental writing.
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H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken lived his entire life in Baltimore, Maryland. For the majority of Mencken's life (all but 6 years) he lived in his family's row house in south-west Baltimore. He graduated from a public high school, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, in 1896 and did not attend college. After a few years of working in his family's cigar factory Mencken was hired to write for the Baltimore Herald. He honed his skills writing copy at the Herald, while on the side working to publish his short stories and poems. With encouragement from Ellery Sedgwick, Mencken began to experiment writing nonfiction prose, which he would soon consider to be his greatest strength in writing. In 1905 Mencken published George Bernard Shaw: His Plays, the first book written about Shaw to be published in the United States. 1908 saw the publication of Mencken's study of the philosopher Nietzsche as well as the beginning of his time as a book reviewer for the Smart Set. Although he excelled when it came to reviewing novels that featured mostly realistic prose, Mencken struggled to effectively review the modernist fiction that was gaining popularity in the early twentieth century. Despite this weakness, through his reviews Mencken was able to encourage the development of the then fledgling American Literature genre. Mencken also used his position as a literary critic to defend the works of American novelists against the heavy censorship that plagued the era.
In 1914 Mencken, along with his colleague George Jean Nathan, became the co-editor of the Smart Set. The goal of the Smart Set, according to its new editors was to provide a venue for unknown authors to publish their work and to connect these authors to the magazine's exceedingly intelligent and literary audience. During Mencken's time as editor the magazine would publish works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, and James Joyce. In 1923 Mencken and Nathan resigned from their editorial positions at the Smart Set when the publisher attempted to censor their satirical piece written about the death of President Harding. The two did not stay away from the magazine world for long, launching American Mercury in January of 1924. This new magazine's content reflected a change in Mencken's main focus from that of American literature to the task of examining American culture more broadly. As editor at American Mercury Mencken continued his penchant for the controversial--criticizing puritanism, politics, and Prohibition among many others. However his caustic approach to current events and constant degradation of Franklin D. Roosevelt was not well received at the onset of the Great Depression, and the magazine's circulation began a steady downward spiral in 1929. Despite this, Mencken's legacy was already determined, he would be remembered as an influential journalist, prose writer, and magazine editor, famous for his controversial opinions and sharp satirical wit.
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A collection of books clippings, letters, manuscripts, periodicals, pamphlets and photographs related to H.L. Mencken and the Mencken Society is also available in the Maryland. Click the link below for more information.