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Indiana Authors

There can be no doubt that Indiana has produced an unusually large number of writers as compared to other states. Many people have commented on this fact. In the end, perhaps the most sensible reason yet has been suggested by Victor M. Powell, Wabash College dean: "I cannot understand why all the people who have speculated on the causes of all the writing emanating from Indiana have not struck upon the obvious one. It is clear to me that the cause is Indiana's climate. The summers are much too hot and humid to do anything physically vigorous and the winters, because we are not far enough north to enjoy skiing, sledding, and skating, nor far enough south to enjoy a truly mild climate, present us with damp, chill, and slush. Hence, for most of the year, the Hoosier stays indoors and dreams, and what could be more conducive to writing?"

We are all familiar with the local color poetry of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet, and the nature writing of Gene Stratton-Porter, who was born on Hopewell Farm in Wabash County in 1863. Her books sold extensively, over eight million copies in total, and her Song of the Cardinal (1903) was translated into seven languages. It has been said of her: "Certainly she was the best known of the many popular Indiana authors and also one of the most widely read authors in the world. Recently, I have discovered two charming, but lesser-known Indiana authors. The first is Esther Kellner, born on a farm in Henry County, Indiana in 1909. She published her first story at the age of eight. A free-lance writer, Mrs. Kellner is a former editor of Children's playmate. In 1956 she won the Indiana University Novel Award for "The Promise". Esther Kellner presently resides in Richmond, Indiana. The second author is Emily Kimbrough, born in 1899 in Muncie, Indiana where in a downtown area there is designated "The Emily Kimbrough Historic District". The "Emily Kimbrough House" can be visited at 715 E. Washington St., Muncie. Call 317-282-1550 for tour information. In 1944 Ms. Kimbrough wrote "How Dear to My Heart", a charming biography full of humor and history of her beloved hometown.

More Indiana Poets and Authors!

  • George Ade: An Indiana author, humorist and playwright, born in 1866 in Kentland, Indiana. He was an author who proved that writing as a profession would pay a handsome living to a man with the right combination of human sympathy, good craftsmanship and steady application. One of his best known books is The Permanent Ade.
  • Maurice Thompson: A Crawfordsville author and poet. He wrote Alice of Old Vincennes, a historical romance in 1900 built around the George Rogers Clark expedition. His career reveals a writer talented on a wide range of topics. After he moved to Crawfordsville, his first published work appeared in Atlantic Monthly. Many books followed, novels and some essays on nature study. His most successful work, Alice, temporarily eclipsed his excellent essays on the outdoors and a number of other subjects.
  • Meredith Nicholson: "The Dean of Hoosier Writers", he wrote The House of a Thousand Candles and The Hoosiers among other works.
  • John (Johnny) Gruelle: A talented cartoonist, Gruelle worked at the Indianapolis Star and other newspapers in Cleveland and New York. He wrote Raggedy Ann in 1918, which by 1938 had sold three million copies, is said to exceed any children's book in sales since Alice in Wonderland. Although Gruelle was a successful cartoonist, he found time to create forty-one children's stories during his life. He was born in Illinois, but his parents moved to Indianapolis the same year he was born, so he can certainly be considered a Hoosier.
  • Charles Major: Wrote of the pioneer period whose account of The Bears of Blue River (1901) is entertaining to adults and children alike. After the remarkable success of his book When Knighthood Was in Flower (1898), the novelist retired from his law practice and maintained an office for the sole reason of having a quiet place to work on his novels. Major was born in Indianapolis and later moved to Shelbyville. His first novel, published in 1898, was followed by ten others, of which his last, Rosalie (1925), appeared posthumously.
  • John Finley: 1797-1866. Known for many years as "The Hoosier Poet" until that name was given to James Whitcomb Riley, was born in Brownsburg, Virginia. In 1816 he started west and after a short stay in Cincinnati, settled, in 1820, in Richmond, Indiana. Mr. Finley is supposed to be the first to use the word "Hoosier" in print. In 1830 the Richmond Palladium printed his poem, "The Hoosier's Nest," which was reprinted in the Indianapolis Journal in 1833. In these printings the word was spelled "Hoosher", but Mr. Finley changed it to the present spelling in later editions of the poem. He contributed many poems to newspapers and had one volume of his works published. He was twice married and died on Dec. 23, 1866.
  • Rebecca Lard: The first poet in Indiana. A copy of her little volume of verse (there are only five numbered pages) is preserved in the collection of the Historical & Philosophical Society of Ohio, Cincinnati, and an undated clipping from an early issue of the Cincinnati Gazette pasted on the inner wrapper states that it is the work of Mrs. Lard, "a lady of Indiana." Also authored The Banks of the Ohio which was published in 1823.
  • Jessamyn West: Born in Indiana and author of The Friendly Persuasion, a story that describes Quaker like in the mid-1800s and The Secret Look, a book of poems, among many others. This popular author has an impressive list of eighteen books--collections of short stories, travel books and reminiscences--all of which reflect her Indiana roots.
  • Arthur Franklin Mapes: A Kendallville poet, who penned the official State Poem of Indiana.
  • Booth Tarkington: Produced, over a wide span of time, beginning with Monsieur Beaucaire (1900) and ending with The Show Piece (1947), with some sixty-three volumes in between. Among them are both of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, The Magnificent Ambersons (1919) and Alice Adams (1922). Of all writers Booth Tarkington most nearly interpreted the American scene from the beginning of this century through the Twenties as the average American saw it.
  • Rebecca Kai Dotlich: Born in Indianapolis, she is a poet and picture book author. Her childrens works have been featured in Ladybug, Highlights and even on PBS's Reading Rainbow. Her poetry has been featured in several anthologies, textbooks and collections. Check out her website for a complete list of her works.

A significant generation of Indiana women who were writers of children's books of fiction can be viewed as an entity. They were landmark writers, well educated, each with experience dating back to the turn of the century, and all had sizeable publishing efforts to their credit. A trio of major writers, Mabel Leigh Hunt, Miriam E. Mason, and Elisabeth H. Friermood, produced a total of one hundred and six books for children. But the range of topics of these writers was wide, which took them away from the state for many of their settings.

Of the three authors, however, Mabel Hunt has many stories based in Indiana, three about Quaker life. An energetic woman, whose books fill the shelves in libraries around the state, her books are based on stories from her mother's childhood. Hunt's thoughts on creative writing are interesting:


My plot for a story of more or less complete and alive in my mind before I write the opening sentence. I never begin a book until I know how the story will end. However, the fun of inventing and carrying on lies in the taking over of a plot and dialogue by the characters themselves. Although the author must keep a tight rein on them, she is really the listening one, placing on paper what the characters reveal to her.

Miriam Mason has, among her credits, more than fifty-seven books written during the years 1931 to 1968. Little Jonathan (1949), the story of a young boy who lives on a bank of the Ohio River, and Smiling Hill Farm (1937), telling of the migration of a family to life in a log cabin in Indiana, are but two which add to the further understanding of our Indiana heritage. Of Sara and the Winter gift (1968), Mason's last book, provides very good information of Indiana frontier living and on Indiana nature for young readers.

The third on our trio of major writers is Elisabeth H. Friermood, who considers Marion, Indiana her home town. She wrote close to eighteen books, mostly fiction, during her long and creative life. The Wabash Knows the Secret is written about the area west of Wabash, Indiana known as Richvalley, and entertaining as well as informational. Friermood has said of her work: "My heroines are real girls as I write; I see them move and hear them speak as one does in a motion picture. I then tell the story as I see and hear it projected on the screen of my imagination.

Two major male writers from Indiana, unrelated in time period or topic, are Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), from Terre Haute, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007 ). These authors are ordinarily studied in depth in university American literature courses, but high school teachers of students with more mature qualities of sophistication will guide their readers through these and similar materials accordingly. Dreiser is internationally known for two major novels: Sister Carrie (1900), and An American Tragedy (1926). He wrote some twenty-nine literary pieces in all, including novels, poetry, short stories, and drama dating from 1900 to 1947. Vonnegut's first published work appeared in 1952, but he is perhaps best known for his Slaughter House Five. He has published in popular periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post, and one of his novels, Happy Birthday, Wanda June was produced off-Broadway in 1970.

Edward Eggleston: We find his first novel The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871), one that has continued to be of interest to readers of all ages. His life is mirrored in his numerous writings during the period 1867 to 1904: from religious publications to novels, then on to history. Born in Vevay, Indiana, he will forever be linked to the Hoosier Schoolmaster, although spent much of his life outside the state.

Frank McKinney (Kin Hubbard) An Indianapolis newspaperman, created the comic cartoon character Abe Martin - a homespun philosopher - under the pen name of Kin Hubbard. He delighted newspaper readers from the years 1904 to 1930 with his droll sketches and the humorous sayings of his country bumpkin character.

Still more Indiana authors!

  • Bill Peet: from Peru, Indiana author-illustrator who has produced, in quality and quantity, a significant number of publications. His interests are wide and varied, and they do relate to Indiana. A steady outpouring of more than thirty-five books, are among the best-loved by children.
  • Norman Bridwell: creator of big Red Dog named Clifford, a beloved icon of the younger set.
  • Jim Davis: Creator of Garfield, the fat cat, who is the favorite of young and old all over the world.
  • Eth Clifford, who is a thriving writer in the present day, published her first book in 1949. We find eleven of her large output of forty-five volumes to be centered in Indiana. Among her more well-known are: Year of the Three-Legged Deer, Search for the Crescent Moon, and Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library.
  • Dorothy Hamilton began writing late in life, her first novel being published when she was sixty-five years of age. Her writing career spans a short, productive period from 1971 to 1975. Hamilton was born and lived all her life in Selma, Indiana.
  • Kathryn Lasky whose books have won a number of literary prizes, turned her talents to an autobiographically oriented story, Pageant (1986), set in Indiana, where Lasky grew up. The author's nonfiction titles include: Sugaring Time (1983), a Newberry honor book, and two novels, Prank (1984), and Beyond the Divide (1983).
  • Phyllis Naylor is an established writer, having written almost fifty books for children, beginning in 1975 with Witch's Sister, which takes place in Indiana. Two more recent titles are set in the Bassledorf Hotel, in fictional Middleburg, Indiana: The Mad Gasser of Bassledorf Street, and The Bodies in the Bassledorf Hotel.
  • James Alexander Thom was born in Gosport, Indiana. A contemporary author of historical fiction, he focuses on the pre-1816 period and the exploration of the Northwest Territory. Thom's writing experience stems from editing at the Indianapolis Star and the Saturday Evening Post after receiving a B.A. degree from Butler University in 1960.

Indiana Mystery Writers

  • Jeannette Covert Nolan
  • Sara Hoskinson Frommer
  • Michael Z. L
  • William J. Palmer
  • P.M. Carlson
  • Meredith Nicholson
  • Jeanne M. Dams
  • Joe L. Hensley
  • Ralph McInerny
  • Terence Faherty
  • Rex Stout

As you can see, there are indeed numerous authors and poets who claim Indiana as their home. A life-long bachelor, Riley spent most of his days of fame as the paying guest in a Lockerbie Street home owned by the Nickum and Holstein families, residing there from 1893 until his death in 1916. The house can be visited just off the downtown area of Indianapolis where it is....


"...such a relief, from the clangor and din
Of the heart of the town, to go loitering in
Through the dim, narrow walks, with the sheltering shade
Of the trees waving over the long promenade,
And littering lightly the ways of our feet
With the gold of the sunshine of Lockerbie Street."

Ending this special page is a quote from Emily Kimbrough


"And remember, we all stumble, every one of us.
That's why it's a comfort to go hand in hand."