The information for each author includes biographical and contextual materials and activities.
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1837)
Born in Litchfield, Connecticut, Henry Ward Beecher was the son of the preacher Lyman Beecher and the brother of the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. He added to the discursive fame of his family by becoming a well-known preacher, orator, and lecturer. Beecher graduated from Amherst in 1834 and attended Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. After two pastorates in Indiana, he moved in...
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)
Ambrose Bierce spent an unhappy childhood in Ohio and left home as a bitter and pessimistic young man. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Bierce joined the Union Army; he later brought his military experience vividly to life in some of his best stories. Bierce moved to San Francisco after the war and embarked on a career as a journalist. His "Prattler" column, originally printed in the...
Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810)
Born in Philadelphia to wealthy Quaker parents, Charles Brockden Brown was initially pressured by his family to study law. However, he had no real interest in the profession and would write in the evenings while studying law by day. After he finally admitted to his parents that he felt unable to appear before the bar, he began his writing career in earnest. Brown felt guilty for...
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
A lifelong resident of Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson left her hometown for only one year, when she attended Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary. She was raised in an intellectual and socially prominent family and at the age of eighteen had received a better formal education than most of her American contemporaries, both male and female...
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Charlotte Perkins was raised by her mother. Her father abandoned the family shortly after her birth (her father was the nephew of siblings Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher). Gilman's mother moved her two children to her original home, Rhode Island, where she withheld physical expressions of love from them in an attempt to steel them...
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, a descendant of the first Puritan colonists, including one of the judges of the Salem witchcraft trials, an ancestry that would haunt him throughout his life and provide a tormented inspiration for much of his writing. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where he had become friends with...
Washington Irving (c. 1783-1859)
America's first international literary celebrity, as well as its first fully professional writer, was born in New York City, the eleventh child in a close-knit family. After writing satirical sketches and essays for his brother's newspapers for some years, Washington Irving captured the nation's attention with the fictitious...
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Herman Melville's father was a New York City merchant who, when he died suddenly, left his family heavily in debt. Melville was only twelve at the time, but he was forced to leave school to go to work. After working in a variety of low-paying jobs (clerk, laborer, schoolteacher), in 1841 Melville joined a whaler sailing for the South Seas. Aboard...
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Born to the teenage actors Elizabeth Arnold and David Poe Jr. (in a time when acting was a highly disreputable career), Edgar Allan Poe was raised by a Richmond, Virginia, merchant named John Allan after both his parents died. Allan sent Poe to the University of Virginia, but Poe left after quarrelling with Allan in 1827. Allan had no patience for Poe's literary pretensions, and...
William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870)
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, and remaining near his birthplace throughout his life, Simms was well-known as the author of romances such as The Yemassee (1835), The Lily and the Totem (1850), and The Forayers (1855). Some of the raw material for these works no doubt came from Simms's father, who was a soldier of fortune, wandering the South for years...
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