Fiction

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Lake, Paul

Paul Lake is a poet, novelist, and professor residing in Russellville (Pope County). He received the Porter Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards offered in Arkansas, in recognition of his poetry. Paul Lake was born on August 1, 1951, in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother, Barbara Hull Lake, was a fifth-grade teacher, and his father, Paul Saunders Lake, was a manager and salesman for Metropolitan Life. He had three siblings: James, Stephen, and Melody. Lake lived in a row house on Giddings Avenue as a child in Baltimore. When he was in the second grade, Lake and his family moved to rural Harford County, where he attended elementary school and junior high school. After graduating from Edgewood High School, …

Lavers, Norman

aka: Cecil Norman Lavers
Throughout his career, Norman Lavers has been an award-winning author of several books and short stories, an English and creative writing professor at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County), an avid nature instructor/photographer/blogger, and winner of Arkansas’s annual Porter Prize. Cecil Norman Lavers was born in Berkeley, California, on April 21, 1935, to attorney Cecil Lavers and homemaker Mary Parker Lavers. He has two sisters. When Lavers was nine years old, he won first prize from the Young Author’s Club for a story published in the Berkeley Daily Gazette. His major influence for writing came from his grandfather, who was a successful short-story writer. Later in life, Lavers would write Growing Up in Berkeley with the Bomb (Summer …

Lee, Lorelei

The fictional character of Lorelei Lee, who calls herself the “little girl from Little Rock,” was created by writer Anita Loos (1889–1981). Lorelei first appeared as a character in short stories, followed by the bestselling novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, several successful Broadway shows, and a hit movie. The Lorelei Lee character is closely identified with her fictitious home of Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the state of Arkansas. After emerging in a series of short sketches published in Harper’s Bazaar during the early 1920s, what became known as the “Lorelei” stories were so popular that they tripled the magazine’s circulation. After Loos was encouraged by friends in the publishing business to adapt the stories into a book, her bestselling comedic …

Lenski, Lois

Lois Lenski wrote and illustrated children’s books throughout her career of more than fifty years. She visited parts of Mississippi County while researching her three books about Arkansas children: Cotton in My Sack, Houseboat Girl, and We Live by the River. Lois Lenski was born the fourth of five children in Springfield, Ohio, on October 14, 1893. Her father, Richard, was a Prussian immigrant and a Lutheran clergyman; her mother, Marietta, was a schoolteacher. Lenski attended grade school in Anna, Ohio, and rode a train each day to Sidney, Ohio, to attend high school. After graduating from Ohio State University in 1915 with a BS in education and a teaching certificate, Lenski studied at the Arts Students League in New …

Lighton, Will

aka: William Rheem Lighton
In 1908, writer William Rheem (Will) Lighton bought land in Fayetteville (Washington County), named it Happy Hollow Farm, and used “scientific agriculture” ideas to turn it into a successful farm. Even more successful was an article, “The Story of an Arkansas Farm,” which was published in the Saturday Evening Post on January 22, 1910. The article resulted in a stream of curious visitors. By the time it was expanded into a book, Happy Hollow Farm (1914), it had attracted more than 200 back-to-the-land settlers to Fayetteville. Will Lighton was born on July 13, 1866, in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, the son of William and Lydia Rheem Lighton. He married Laura McMaken on April 8, 1890, in Atchison, Kansas, set up their …

Madden, Ed

Ed Madden is a poet, activist, and educator who has written, co-written, and edited numerous books and anthologies. His poem “Sacrifice” was selected for the Best New Poets 2007 anthology. In 2015, he was named the first poet laureate of Columbia, South Carolina. Ed Madden was born on September 13, 1963. Originally from Newport (Jackson County), Madden grew up on a rice farm. His family was devoutly Christian. Madden studied English and French at Harding University in Searcy (White County) and graduated with a BA in 1985. He received a BS in biblical studies from the Institute for Christian Studies in Austin, Texas, in 1992; an MA from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in 1989, and a PhD …

Maudelle: A Novel Founded on Facts Gathered From Living Witnesses

Maudelle: A Novel Founded on Facts Gathered from Living Witnesses, written by James Henery Smith and published by Mayhew Publishing Company of Boston in 1906, is reputed to be the first novel written by an African American residing in Arkansas. Smith was a prominent Little Rock (Pulaski County) dentist, a leader in the black community who spoke in opposition of the proposed Separate Coach Act of 1891, and the father of Arkansas composer Florence Smith Price. Maudelle is a novel about miscegenation, focusing on the “illicit commingling” between a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, George Morroe, and his slave Mary. Their child, Maudelle, becomes orphaned after a series of melodramatic events: the stabbing of Morroe; his deathbed request to be married …

Mayer, Mercer

Mercer Mayer is the author and illustrator of more than 300 children’s books, as well as a contributor to a variety of other media, including video, audio, and workbooks. Mercer Mayer was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 30, 1943. He attended elementary school in Camden (Ouachita County). A military family, the Mayers moved frequently until settling in Honolulu, Hawaii, when he was a teenager. The young Mayer enjoyed reading and drawing. After high school, he attended the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Art Students League in New York City. In 1966, he began a career as a book illustrator in New York City. In 1967, Mayer’s first book, A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog, was …

McGehee, Peter Gregory

Gay Arkansas-born novelist Peter Gregory McGehee was praised by reviewers for his outrageous comedies of Southern manners, in particular the sly humor with which he explores what he saw as a hypocritical society that easily rationalizes its own moral lapses even as it enforces a narrow, judgmental morality upon others. Peter McGehee was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on October 6, 1955, to Frank T. and Julia Ann May McGehee. The middle of three children, he was six years old when the family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he attended Forest Park Elementary School and, in 1973, graduated from Parkview High School. Shortly before he would have completed a BFA degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, …

McLarey, Myra Dell

Howard County native Myra Dell McLarey is a teacher and an author of a wide variety of works, many influenced by her childhood in southwest Arkansas. She is best known for her 1995 debut novel Water from the Well, a semi-autobiographical work of fiction set in the fictional town of Sugar Springs, Arkansas. Myra Dell McLarey, the youngest of five children, was born on September 5, 1942, in Okay (Howard County), the company town of the Okay Cement Plant, to Charles Drowns McLarey Jr. and Josie Earline Fincher McLarey. Her father was a supervisor at the cement plant as well as a deputy sheriff and the elected constable of the Saratoga-Okay township; her mother was a homemaker and later a …

McMath, Phillip Hal

Phillip Hal McMath is a Little Rock (Pulaski County) trial attorney, an award-winning writer, a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, and an ardent advocate for preserving and promoting Arkansas literature and history. McMath has published four novels and numerous short stories and articles, along with producing two plays. His book Lost Kingdoms was the winner of the Arkansiana Fiction Award in 2009, while The Broken Vase received the Booker Worthen Prize in 2011 . McMath established the Porter Prize in 1984, which has made a significant contribution to literature in Arkansas. Phillip McMath was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Sidney Sanders McMath and Anne Phillips McMath on December 25, 1945; he has two brothers and two sisters. In 1948, McMath’s father was elected …

Medearis, Mary Myrtle

Though she always considered herself a musician, Mary Myrtle Medearis was best known as the author of Big Doc’s Girl (1942), a novel that grew out of an assigned autobiographical short story in a creative writing class. It has the distinction of having stayed in print longer than any other work of fiction by an Arkansan. Ever tenacious, Medearis had great success as a writer and historian in spite of her humble beginnings—and partly because of them. Mary Medearis was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) on May 31, 1915. Her mother, Myrtle Hendricks, taught piano. Her father, Dr. Robert Medearis, practiced medicine. Mary, whose maternal grandparents had been vaudeville performers, inherited her family’s love for music. By the …

Morgan, Speer

The author of novels and short-story collections, Speer Morgan is a professor and the editor of The Missouri Review. Many of Morgan’s novels are set in Arkansas, including The Freshour Cylinders (1998), which won Foreword Magazine’s Silver Award for the best book of the year and an American Book Award in 1999. Speer Morgan was born in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) on January 25, 1946, to Charles Donald and Betty (Speer) Morgan. Morgan attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, from 1964 to 1966, as well as the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he received a BA in 1968. He married that same year. He received a PhD in 1972 from Stanford University. Morgan was …

Morris, Gilbert Leslie

A Christy award–winning Christian author, Gilbert Leslie Morris wrote more than 200 books for young adults spanning several genres, including historical novels, westerns, science fiction, and fantasy. His most well-known series of novels, the “House of Winslow” series, has collectively sold more than a million copies. Gilbert Morris was born on May 24, 1929, in Forrest City (St. Francis County) to Osceola M. and Jewell Irene (Gilbert) Morris. Morris attended Arkansas State College (now Arkansas State University) and received a BA in English in 1948 and an MSE in 1962. He received a PhD from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1968 and also attended the University of Washington–Seattle. Morris married Johnnie Yvonne Fegert on May …

Noland, Fent

aka: Charles Fenton Mercer (Fent) Noland
One of Arkansas’s most famous citizens during the antebellum period was Charles Fenton Mercer (Fent) Noland, a Batesville (Independence County) lawyer. He became a national figure as one of the leading “Southwestern humorists” with the regular publication of his letters in the New York Spirit of the Times, the leading national sports and humor newspaper. Noland was Arkansas’s representative in the literary movement named for the “old Southwest” (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas), which delighted the nation with an array of bucolic frontier/agrarian writings. Fent Noland was named for Charles Fenton Mercer, the family friend who founded Aldie, Virginia, where he was born on August 23, 1810, the fourth of the five children of William and Catherine (Callender) Noland. His father …

On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw

A ninety-six-page joke book, On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw gained wide popularity upon its publication in 1903 and eventually became the bestselling joke book in American history. Subtitled “funny railroad stories—stories of the Southern darkies—all the best minstrel jokes of the day,” the book includes puns, some tall tales, and the prevalent racial and gender stereotypes of its day. The author, Thomas W. Jackson (1867–1934), was a train brakeman for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company who collected stories and jokes he heard on his travels; as he had injured his hand in an accident and was not able to write, his wife wrote his stories down for the book. Published in Chicago, the book was sold by “train butchers,” …

Ozark Trilogy, The

The Ozark Trilogy (1981) is a science fiction trilogy by Suzette Haden Elgin set on the fictional planet Ozark. In Elgin’s story, Ozark has been colonized by twelve families from the Ozark region of Earth who name the continents Arkansaw, Mizzurah, Marktwain, Oklahomah, Tinaseeh, and Kintucky. The families fled Earth in 2012 to escape the poverty, disease, and violence of a failing civilization and its corrupt central government. The Trilogy begins 1,000 years later, as the old questions of power and the role of government resurface, and the Ozarkers must decide what kind of civilization they will be. Elgin, who grew up in the Missouri Ozarks and retired to the Arkansas Ozarks in the 1980s, draws heavily upon Ozark culture …

Painted House, A

A Painted House is a book which takes place in Arkansas and was written by bestselling author John Grisham. It was based on his childhood in Arkansas, and when the book was made into a television movie, it was filmed in Arkansas. Born in Jonesboro (Craighead County) on February 8, 1955, and raised in northeast Arkansas near Black Oak (Craighead County), Grisham created an evocative portrait of the time and place of his childhood in A Painted House. Set in 1952 Arkansas, it is a departure from his usual legal thriller style, with Grisham writing, “There is not a single lawyer, dead or alive, in this story. Nor are there judges, trials, courtrooms, conspiracies or nagging social issues.” In 2000, …

Pendleton, Donald Eugene (Don)

Donald Eugene Pendleton was a pulp fiction, action, science fiction, and mystery writer best known for the Executioner series books, which centered on the character Mack Bolan, who waged a one-man war against the Mafia. Pendleton is generally credited with creating the action-adventure genre in the 1970s. Don Pendleton was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 12, 1927, to Louis Thomas Pendleton, a machinist, and Drucy Valentine. On December 7, 1942, Pendleton lied about his age and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, days before his fifteenth birthday. He served as a radioman first class until November 1947. He served in all the war theaters and received several medals, including the Naval Commendation Medal, Iwo Jima, in 1945. He …

Piazza, Ben Daniel

Ben Daniel Piazza was an actor, director, author, and playwright who was compared to the young Marlon Brando in his youth but achieved acclaim for character roles in his later years, often portraying an edgy, tightly controlled suburbanite or a repressive parent in films such as The Blues Brothers. He began acting in 1952 during his college days at Princeton University and worked steadily in theater, film, and television until his death in 1991. Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Charles Piazza, a shoe repairman, and Elfreida Piazza, a homemaker. He was one of nine children, having two sisters and six brothers. He graduated from Little Rock High School (later Central High …

Plum Thicket, The

The Plum Thicket was Janice Holt Giles’s seventh book (her sixth novel) and the first to be set in her home state of Arkansas. It was first published in 1954 by Houghton Mifflin. The Plum Thicket was a deviation from the anticipated continuation of a series of historical novels about the settlement of Kentucky, which had begun with the publication of The Kentuckians in 1953 and would resume with publication of Hannah Fowler (1956) and The Believers (1957). Giles felt compelled to write the book following a pilgrimage to her paternal grandparents’ home place in Arkansas near Charleston (Franklin County), a place she had visited often as a child. The story told in the book is fictional but has some …

Portis, Charles McColl

One of the finest of Arkansas’s fiction writers, Charles McColl Portis was best known for the western novel True Grit. Portis’s other novels—Norwood, The Dog of the South, Masters of Atlantis, and Gringos—are set in the twentieth century and are more purely comical. Whereas True Grit has sold copies into the millions and was made into films in 1969 and 2010 (with an Oscar-winning performance by John Wayne in the first adaptation), Portis’s other novels, though of high quality, have gone in and out of print over the years and have sold much more modestly. Portis’s protagonists are staid and ill at ease in modern society. The possibility of “true grit”—unyielding courage in the face of danger—is absent from the worlds of …

Powell, Nathan Lee (Nate)

Nathan Lee (Nate) Powell, winner of a National Book Award and an Eisner Award, is a New York Times bestselling graphic novelist. He is best known for his graphic novels Swallow Me Whole and Any Empire, which he wrote and illustrated, as well as the March series of graphic novels, co-written by Congressman John Lewis, for which he provided the art. Nate Powell was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on July 31, 1978. He grew up as an ardent comics fan in North Little Rock (Pulaski County), reading such titles as The ’Nam, Transformers, X-Men, Daredevil, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Appleseed, and G.I. Joe. In the 1990s, Powell became involved in the DIY (do-it-yourself) punk subculture, self-publishing a zine …

Primary Colors

Loosely based on Governor Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid, Joe Klein’s controversial novel Primary Colors was published anonymously in 1996. A film based on the novel was released in 1998. The controversy stemmed from the resemblance of many characters to real-life counterparts, leading many to believe that the novel must have been written by a political insider. The novel follows the presidential campaign of Governor Jack Stanton, an overweight womanizer with a gift for politics, and is narrated by Henry Burton, an idealistic young black man who quickly rises within the ranks of Stanton’s staff. Themes of the book include adultery, sexual promiscuity, idealism, politics, and the role of the media in the political process and celebrity, culminating with Burton …

Pullers

Tom Graves’s 1998 novel Pullers features rare subject matter: the sport of arm wrestling (participants refer to themselves as “pullers”). The Southern Gothic–style novel opens with an arm-wrestling contest at Bad Bill’s Hawg Trawf in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). The novel then shifts to Memphis, Tennessee, where most of the story takes place. But characters spend time on both sides of the Mississippi River, enough that Pullers should be regarded both for its Arkansas and Tennessee pedigrees. The winner of the Pine Bluff contest, Scud Matthews, makes his grand entrance at the event with a much smaller man on a leash, both wearing T-shirts that read: “We’re Queer Dear.” With his use of juxtaposition and stereotypes, Graves is primarily going …

Read, Opie Pope

Opie Pope Read was a newspaperman, author, and lecturer. He cofounded the comic newspaper The Arkansas Traveler and wrote several successful novels. Arkansas provided much of his education as he worked for three Little Rock (Pulaski County) newspapers: the Arkansas Gazette, the Arkansas Evening Democrat, and the Evening Ledger. His work as city editor and his associations with the state’s antebellum elite provided him with decades of literary material. Opie Read was born on December 22, 1852, in Nashville, Tennessee, the youngest of eleven children. His parents were Guilford and Elizabeth Wallace Read. Read’s early life was spent in Gallatin, Tennessee. His formal education was limited, but he read extensively. After writing his first anonymously published piece for a local …

Richards, Dusty

aka: Ronald Lee Richards
Dusty Richards was an author of numerous Western novels and a noted mentor each year to hundreds of beginning writers. Beginning in 2000, he was a patron contributor of the Arkansas Writers’ Conference. In 2005, he received the Cowboy Culture Award for the many hours he has volunteered in helping aspiring authors. Ronald Lee “Dusty” Richards was born on November 11, 1937, in Chicago, Illinois, to John C. Richards and Jean E. Hogenbirk Richards. His father was a stationary power plant engineer, and his mother was a homemaker. He had one brother and one sister. At thirteen, he moved with his family to Mesa, Arizona. A year later, they moved to Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from North Phoenix High School …

Risley, Eleanor de la Vergne Doss

When the Arkansas State Library sponsored an event for supporters in 1939, librarian Vera Snook wrote Eleanor Risley, hoping to entice her to attend. Other honored guests were John Gould Fletcher, Charles J. Finger, and Charles Morrow Wilson. Risley’s inclusion on the list is an indication of the importance attached to her reputation as a nationally recognized Arkansas writer. Risley’s two novels, The Road to Wildcat: A Tale of Southern Mountaineering (1930) and An Abandoned Orchard (1932), had been published by Little, Brown and Company and were critically well received. Between 1928 and 1931, The Atlantic Monthly magazine published a series of Risley short stories about rural southern mountain life. The May 1931 Atlantic Monthly piece “Drought,” which was set …

Rivers, Diana

Diana Rivers is an author, artist, and promoter of women’s communities and art venues. Rivers has published numerous short stories and eight novels in the genre of speculative fiction, seven of which compose the Hadra series. Rivers lives in Madison County. Diana Rivers was born Diana Duer Smith on October 17, 1931, in New York City and grew up in suburban New Jersey near Morristown. Her parents, Schuyler Smith and Elizabeth Larocque, separated before she was three years old. Her mother wrote poems and stories, publishing a book of verse, Satan’s Shadow, in 1930. Rivers’s great aunt Caroline King Duer was a poet and an editor for Vogue magazine, and her other great aunt, Alice Duer Miller, wrote poems, stories, …

Salassi, Otto

Otto Russell Salassi was a librarian and writer best known for the young-adult novel Jimmy D., Sidewinder, and Me (1987). Salassi attended and worked at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and lived in Fayetteville from 1974 until his death. Otto Salassi was born on October 2, 1939, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Walter Salassi and Ruby Lee Salassi. He served in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a mathematician at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before attending Memphis State University, where he was awarded a BS in English and philosophy in 1967. He earned an MLS from Vanderbilt University in 1968 and worked as a librarian first at Bemidji State College in Minnesota (where he …

Shakespeare Series

aka: Lily Bard Series
The Shakespeare series consists of five novels in the “cozy” crime genre by Charlaine Harris, who lived in Arkansas for many years. Shakespeare and Bartley, the fictional Arkansas towns where the novels are set, resemble several small communities in the state, and Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Memphis, Tennessee, are both referred to as conveniently nearby. Like other books in this genre, these novels do not focus on police procedure or the reasoning of a genius detective. Instead, a lay person, generally a woman, investigates and solves a crime, sometimes with the help of a police officer or other trained investigator. In order of publication, Harris’s Shakespeare novels are Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996), Shakespeare’s Champion (1997), Shakespeare’s Christmas (1998), Shakespeare’s Trollop …

Shaver, Richard Sharpe

Richard Sharpe Shaver was an American writer and “outsider” artist best known for his controversial stories known collectively as “the Shaver Mystery,” which were presented as nonfiction in science fiction magazines, most notably Amazing Stories. These stories, in which Shaver claimed to have discovered an ancient, sinister civilization in underground caves, led to Shaver Mystery Clubs and influenced many artists and writers, including Harlan Ellison and Phillip K. Dick. Shaver died in the Arkansas town of Summit (Marion County), where he had moved in the mid-1960s. Richard Shaver was born on October 7, 1907, in Virginia, but his family moved to Berwick, Pennsylvania, sometime before 1910. Little is reliably known about Shaver’s early life. According to Shaver, in 1932, while …

Simon, Charlie May

Charlie May Simon is among the state’s most prolific major authors. Known primarily for her children’s literature, with just under thirty books and with numerous short stories to her credit, Simon had a long career writing for adults as well. Additionally, she is known as the wife of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, John Gould Fletcher. Her work in the field of children’s literature has been honored in Arkansas since 1971 by the annual presentation of the Charlie May Simon Book Award. Simon was born Charlie May Hogue on August 17, 1897, not far from Monticello (Drew County), to Charles Wayman Hogue and Mary Gill Hogue. She was named after both her parents, according to Southern tradition. Her father, a tenant farmer …

Stewart, Trenton Lee

Trenton Lee Stewart is a contemporary novelist and short-story writer. He is well known as the author of The Mysterious Benedict Society series, a trilogy of best-selling young adult novels. Described by Kirkus Reviews as “entertainingly quirky” and “hung about with cantrips to catch clever readers,” Stewart’s writing incorporates a cerebral playfulness, utilizing wordplay and mental puzzles that the reader is invited to solve along with the characters. The trilogy has garnered nationwide popularity among students and teachers alike. Additionally, his stories have been published in a number of literary magazines, including the Georgia Review, Shenandoah, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the New England Review. The 2004 Best American Short Stories volume, published by Houghton Mifflin and guest edited by …

Stockley, Griffin Jasper

Griffin Jasper Stockley Jr. is an author, historian, and attorney known for his lifelong commitment to the cause of civil rights. Although Stockley has been honored over the years for his legal achievements, his books have garnered him the widest recognition. His five Gideon Page novels became popular in the 1990s. Noteworthy in their own right, his legal mysteries are also an outward expression of Stockley’s own personal and political beliefs. In 2001, he published a finely researched historical account of the Elaine Massacre, titled Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919. In 2002 and 2010, Stockley was awarded the Booker Worthen Literary Prize. He has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Historical Association. …

Street, James Howell

James Howell Street was a newspaperman and novelist who worked at the Arkansas Gazette in the 1920s and later wrote essays celebrating the state and the newspaper. James Street was born on October 15, 1903, in Lumberton, Mississippi, to John Camillus Street and William Thompson Scott Street (her actual name). Although his family was Catholic, he converted and became a Baptist minister after marrying Lucy Nash O’Briant, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, in 1923. After three children were born, he gave up preaching and became a newspaper reporter, first at the Pensacola Journal in Florida and then in 1926 at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was twenty-three when he went to work for the Gazette …

Stuart, Mary Routh McEnery

aka: Ruth McEnery Stuart
Mary Routh McEnery Stuart, working under the name Ruth McEnery Stuart, wrote a body of fiction and poetry based on the experiences she had in Arkansas, modeling characters, dialect, and even a fictional town on her interactions within the state. She was, both financially and critically, one of the most successful fiction writers of her time, and in recent years has been studied by feminist and social literary critics. Routh McEnery was born on February 19, 1852, (according to the date provided on her marriage license; though she may have been born as early as 1849). Her parents were Mary Routh Stirling and James McEnery, who was at that time the mayor of Marksville, Louisiana, where McEnery was born. In …

Sugar Lacey Series

aka: Sugar [Book]
aka: This Bitter Earth [Book]
Sugar Lacey, a fictional character created by novelist Bernice L. McFadden, is the protagonist in Sugar and its sequel This Bitter Earth. The two novels center on a brutal murder of a young girl in 1940s Arkansas and the personal redemption of Sugar, an emotionally broken prostitute with a turbulent past. The series is a story of acceptance with a backdrop of the segregated South. McFadden’s debut novel, Sugar (Dutton, 2000), introduced readers to the title character, Sugar Lacey. Most of the novel’s action takes place in 1955, but the story begins in 1940 with the brutal rape, murder, and mutilation of Jude, the young African-American daughter of Pearl Taylor in the small, mainly black fictional town of Bigelow. In …

Summer of My German Soldier

Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier is a novel and a television movie set in eastern Arkansas during World War II. Both portray the Arkansas location, era, and characters realistically. Since the novel’s publication in 1973, it has remained a young-adult best-seller and is considered a classic of young-adult literature. In 1973, it was an American Library Association Notable Book, a National Book Award finalist, and one of The New York Times’s Outstanding Books of the Year; it also won the Golden Kite award. In 1979, the movie earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Writing. Esther Rolle won the Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy for her portrayal of Ruth. Rolle praised Greene for her skillful, true-to-life characterization of …

Thanet, Octave

aka: Alice French
Alice French was a leading writer of local color stories and journalistic essays under the pseudonym Octave Thanet. Some of her best work is based on the years she spent at her winter home in Clover Bend (Lawrence County) in the Black River swamp country. French also published stories and essays in such national periodicals as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Scribner’s Magazine, and Century Magazine. She prided herself on the accurate depiction not only of the physical setting of her stories but also of the customs and dialect of the characters in them. Alice French was born on March 19, 1850, in Andover, Massachusetts, to George Henry French and Frances Morton. The French family also included sons George, Morton, Nathaniel, and …

Thibault, David

David Thibault was an agricultural agent and writer whose short stories appeared in popular national magazines. His early death cut short his career before he could accumulate a large body of significant work. Some of his best fiction draws characters, settings, and themes from plantation life in Arkansas in the early twentieth century. David Thibault was born on May 23, 1892, at Walnut Grove plantation east of Little Rock (Pulaski County). His parents were James Keatts Thibault, a farmer, and Corinne Laurie Gibson Thibault. He was the youngest of nine chlidren and was educated in the public schools of Little Rock. In 1915, Thibault married Irene Graeme Stockton, a high school English teacher. In 1917, they had a son, David …

This Scorched Earth

This Scorched Earth is a 2018 work of historical fiction by William Gear set in the Arkansas Ozarks during the Civil War. While the Civil War has been fertile ground for historical fiction, novelists have rarely ventured west of the Mississippi River to the often-ignored Trans-Mississippi Theater. This Scorched Earth is an exception. Gear avoids the stereotypical image of Arkansas Ozarkers as benighted hillbillies. The story centers around the experiences of the Hancock family—mother, father, three sons, and one daughter—who live in the highlands of northwestern Arkansas not far from Elkhorn Tavern. The eldest son is a doctor, a recent graduate of medical school in Boston, Massachusetts. The middle son spent time as a student in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he …

Tom Sawyer, Detective

Tom Sawyer, Detective, a novella written by Mark Twain and published in 1896, was a parody of mystery stories, especially the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle, which began to appear in 1887. Set in Arkansas, the novel was adapted into a movie in 1938. In the mid-1890s, Mark Twain, near bankruptcy after unwise investments, returned to his popular characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to revive his fortunes. He wrote Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), a parody of the travel adventures of Jules Verne, and began a novel to be titled Tom Sawyer among the Indians, which was never completed. Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896) had an unusual origin. While visiting Europe in late 1894, Twain had been told the …

Tomkievicz, Shirley Jean Abbott

aka: Shirley Abbott
Shirley Jean Abbott Tomkievicz, a magazine editor and writer, achieved her greatest fame for her three volumes of memoirs, which detail the story of her family history and her own coming of age in Hot Springs (Garland County): Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South (1983), The Bookmaker’s Daughter: A Memory Unbound (1991), and Love’s Apprentice: The Education of a Modern Woman (1998), all written under the name Shirley Abbott. Critics  lauded her books as well-written examinations, not only of her own life, but of the South in an age of transition. Even after becoming a resident of New York, Abbott continues to write about Arkansas for a wide audience in magazines and newspapers. She once commented, “I learned to respect and …

Trieschmann, John Werner, IV

John Werner Trieschmann IV is a playwright and professor living in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Trieschmann’s many plays have been staged by Moving Arts in Los Angeles, California; Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York; the New Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts; Red Octopus Productions in Little Rock; and other companies, as well as by countless middle schools and high schools in the United States and abroad. First-prize winner of the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans New Play Competition, Trieschmann was also the first playwright to have been honored with the prestigious Porter Prize in Arkansas (1994). Werner Trieschmann was born on September 9, 1964, in Hot Springs (Garland County), the oldest of four boys. His father, John Trieschmann, was a …

True Grit

“Here is what happened.” With those simple words, Mattie Ross of Dardanelle (Yell County) begins her reminiscence of the time she avenged her father’s murder with the help of a one-eyed deputy marshal and a dandy Texas Ranger. Set in western Arkansas and the Indian Territory of the 1870s, the novel True Grit, written by Arkansan Charles Portis, mixes this unlikely trio of personalities in a bestselling Western adventure. Published in 1968, True Grit was adapted into a movie and released the following year. The movie garnered veteran actor John Wayne the first and only Oscar of his career for his portrayal of Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn. In 2010, a second film adaptation of the novel, written and directed by …

Wilkins, Gina Ferris Vaughan

Gina Ferris Vaughan Wilkins is the author of more than 100 books. A life-long resident of central Arkansas, Wilkins obtained a journalism degree from Arkansas State University (ASU) and worked in advertising and human resources until she sold her first book in 1987 to Harlequin. Gina Vaughan was born on December 20, 1954, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Vernon Vaughan, an electrician, and Beth Vaughan, an executive secretary. She has three younger brothers. In February 1972, she married John Wilkins, a wood turner. They have three children. When she sold her first book, he used his savings to buy her a typewriter. She returned the one she had borrowed from her mother-in-law. After graduating from ASU in May 1976, …

Witness, The

A 2012 novel by romance writer Nora Roberts published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Witness is set in the imaginary Ozarks town of Bickford, Arkansas, a community that somewhat resembles the tourist town of Eureka Springs (Carroll County). Bickford is hardly ever mentioned by name, however, and its identity with Eureka Springs is tenuous. The novel’s characters are what you might expect to find in a tourist town in the mountains: generous, family-centered Ozarkers gifted at story-telling and meandering conversation. They are also more welcoming to “Yankees” than small-town folk in other Roberts novels. Brooks Gleason, chief of police of Bickford, has come home after ten years on the Little Rock (Pulaski County) police force. His father teaches mathematics …

Woods Colt, The

Thames Williamson’s The Woods Colt, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1933, was the first Ozarks-based novel to be a significant popular and critical success. The novel was a selection in the Book of the Month Club for October 1933 and was praised by several critics, including an anonymous reviewer who, in the October 1933 issue of Time, argued that it was worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Set in the early 1930s, The Woods Colt (a regional term for an illegitimate child) tells the story of Clint Morgan, a young man who was brought up fatherless and shunned by many members of his community. He is now a jealous and rowdy hill man courting the voluptuous and flirtatious Tillie …

Wright, Richard Nathaniel

Richard Nathaniel Wright was a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His many works, influenced by the injustices he faced as an African American, protested racial divides in America. His most famous work, the autobiographical Black Boy, was a controversial bestseller that opened the eyes of the nation to the evils of racism. Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908, on a farm in Roxie, Mississippi, the son of Nathan Wright, a sharecropper, and Ella Wright, a teacher. He had one younger brother, Leon. The family’s poverty forced them to move around the South during Wright’s childhood. In Memphis, Tennessee, his father left the family, and in 1915, his mother put Wright and his brother in a Memphis orphanage after …