Literature and Authors

Entries - Entry Category: Literature and Authors - Starting with B

Babcock, Bernie

aka: Julia Burnelle Smade Babcock
In 1903, Julia Burnelle (Bernie) Smade Babcock became the first Arkansas woman to be included in Authors and Writers Who’s Who. She published more than forty novels, as well as numerous tracts and newspaper and magazine articles. She founded the Museum of Natural History in Little Rock (Pulaski County), was a founding member of the Arkansas Historical Society, and was the first president of the Arkansas branch of the National League of American Pen Women. Bernie Smade was born in Union, Ohio, on April 28, 1868, the first of six children, to Hiram Norton Smade and Charlotte Elizabeth (Burnelle) Smade. The Smades raised their children with a freedom uncharacteristic for that time. When Smade’s lively imagination was mistaken for lying …

Back Yonder, An Ozark Chronicle

Back Yonder, An Ozark Chronicle, published in 1932, is the autobiography of Charles Wayman Hogue (1870–1965), who grew up in Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains. Arkansas folklorist Vance Randolph wrote that Back Yonder was, “One of the finest nonfiction books ever written about the Ozark country. Hogue is a native of Van Buren County, Arkansas. He knows the truth about this region, and sets it down without any sentimental twaddle.” Hogue was the father of well-known Arkansas author Charlie May Simon. Her second husband, Howard Simon, illustrated Hogue’s book with exquisite woodcuts. As a young man in his early twenties, Hogue left the Ozarks to attend Little Rock University (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock). It was there that he …

Baker, Virgil Lyle

Virgil Lyle Baker was an author, playwright, director, and educator who served as a faculty member and department head in the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). He was instrumental in creating the drama program at UA. Virgil Baker was born in Prescott, Iowa, on August 18, 1896, into the farming family of James Baker and Ida Baker. He had a younger brother, Ralph L. Baker, and younger sister, Elsie M. Baker. Baker spent his childhood in various towns in Muskingum County, Ohio. He attended Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, graduating with a BA in 1922. Baker attended graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he …

Ballard, George Pool

George Pool Ballard published poems in newspapers in Fayetteville (Washington County) as well as a poetry collection, unusual feats for an African-American poet in the 1920s. Although he has been nearly forgotten, Ballard is a significant figure in the literary history of Arkansas, as his life and poetry provide insights into the history and culture of Fayetteville and into the era of segregation in which he lived and wrote. Details about George Ballard’s life are severely limited. Ballard was born on January 4, 1882, on his parents’ small farm near the rural community of Cincinnati in western Washington County. Since no public schools were available to African Americans in this area of Arkansas, Ballard probably did not receive a formal …

Big Bear of Arkansas, The

“The Big Bear of Arkansas” by Thomas Bangs Thorpe is a prime example of Southwestern humor. The story and its relations (notably Charles Noland’s “Pete Whetstone’s Bear Hunt” of 1837), along with the presence of bears in the region, helped earn Arkansas the sobriquet of the “Bear State,” as well as adding to the young state’s image as an untamed wilderness. Thorpe was born on March 1, 1815, in Westfield, Massachusetts, and raised in New York. He earned a living painting portraits, particularly during his years in Louisiana (1838–1854 and in the 1860s). Thorpe also dabbled in politics and investment, both in New York and in Louisiana. His greatest claim to lasting fame was as a writer, publishing six books …

Big Doc’s Girl

Published in 1942, Big Doc’s Girl is a novel written by Arkansas native Mary Medearis. The book is said to have stayed in print longer than any other work of fiction by an Arkansan. Mary Myrtle Medearis was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) on May 31, 1915. With financial help from an aunt after her father’s death during the Great Depression, Medearis studied music at the Juilliard School in New York City. She enrolled in a speech class at New York’s Columbia University in 1938, but because the class was full, Medearis enrolled in a creative writing class. When the class was assigned to compose an autobiographical short story, Medearis wrote “Death of a Country Doctor” about the …

Billingsley, ReShonda Tate

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is a journalist, public speaker, publisher, editor, ghostwriter, and producer; however, it is for her work as an award-winning national bestselling author that she is most known. Since publishing her first novel, My Brother’s Keeper (2001), through her own publishing company before Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books began publishing it, she has authored more than forty additional novels and contributed to several anthologies. Most of her novels have been published by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books and have spanned several genres, including nonfiction and both teen and adult fiction. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2010. ReShonda Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Bruce Tate and Nancy Kilgore. She moved to Arkansas …

Black, Daniel

Daniel Black is a nationally renowned, award-winning novelist. His works are inspired by African-American life, history, and heritage in the South—encompassing themes of race, religion, and sexuality. Daniel Black was born on November 28, 1965, in Kansas City, Kansas, but grew up in Arkansas in Blackwell (Conway County). His great-grandmother, Stella Swinton, was his childhood caregiver. He graduated from Morrilton High School in Morrilton (Conway County). Upon graduation from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988, he was awarded a full fellowship to Temple University, where he earned a master’s in 1990 and a doctorate in 1992, both in African-American studies. Black also earned the prestigious Oxford Modern British Studies fellowship, leading him to study at …

Blackmon, Anita

aka: Anita Blackmon Smith
Anita Blackmon Smith was a prolific mystery author who wrote more than 1,000 short stories and several novels. She is most known for her contributions to the mystery genre’s “Had I But Known” school, a foreshadowing technique in which a character expresses regret over failing to recognize a sign portending larger, often deadly, consequences. Anita Blackmon was born in Augusta (Woodruff County) on December 1, 1892, to Edwin E. Blackmon, who was postmaster and later town mayor, and Eva Hutchinson Blackmon, principal of Augusta Public School. Blackmon graduated from high school when she was fourteen years old. She attended Ouachita College (now Ouachita Baptist University) and then the University of Chicago. Afterward, she taught Latin, German, and French in a …

Blackmon, Douglas A.

Douglas A. Blackmon is an American writer and journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and an American Book Award for Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (2008). Douglas Blackmon was born in the fall of 1964 in Stuttgart (Arkansas County). The family later moved to Leland, Mississippi, where Blackmon penned his first newspaper story at the age of twelve for the town’s Progress. The family relocated to Monticello (Drew County), where he graduated from high school. He then attended Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County), graduating in 1986. After graduation, Blackmon was a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat and managing editor of the Daily Record in …

Booker Worthen Literary Prize

aka: Worthen Prize
The Booker Worthen Literary Prize is awarded each year to the best work, fiction or non-fiction, by an author living in central Arkansas. With a stipend of $2,000, it is one of the state’s most lucrative and prestigious literary prizes. The Booker Worthen Literary Prize was established in 1999 in the memory of William Booker Worthen, who was a member of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Board of Trustees for twenty-two years, as well as part of the Worthen Bank empire. The award is funded in part by interest from an endowment for the award donated by the Worthen family. The Worthen Prize is awarded in a joint program with the Porter Fund Literary Prize. This generally occurred in …

Boy Erased

Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir Boy Erased recounts his experiences at the Memphis, Tennessee, “ex-gay” therapy program Love in Action, to which his parents sent him in 2004 upon learning that he was gay. A movie adaptation of the book was released in November 2018. Conley, who was born in Memphis and grew up in northern Arkansas—first in Cherokee Village (Sharp and Fulton counties), then in Mountain Home (Baxter County)—is the son of Hershel Conley and Martha Caudill Conley. His father served as a Missionary Baptist pastor in Mountain Home. Conley was a Lyon College freshman when another student outed him as gay. In response, his parents sent him to Love in Action. His memoir is a painful reflection on his …

Boys on the Tracks, The

Mara Leveritt’s 1999 book Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother’s Crusade to Bring Her Son’s Killers to Justice is one of the most important examples of investigative journalism in modern Arkansas history. The book’s subject is one of the state’s most famous unsolved cases. At the heart of the case are events surrounding the deaths of two young men—best friends Larry Kevin Ives and Donald George (Don) Henry, both of Bryant (Saline County)—and the resistance encountered by their grieving parents as they searched for the truth. The book won the prestigious Booker Worthen Literary Prize in 2000. On August 23, 1987, at around 4:00 a.m., the bodies of two young men were spotted by the crew of …

Bradford, Roark

Roark Whitney Wickliffe Bradford was a popular journalist, novelist, and short story writer of the twentieth century. The subject matter of much of his fiction focused on African-American life, though in a humorous and stereotypical manner. Much of his inspiration is said to have been drawn from his childhood memories of growing up in Tennessee and Arkansas. His first book, Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun (1928), was the basis for the 1930 Pulitzer Prize–winning drama Green Pastures. Roark Bradford, born in Lauderdale County, Tennessee, on August 21, 1896, was the eighth of eleven children born to the farming family of Richard Clarence Bradford and Patricia Adelaide (Tillman) Bradford. In 1911, when he was approximately fourteen years old, his family …

Branscum, Robbie Tilley

Robbie Tilley Branscum gained fame as the award-winning author of books for older children. Her hardscrabble childhood in Arkansas provided the vivid, rustic backdrop for each of her many books. Robbie Branscum was born Robbie Nell Tilley in Big Flat (Baxter County) on June 17, 1934, the third of five children born into a poor family. When she was five, the family moved to Colorado in search of a better life. Her father, Donnie Tilley, worked briefly in timber before dying of appendicitis shortly after the move. Her mother, Blanche, took the children to live with their paternal grandparents near Big Flat and returned to Colorado alone. Tilley’s grandparents were poor sharecroppers who had previously raised ten children of their …

brigham, besmilr moore

aka: Bess Miller Moore
Besmilr Moore Brigham was an award-winning poet and short-story writer who lived in Arkansas for decades. She came to prominence during the women’s movement of the 1960s, and her work is noted for its innovative structure, sound, and rhythm. Like poet e. e. cummings, she used a lower-case version of her name for her published works. Bess Miller Moore was born on September 28, 1913, in Pace, Mississippi. Her grandfather was Choctaw. She later changed her name to the more phonetic spelling “Besmilr.” She graduated from Mary Hardin-Baylor College in Texas and later studied at the New School for Social Research in New York, where she met and married Roy Brigham, who worked for a newspaper. Brigham’s poems have been …

Britt, Terri Utley Amos

Terri Britt, who was Terri Utley at the time, was named Miss Arkansas USA in 1982, going on to win the title of 1982’s Miss USA and compete in the Miss Universe pageant, in which she was a finalist. She remains the only Miss USA to come from Arkansas. When Elizabeth Ward, who was Miss Arkansas, was named Miss America in 1982, it became the only time both Miss America and Miss Universe titleholders were from the same state in the same year. After a career in the entertainment industry, Britt went on to become a successful motivational speaker and author. Terri Lea Utley was born on January 1, 1961. In her hometown of Cabot (Lonoke County), she was involved …

Brockmeier, Kevin John

Little Rock (Pulaski County) author Kevin John Brockmeier is an award-winning novelist and short story writer who has been called one of “America’s best practitioners of fabulist fiction.” Brockmeier has received Arkansas’s top literary prizes (the Porter Fund Award for Literary Excellence and the Worthen Prize) and has been recognized nationally with numerous awards, including three O. Henry prizes, for his masterful use of figurative language in stories that combine reality and fantasy. Kevin Brockmeier was born on December 6, 1972, in Hialeah, Florida. His father, Jack Brockmeier, was an insurance agent, and his mother, Sally Brockmeier, was a legal secretary. His father was transferred to Little Rock, and so the family, including his younger brother Jeff, moved to Arkansas …

Brown, Dee

aka: Dorris Alexander Brown
Dorris Alexander (Dee) Brown is the only contributor to Arkansas literature included in The New York Public Library’s Books of the Century (1996), a selection of the “most significant works of the past 100 years.” He lived more than half his life in Arkansas and, beginning as a teenager, wrote continuously for publication, often long into the night, as he did for his best-known work, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), which changed the way the world thinks about America’s westward expansion. His daytime profession as a librarian was the key to his international success as a writer: he knew how to find primary sources, such as Indian Treaties written in their own Native American words. His most famous …

Brown, Helen Marie Gurley

Helen Gurley Brown was a native Arkansan whose career includes landmark achievements in advertising and publishing. She was considered a spokesperson for the women’s liberation movement and sexual revolution in the mid-twentieth century as author of the bestselling book Sex and the Single Girl (1962) and editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine. Helen Marie Gurley was born on February 18, 1922, in Green Forest (Carroll County) to a family of modest means. Her father, Ira Gurley, finished law school in 1923 and was soon elected a state legislator. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and settled in the Pulaski Heights neighborhood. In 1932, as her father was preparing to run for Arkansas secretary of state, he was killed in an elevator …

Burris, Sidney

Sidney Johnson Burris is a prolific writer of essays, criticism, and poetry. His poetry is as influenced by his classical studies in Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit as it is the images of his Southern boyhood. A significant portion of Burris’s critical work has been devoted to the study of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He has served in various posts at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) since 1986, including as director of the Fulbright College Honors Program. He also co-founded the Tibetan Cultural Institute of Arkansas.  Sidney Burris was born on March 9, 1953, in Danville, Virginia. His father, John Colton Burris, was a salesman and a World War II U.S. Air Force veteran. His mother, Helen …

Butler, Jack

aka: Jack Armand Butler Jr.
Jack Armand Butler Jr. is a poet and novelist known for structurally experimental writing, usually dealing with the development of a religious self-awareness transcending orthodox views. His work is often sexually charged and humorous. Jack Butler was born May 8, 1944, in Alligator, Mississippi, to Jack Butler, a Baptist preacher, and Dorothy Butler, a homemaker. He attended high school in Clinton, Mississippi. He was ordained a Baptist minister in Sedalia, Missouri, in 1965, and pastored the Bethlehem Baptist Church briefly in 1966. He received a BS in math and a BA in English from Central Missouri State College (now Central Missouri State University) in 1966. That year, he married Lynnice McDonald, with whom he had two children, Lynnika and Sarah; …