Saturday, October 13, 2012

Happy birthday, Conrad Richter

Conrad Richter
It is the birthday of writer Conrad Richter (1890) whose book The Town (1950) won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1951. The book was part of his The Awakening Land trilogy, a series that included The Sea of Grass (1936) and The Light in the Forest (1953). The series tells the stories of pioneers settling in the Ohio Valley and Pennsylvania after the American Revolution. All were adapted for film.

Richter was born in a small Pennsylvania town and grew up in the region. He became editor of a weekly newspaper there when he was 19 years old. Later he worked as the private secretary for a wealthy manufacturing family in Cleveland. And still later, he founded a magazine for youths. Richter wrote stories for pulp magazines in the1930s.

Tales of pioneer descendants and a chance meeting inspired him to write the novels about his homeland. In 1928, he moved to New Mexico because of his wife's health. A neighbor who was originally from Ohio lent him a couple of thick books that contained first-hand accounts of Ohio pioneers. Richter was fascinated and became absorbed in them. Eventually, he traded with the neighbor two of his own books for the history books.

His main character, Sayward Luckett Wheeler, is considered one of the best depictions of pioneer women in literature. His portraits of frontier America are regarded as among the most accurate ever published.

Richter had a special connection with the people in his novels. "My father, grandfather, uncle, and great uncles were preachers," he once wrote, "Their fathers, however, had been tradesmen, soldiers, country squires, blacksmiths, and farmers, and I think that in my passion for early American life and people I am a throwback to these."

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