Northern Missouri

Northern Missouri
I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.-Mark Twain

From Mark Twain's Hannibal to Kirksville, from Maryville to St. Joseph, communities in the northern part of the state have their own literary heritage. Always sparsely populated, northern Missouri has nevertheless produced its share of distinguished writers.

It has been said that the American novel begins with Mark Twain, and Twain's hometown exerted a powerful influence on his work. Twain dealt with the social conflicts of his time in many of his books and was able to combine appealing characters and perceptive commentary in stories that have given pleasure to readers around the world. His acerbic and witty essays in books such as Letters from the Earth provoke laughter and outrage, and his views still generate controversy.


Mary Alicia Owen, a member of a remarkable St. Joseph family, brought international fame to Missouri with her pioneering collection of African American and Native American folklore. Rupert Hughes, a popular novelist and short story writer, was born at Lancaster in 1872; he is best known for What Will People Say?

John R. Musick of Kirksville wrote 26 novels in the late 19th century, including a 12-volume series of historical novels. His niece, Ruth Ann Musick, who grew up in Kirksville, became a well-known folklorist with many books to her credit. Edgar Watson Howe, author of Plain People and Story of a Country Town
Dale Carnegie (Maryville Public Library)

spent his boyhood in Gallatin and drew on nearby Bethany for his “Country Town.” Dale Carnegie, author of the perenially popular How to Win Friends and Influence People, was born and spent his early years in Maryville. Homer Croy, who wrote many works of fiction during the 1920s and 1930s, lived in Maryville.

Lester Dent, who lived a good part of his life in LaPlata, was a giant of the pulp magazine era. He sold millions of his Doc Savage and other adventure stories in the 1930s and 40s. The books were reissued in the early 1960s, again sold in the millions, and continue to be popular in the U.S. and abroad. Doc Savage was the prototype for Superman and Batman.


The poet Jim Barnes lives and writes in Kirksville and has edited and published small magazines, most notably The Chariton Review. Ben Bennani, also of Kirksville, is the founder and editor of Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry, Translations and Letters. John Gilgun, who writes both poetry and fiction, lives in Maryville, as does the poet William Trowbridge.

Nationally known journalist Walter Cronkite and novelist and essayist Ron Powers were born in St. Joseph and Hannibal, respectively. In addition to his television work, Cronkite has written several books on politics and the press. Powers wrote about his hometown in White Town Drowsing: Journeys to Hannibal.Universities in Kirksville and Maryville, colleges in St. Joseph and Canton, and junior colleges in Trenton, Moberly, and other towns sponsor a variety of literary programs and research activities. These institutions also collect the works of writers associated with the region.