Southern Missouri

Southern Missouri

Another funny thing about the Ozark Mountain country is the fact that there aren't any mountains there. Just a lot of little green hills, with trees on them, and big rocks. Some of the hills look taller than anything in the Adirondacks, but are really little more than two thousand feet above sea level. --Vance Randolph

Early explorers such as Timothy Flint and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft visted Missouri and reported on Native American life, mining operations, and pioneer living conditions. Schoolcraft's journal from his travels in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas documents the natural and cultural history of the Ozarks in the early 19th century. Historian and railroad builder Louis Houck, author of The History of Missouri, published in 1908, made Cape Girardeau his home for many years.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Thad Snow, a Charleston farmer and political activist, described the problems of Missouri's Delta area in From Missouri and countless letters to and columns for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Leonard Hall, who lived near Caledonia, wrote lyrically of life and nature in the eastern Ozarks in Journal of the Seasons on an Ozark Farm and other works.

The southeast Missouri town of Sikeston is the home of Robert Vaughan, well known for his historical fiction and screenplays. Vaughan has more than 250 books to his credit and uses some 30 pen names. His "American Chronicles" series is a fictional decade-by-decade account of the 20th century. He also wrote the sceenplay for "Andersonville," the acclaimed television production.

Rush Limbaugh, a popular and controversial radio talk show host, hails from Cape Girardeau, and his books on contemporary politics and culture have been phenomenal best sellers.


The Missouri Ozarks have fostered a rich literary tradition, which draws upon the oral and folk culture of the southern part of the state. Vance Randolph, who lived in Pineville and Galena, became one of the country’s greatest collectors of folktales and folk music, helping to preserve the oral tradition of the Missouri Ozarks. The Ozarks: An American Survival of Primitive Society was only one of Randolph’s many books on Ozark cultural traditions.

Among the most famous writers of the Ozarks, Harold Bell Wright helped create a local industry with his story, The Shepherd of the Hills, but he lived in the area only briefly. Ralph McCanse wrote a long narrative poem, "The Road to Hollister," protesting Ozarks stereotyping, and Elmo Ingenthron, a teacher, wrote Indians of the Ozarks Plateau, The Land of Taney and Borderland Rebellion. Many Elizabeth mahnkey was known as the "poet laureate of the Ozarks." She wrote a column for the newspaper in Forsyth for more than 40 years, and received an award from a national magazine as the "best rural newspaper correspondent in the nation.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, famous for the "Little House" books, lived in Mansfield and wrote her novels at the urging of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, also a well-known writer. Wilder spen 12 years writing articles for The Missouri Ruralistbefore she published her first book at age 65. Her beloved "Little House" books capture in striking detail her experiences of life on the prairie at the turn of the century.


Langston Hughes, a native of Joplin, describes his childhood in Missouri in his autobiography, The Big Sea. Hughes won lasting fame during the Harlem Renaissance and continued as one of the most revered and influential African American writers. He published poetry and journalism — including his widely syndicated “Simple” columns, which described daily life and changing attitudes among African Americans — until his death in 1967.

While many writers now live in southern Missouri, perhaps the most famous is Janet Dailey, who lives in Branson and writes historical fiction and romances. Dailey is the best-selling female author in America; more than 100 million of her books have been sold. She is a strong supporter of literacy efforts in the Ozarks and has written novels for adult new readers.

Ellen Gray Massey has edited two collections from Bittersweet, the Ozarks quarterly she established and published with the help of her students at Lebanon High School. Bittersweet Country and Bittersweet Earth preserve many Ozarks cultural traditions, and Massey continues to write fiction and nonfiction relating to the Ozarks.


Charlie Farmer of Ozark has written books about conservation and thousands of articles and columns for newspapers and magazines. His works highlight the unique beauty and importance of the Ozarks’ natural resources. Jim Hamilton of Buffalo writes of his experiences as a small-town journalist. Jim Bogan of Rolla is a poet, anthologist, and filmmaker whose documentaries have won national awards, and Daniel Woodrell of West Plains has received critical praise for his novels. Springfield is home to Duane G. Meyer, one of Missouri’s most respected historians; Milton D. Rafferty and Russel Gerlach, who have written about Missouri geography; Larry Rottmann, who has written fiction, poetry, and nonfiction about the Vietnam War; and Sandy Asher, who writes novels for children and young adults.

Sue Hubbell, whose A Country Year, A Book of Bees, and other works evoke the seasons of rural life, spends part of the year on an Ozarks farm. Jory Sherman of Branson has written more than 100 novels; he has won numerous awards for his novels of the West. Sherman’s wife, Charlotte Sherman, writes westerns and romances. Suzann Ledbetter of Nixa writes biographies, westerns, and humorous essays on suburban life. Resa Willis of Springfield and Edith McCall of Hollister have written important biographical works. Lois Kleinsasser of Hollister and Lori Copeland of Springfield are popular romance novelists. Joan Banks of Joplin writes mystery and suspense novels. Robert K. Gilmore of Reeds Springs and Phyllis Rossiter of Theodosia have written about Ozarks history and folkways. Robert C. Lee of Warsaw, who writes for children, is known for It’s a Mile From Here to Glory. David L. Harrison of Springfield has written more than 40 books for children in several genres. Harrison has also has been a prime mover in “The Write Stuff,” an organization that promotes the importance of writing to young people.

The beauty of sourthern Missouri has drawn many writers and artists from other parts of the state and the nation, who join native writers in contributing to the area's literary output. Writers groups such as the Ozarks Writers League flourish in southern Missouri, and several events for writers and readers have become well established, among them children's literature festivals in Cape Girardeau, Springfield, and Fort Leonard Wood, and the annual Heartland Writers Guild conference. The university towns of Springfield and Cape Girardeau offer a varied schedule of literary events as do the region's private colleges. The Writers Hall of Fame was founded by a group of Springfield authors and civic leaders. Each year it honors four authors for their literary achievements, awards scholarships to area studnets, and sponsors a writing camp for students and a writers retreat for seniors.