St. Louis

St. Louis Area


Missouri and the Mississippi have made a deeper impression on me than any other part of the world. T.S. Eiliot
The literary history of St. Louis is rich and ongoing. The city has been home or a stopping place for writers from its beginnings, and both early citizens and visitors recorded their impressions of life in St. Louis or wrote of the world to the east or the west. The History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark looked to the far west, while the writings of Thomas Hart Benton, who served as senator from Missouri from statehood until 1850, included a 16-volume Abridgement of Debates of Congress from 1789-1856.Senator Benton also wrote Thirty Years' View, an autobiography. Benton's daughter, Jessie Benton Fremont, followed in his literary footsteps, working with her husband, John Charles Fremont, to prepare his Report of the Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1843 and, two years later, the report of his expedition to Oregon and North California. Her Story of the Guard is an autobiographical account of the Civil War. Other books followed, and after her husband's death left her in poverty, she reached back into her memory to write of her early days in St. Louis and Washington.

The St. Louis Philosophical Society, organized by William Harris, along with important 19th century German and English newspapers and journals, brought national attention to the St. Louis intellectual and literary scene. The Journal of Speculative Science published contributions from distinguished European and American thinkers. German immigrant Carl Schurz settled in St. Louis after the Civil War as editor of the influential Westliche Post and became active in local and national politics. He was elected senator from Missouri in 1869, and later served as secretary of the interior, distinguishing himself by his concern for Native Americans and the environment. He wrote his reminiscences, a biography of Henry Clay, and other works, leaving a legacy of speeches, correspondence, and political papers.

Joseph Pulitzer, who had been a reporter for the Westliche Post, purchased theSt. Louis Dispatch and Post and united them to form the Post-Dispatch, which became one of the leading newspapers in the West. He later bought the New York World, and in his will established the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes to recognize outstanding writers.

The Civil War inspired hundreds of poems, songs, stories, and remembrances, and two of its most noted generals, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, wrote most of their memoris in St. Louis.

Eugene Field

Eugene Field, author of “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” and other well-loved children’s verse, was born in St. Louis in 1850. His long career as a journalist began at the St. Joseph Gazette, and he also worked on the editorial staffs of Kansas City and St. Louis newspapers.

As the 19th century drew to a close, St. Louis could claim a diverse and talented group of novelists, poets, and playwrights who were to bring fame to the city of their birth. 

Kate Chopin returned to her native St. Louis after the death of her husband in 1882 and continued to write, although the storm of criticism that followed the publication of The Awakening in 1899 almost ended her career. Winston Churchill, the Missouri-born writer, spent many years in New Englad, but his novels The Crisis and The Crossing drew on his St. Louis background.


In the early 20th century, William Marion Reedy’s Mirror introduced the work of such St. Louis-based writers as Fannie Hurst, Zoe Akins, and Sara Teasdale to the nation. An authority on poetry, Reedy served on the committee to select the first winner of the Poetry Award that later became the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. 


 Sara Teasdale won the 1918 Columbia University Poetry Prize for Love Songs, published the previous year.

Two of the best-known poets of the 20th century, Marianne Moore and Thomas Stearns Eliot, had early ties to St. Louis.

Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb, and spent her childhood there. She attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and later moved to New York. In the 1920's, she edited The Dial, an important literary journal. Moore's work was honored throughout her life, earning her every major literary award, from the Pulitzer and Bollingen prizes to the National Book Award, as well as election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Generally acknowledged to have been the most influential literary figure of the the first half of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot's poetry included "The Waste Land" and Four Quartets. He left St. Louis for New England and a Harvard education, then emigrated to England in 1914, where he became a British subject. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

In addition to these eminent modernist poets, St. Louis has been home to many other well-known and popular writers. Fannie Hurst, a short story writer, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, attended high school in St. Louis, graduated from Washington University, and taught for a while before moving to New York. During the 1920's, she became the highest-paid short story writer in the world. Josephine Winslow Johnson was educated at Washignton University and spent most of her life on a farm in St. Louis County. She won the 1935 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Now in November when she was 24. Tennessee Williams lived for a time in St. Louis, and his play "The Glass Menagerie" evokes the mood and atmosphere of the city in the early part of the century. Sally Benson's autobiographical novel, Meet Me in St. Louis, was made into a the popular 1944 movie starring Judy Garland; Benson was also known for her short stories, book reviews, contributions to The New Yorker, and many screenplays such as "Anna and the King of Siam," "Bus Stop," and "National Velvet." Shirley Seifert wrote historical novels; many of her 17 books had Missouri settings. 

In recent times, such institutions as Washington University have attracted outstanding writers like philosopher and novelist William Gass, who directs the International Writers Center. An exceptional prose stylist, Gass has received wide recognition for his novels, short stories, criticism, and essays. He is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and his bookHabitations of the World: Essays won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism in 1985. His novel The Tunnel was published in 1995 to critical acclaim. 

Writers closely associated with Washington University include the late Stanley Elkin, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for George Mills and Mrs. Ted Bliss, and the late Howard Nemerov, U.S. Poet Laureate from 1988 to 1990 and winner of the Bollingen Prize in Poetry and the Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poems. Mona Van Duyn, a long-time Washington University faculty member, was U.S. Poet Laureate in 1992-1993, the first woman to be named to the post. Among her many awards are the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Near Changes, and election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Van Duyn and her husband, writer and editor Jarvis Thurston, founded Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature.
Also associated with Wasington University are Wayne Fields, author of the well-received nonfiction work What the River Knows: An Angler in Mid Stream; Eric Pankey, a recipient of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets; the poets Donald Finkel and Carl Phillips; and Gerald Early, who won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1991 for The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature and Modern American Culture. Early has also won the Whiting Writer's Award.

Charles Guenther, a widely published St. Louis poet, has translated the works of some of the world's great poets; Father William Barnaby Faherty has explored many aspects of St. Louis and Catholic history; Harry James Cargas, a philospher, has written extensively on the Holocaust; and former U.S. Senator Thomas F. Eagleton has written books on politics and government.

Jan Garden Castro, who wrote an outstanding biography of Georgia O'Keefe, was one of the founders of the literary journal River Styx. Glenn Savan's popular books include White Palace and Goldman's Anatomy. Peter Bernhardt is the author of the widely acclaimed Natural Affairs: A Botanist Looks at the Attachments Between Plants and People. Bob Broeg is a respected sports writer, and Eddy L. Harris writes provocative travel literature, including Native Strangerand A Ride Through Slavery's Old Back Yard. Constance Levy and Arielle North Olson write books for children, Levy in poetry and Olson in fiction. Bobbie Smith Walton has sold more than three million of her romance novels.

Other St. Louis-area writers have received prestigious national awards: Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, with their books for young people, especially their historical works and biographies of important African Americans, have won the Coretta Scott King Award, and Newbery and Caldecott honor awards. The poet David Clewell has won the I.B. Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, and his work was a selection of the 1991 Poetry Series. The novelist and short story writer T.M. McMally received the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. John Lutz, author of mystery and suspense novels, has won the Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America, and twice won the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America. Romance writers Eileen Dreyer and Barbara A. Scott have won awards for their work. Dreyer also writes mysteries, many with a St. Louis setting. Jan Greenberg has won national awards for her books for young people, among them works on contemporary art such as The Painter's Eye and The Sculptor's Eye. Peter Wolfe, who teaches English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is a renowned literary critic, the author of many books, and an authority on America's detective fiction. He was awarded the University of Missouri System's 1995 Presidential Award for Research and Creativity. Senator Bill Bradley, a native of Crystal City, is the author of four books, one an utobiography and the others on political issues.

Although no longer St. Louis residents, Maya Angelou, William Burroughs, Ntozake Shange, and Quincy Troupe have ties to the City. Angelou, Burroughs, and Troupe were born in St. Louis, and Shange lived in the city during her youth. The author of more than a dozen books of poetry and prose, Angelou explores themes of racial and sexual oppression in her works. Her autobiographical I know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a modern classic. Burroughs became famous for his experimental novels and his influence on the Beat Movement writers. The multi-talented Shange writes fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry. St. Louis plays an important role in two of her well-known works: the autobiographical novelBetsey Brown and the innovative play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf." Troupe writes poetry and prose and has won two American Book Awards.

St. Louis' intellectual and literary tradition continues today with active writers organizations, writers forums and workshops, author/lecture series, prose and poetry readings, radio programs, book exhibits, literary coffeehouses, and associations like the T.S. Eliot Society, which holds its annual conference in St. Louis each year. Local bookstores and libraries sponsor book discussion groups and a variety of book-related activities. The Missouri Historical Society, a venerable St. Louis institution, has an active publishing program, issuing books on the region's history and culture. The International Writers Center at Washington University sponsors creative writing seminars, conferences, and other events which have attracted some of the world's most distinguished authors.