William Dean Howells

William Dean Howells (1837–1920), the author of thirty-six novels, twelve books of travel, and many short stories, articles, essays, and poems, grew up in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, the son of a printer with strong antislavery and egalitarian beliefs. Largely self-taught, Howells began his writing career as a reporter and was soon publishing poetry, fiction, and criticism in national magazines. He wrote a campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln and was rewarded with an appointment as the US consul in Venice. In Europe Howells met Eleanor Mead, whom he married in 1862, and for the rest of his life he would rely on what he called her “unerring artistic taste.” In 1866, Howells became the assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, which led to close friendships with other American writers, among them Henry James, Samuel Clemens, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell. He championed the work of Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and was one of the only prominent Americans to protest execution of four Anarchists after the 1886 Haymarket Bombings. In 1881, Howells resigned his editorship to concentrate on writing fiction—among his best-known novels are The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), Indian Summer (1886), and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890)—and in 1908 he was elected the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.