Born: October 13, 1890
Died: October 30, 1968
Ohio connection: Former Resident
Conrad Michael Richter was born October 13, 1890, in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a series of tiny coal mining towns with his parents, John Absalom, a Lutheran minister, and Charlotte Esther (Henry) Richter. Richter’s formal schooling ended when he graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. For four years thereafter, Richter tried his hand at numerous jobs. He drove teams, worked on farms, cut timber, sold subscription magazines door-to-door, served as a bank teller, and clerked. Then, at nineteen, he became editor of a weekly Pennsylvania newspaper called The Patton Courier and discovered that he enjoyed journalism. He left Patton for reporting jobs in Johnstown and then in Pittsburgh, learning how to write “plain sentences against the discipline of a deadline,” in the words of Saturday Review contributor John K. Hutchens. “Of his early jobs, reporting and editing most affected [Richter’s] belletristic writing. As it had for Hemingway, journalism taught Richter concision of expression.”
Eventually Richter succumbed to wanderlust and took a job as private secretary to a wealthy Cleveland family who provided him the means to travel widely. It was during this period (1910-1924) that one of his first short stories was accepted. The work, entitled “Brothers of No Kin,” was first published in Forum Magazine, and then was reprinted several times. Despite the piece’s success, Richter had a very difficult time getting payment for it, but when the twenty-five-dollar check finally did arrived, he was still disappointed. He told the Saturday Review: “I thought to myself, if that’s all I get for the kind of story I want to write, why go on?” Richter may be best known for his historical Ohio trilogy, The Trees, The Fields, and The Town, but it is, A Light in the Forest, which has attracted consistent attention in the public schools and has developed an acceptance among adolescent readers and teachers of adolescent literature. Because it is brief, challenging on several different levels of reading appreciation and because it addresses a timeless issue, the novel has continued to appear on many reading lists for adolescents; readers from seventh grade through senior high have enjoyed the story. Richter spent most of the last twenty years of his life in Pennsylvania, his ancestral home. He died on October 30, 1968, within a few miles of his birthplace.
National Book Award nomination, 1937, for The Sea of Grass; Gold Medal for Literature from Society of Libraries of New York University, 1942, for The Sea of Grass and The Trees; Ohioana Library Medal, 1947; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1951, for The Town; National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature, 1959; Maggie Award, 1959, for The Lady; National Book Award, 1961, for The Waters of Kronos.