Howells, William Dean

Born: March 1, 1837
Died: May 11, 1920

Ohio connection: Birth

Martins Ferry

William Dean Howells, son of William Cooper and Mary Dean Howells, was born in 1837 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. His father worked as an editor for several publications, including the Hamilton Intelligencer, the Harrison Democrat, and Retina. This certainly had an effect on young William, who grew up with a love for reading. His schooling, however, only lasted until he was twelve years old. His father also ran a print shop where William worked in the evenings, after delivering papers in the morning. When he was nineteen, Howells moved to Columbus to write columns for country newspapers. In addition, he worked for the Cincinnati Gazetteand the Ohio State Journal. While working for the Ohio State Journal, he was commissioned to write a biography of Abraham Lincoln, who had been nominated to be president in 1860. The resulting book, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, led to his appointment as U.S. Consul at Venice, a position he held from 1861 until 1865. His book Venetian Life was inspired by the years in Venice. In 1862, Howells married Elinor Gertrude Mead, with whom he had three children: Winifred, John, and Mildred. Elinor died in 1910. Howells` first loves in literature were poetry and fiction. He wrote poetry for Atlantic Monthly, and later was its editor, from 1871 until 1881. He developed the literary method of realism in fiction, focusing on what he called the “truthful treatment of material,” as opposed to the more romantic style that was popular at the time. Some of his novels are Their Wedding JourneyA Chance AcquaintanceA Foregone ConclusionA Woman`s ReasonApril HopesThe KentonsLetters HomeThe Leatherwood God; and A Modern Instance, the first American novel with divorce as a major theme. Howells was the author of five books of poetry, including Poems of Two Friends and No Love Lost: A Romance of Travel. He wrote almost forty plays, including Samson,Out of the QuestionA Counterfeit PresentmentYorick`s LoveA Foregone Conclusion, and many one-act plays and farces. He also wrote travel books, essays and criticism, short stories, and autobiographical books. William Dean Howells died May 11, 1920 in New York City.

A.M., Harvard University, 1867, Yale University, 1881; Litt. D., Yale University, 1901; Oxford University, 1904; Columbia University, 1905; Princeton University, 1912; LL.D., Adelbert College, 1904; Gold Medal for fiction (now known as the Howells Medal); National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1915.