Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Conrad Richter was born on October 13, 1890, in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the first of three sons of John Absalom and Charlotte Henry Richter. His ancestors were tradesmen, soldiers, blacksmiths, farmers, and ministers. As a boy accompanying his clergyman father on pastoral calls among the farm settlements and coal-mining regions of Pennsylvania, Richter carefully observed the manners and behavior of the people, developing a keen ear for their idiomatic language. He took note of their strength of character and sturdy fortitude in the face of hardships, values derived from their pioneer forebears.
Richter’s family expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a clergyman. Accepting the assumptions of science with as much faith as his grandfather and father had accepted the assumptions of Christianity, however, he found himself doubting Christian beliefs. At the age of thirteen he declined a scholarship that would have taken him through preparatory school, college, and seminary on condition that he become a Lutheran minister.
Graduated from high school at the age of fifteen, Richter continued to educate himself, reading widely and working at various jobs as a teamster, mechanic, farm laborer, coal breaker, timberman, and bank clerk. Inspired by a series of articles about newspaper writers, he decided to become a journalist, reporting for and editing small-town newspapers and eventually working for The Pittsburgh Dispatch. Moving to Ohio in 1910, he wrote for the Johnstown Leader. In 1913 he began to write short stories, and a year later Forum published his “Brothers of No Kin,” a widely acclaimed work of fiction that Edward J. O’Brien selected for The Best Short Stories of 1915.
Disappointed by the low payment he received for his first serious fiction, Richter decided to concentrate his main energies on journalism and business, devoting his spare time to writing the kind of stories that brought a fair price. He married Harvena Achenbach of Pine Grove in 1915 and started a small publishing company and a juvenile periodical, Junior Magazine Book. Turning his hand to juvenile fiction, he wrote children’s stories for his own periodical and other magazines. His...
(The entire section is 967 words.)
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
One of the values of literature is that it gives form to life so that it may be analyzed and understood—a particularly formidable task when that life must be reconstructed from the past. Richter’s fictional recovery of the past and celebration of traditional values will strike some as old-fashioned, especially those who equate progress with comfort and values with expediency. Yet no American writer has more successfully re-created in fiction that early American quality of strength and hardihood. Richter truly enables his readers to understand, feel, and sense what it was like to live in earlier times.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Conrad Michael Richter was born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, on October 13, 1890, the eldest of three sons of a Lutheran minister. Richter grew up in several small rural Pennsylvania towns where his father had congregations. He came from mixed German, French, and Scotch-Irish blood. One of his forebears served with George Washington’s Continental Army and another fought as a Hessian mercenary for the British. His grandfather, uncle, and great-uncles were preachers. Richter was brought up in bucolic surroundings, and he passed a happy boyhood in a score of central and northern Pennsylvania villages. In 1906, he graduated from Tremont High School and during the next three years took a number of odd jobs—clerking, driving teams, pitching hay, and working as a bank teller. His first permanent job was as a reporter for the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Journal, a job he started at the age of nineteen.
Richter’s first published story, “How Tuck Went Home,” was written in 1913 while he was living in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1914, a second story, “Brothers of No Kin,” was awarded a twenty-five-dollar prize for being one of the best stories of the year. In 1915, Richter was married to Harvena Maria Achenbach. Moving West to find his fortune in a silver mine venture at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, he made a short sojourn as a speculator in the mine fields. After returning East, where the couple’s daughter was born in 1917, Richter started writing children’s literature and published a periodical for juveniles called Junior Magazine Book. Meanwhile, his short stories had been appearing in magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Review.
Richter’s early work as a newspaper reporter and editor influenced his literary style. His sparse method of expression was a product of his journalism training, and the typical length of his novels is about two hundred pages. In lieu of formal education, Richter, like many self-taught people, became a voracious reader. In an interview, he said, “All my life I have been a reader and one of my joys as a boy and young man was a good book in which I could lose myself.” His reading was eclectic, ranging from the adventure writer W. H. Hudson to scientific authors such as Michael Faraday and G. W. Crele, whose theories of chemistry and physics influence Richter’s later philosophical works. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Burroughs also helped shape his idealistic views on nature. The most important influence on his own writing came, however, from Willa Cather, whose pioneer characters and Western backgrounds...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
A specialist in early Americana, Conrad Michael Richter (RIHK-tur) was born on October 13, 1890, in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, a town that his great-grandfather, a major in the War of 1812 and a local storekeeper, helped to name. His father was a minister, as were his grandfather, a great-uncle, and an uncle. Richter, however, remarked that his interest in the American past derived from still earlier ancestors who were soldiers, country squires, traders, and farmers. During his boyhood, as his father moved from ministry to ministry, Richter became familiar with sections of Pennsylvania where old habits of living and speech still survived, and these early impressions are reflected in his books. In those days it was expected that he would study for the ministry, but at fifteen he finished high school and went to work driving a wagon over the mountains of central Pennsylvania.
A variety of jobs followed—work in a machine shop, in a coal breaker, on a farm, reporting for Johnstown and Pittsburgh papers. At nineteen, he was editor of a country weekly; later, he worked for two years as a private secretary in Cleveland. After a brief mining venture in the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho, he returned to Pennsylvania to set up a small publishing business of his own. During the next decade, his writing was divided between magazine fiction and several nonfiction books of scientific-philosophical theorizing such as Human Vibrations and Principles in Bio-Physics. Brothers of No Kin, a collection of short stories, was published in 1924. He married Harvena M. Achenbach in 1915. The Richters had one daughter, Harvena, a poet and short-story writer.
In 1928 Conrad Richter sold his business and moved his family to New Mexico. Interested from childhood in stories of pioneer days, he found in the American Southwest a region not long removed from the everyday realities of the frontier experience. Out of the files of old newspapers, diaries, letters, land deeds, account books, and from tales heard at first hand from older settlers in the Southwest, he filled his notebooks with material that eventually became the short stories collected in Early Americana. Chronologically and technically, these stories make a good introduction to the whole body of his fiction because they reveal the working of a specialized point of view. In Richter’s fiction, the rigors and dangers of the frontier do not enlarge upon life for pictorial or dramatic effect; they are its actual substance. If the present intrudes briefly on the past, as it does in several of the stories, it is only because the lives of his characters extend into modern times. In these stories, the reader may trace the development of a...
(The entire section is 1151 words.)