Kenneth Flexner Fearing was born on July 28, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois, the same relatively genteel suburb where Ernest Hemingway spent his childhood. He attended public school there while his father worked as an attorney in Chicago. Fearing attended the University of Wisconsin, where he was graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1924. After working briefly in Chicago as an apprentice journalist, he moved to New York City, where he settled in the artists’ enclave of Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. He held several jobs as a salesperson and clerk during the next few years before beginning a career as a publicity writer, a freelance journalist, and an editorial writer for several newspapers in 1927. At the same time, Fearing was contributing stories to pulp magazines and writing poetry regularly. He has been described by Kenneth Rexroth as one of the first “poets of the contemporary American city,” and his first book of poems, Angel Arms, was published in 1929. Fearing completed two other books of poetry during the 1930’s and was awarded a fellowship in creative writing by the Guggenheim Foundation.
In 1939, drawing on the experiences of his first wife, who was a nurse, Fearing wrote The Hospital, a novel whose multinarrative scheme became his trademark as a writer of fiction. The relative success of this novel enabled Fearing to turn his attention to fiction, and he produced novels steadily through the 1940’s, achieving his greatest success with the publication of The Big Clock in 1946. The story was made into a film in 1948.
Fearing continued to write poetry and fiction throughout the 1950’s, but aside from Loneliest Girl in the World (1951)—a book that presented trenchant observations about society while describing a giant “talking” computer, the crucial element in the mystery—he was not particularly successful either critically or commercially. He died of cancer on June 26, 1961, a year after the publication of his last novel, an exposé of big business called The Crozart Story.