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 daughter, Harvena, was born on March 13, 1917, and five years later Richter moved his family to a farm...
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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.
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