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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