Mencken was a lifelong resident of Baltimore. His formal education ended in 1896, when he graduated as the valedictorian from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Three years later he became a cub reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald and Sunpapers. He was named city editor in 1903 and managing editor in 1905. In 1914 he began coediting The Smart Set with his friend George Jean Nathan, with whom he also founded and coedited The American Mercury, beginning in 1924. Mencken became the latter journal’s sole editor in 1925, the same year that he covered the Scopes trial for Sunpapers.
Along with satirical novelist Sinclair Lewis, Mencken dominated the American literary world of the 1920’s. His essays took two forms: literary criticism and social and political criticism. His ideas appealed to the younger generation because he railed against religious fundamentalism. Particularly opposed to Southern conservatism, he coined the term “Bible Belt” to describe the South. Mencken was a complete religious skeptic, whose primary targets were the Puritan traditions that influenced literary conservatism, censorship, and prohibition. His satire was not subtle, and critics labeled his style “Menckenese.”
Mencken championed such writers as Joseph Conrad and Theodore Dreiser, and praised daring new publishers such as Boni and Liveright. He intentionally antagonized censorship groups, including the Boston...
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