Harriette Arnow Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Harriette Louisa Simpson Arnow chronicled the people and land of rural Kentucky in both fiction and nonfiction. She spent her early years in Wayne County, Kentucky; by the time she was of school age, her family had moved to Burnside, Kentucky, living high on a hill above the Cumberland River. Her parents, Elias and Mollie Jane Denney Simpson, were both descendants of early Kentucky settlers, and Arnow was reared with a strong sense of roots and a deep appreciation for the region. Storytelling, too, was part of her early education. In a 1983 interview published in Appalachian Journal, Arnow talked about the stories she had heard as a child, adding that by the time she was five or six she was already changing the stories she did not like. An appreciation for this region and its storytelling later figured prominently in her writing.{$S[A]Simpson, H. L.;Arnow, Harriette}

The family love of stories did not extend to writing. Arnow’s plan, which also represented her parents’ wishes, was far more practical: to finish high school as quickly as possible and then to attend college for two years to prepare for a teaching career. She attended Berea College for two years, then took a position in a one-room school in a Kentucky hollow, where life was even more isolated, more rural, and more homespun than it had been in Burnside. She left this teaching post after only a year, but the people she met there inspired her to create the most compelling characters in later fiction such as Mountain Path, which was based in part on this early experience.

After this teaching experience Arnow continued her own education, this time at the University of Louisville, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1930. Although she primarily studied math and science there, for the first time she found a group of students who were as interested in writing as she, and with them she began to practice the craft. In 1934 Arnow took a decisive step and left teaching to become a writer. She moved into a furnished room in downtown Cincinnati near the library, determined to read the great novels and to write. One year later she published two stories in small magazines, and during the winter of 1936 “The Washerwoman’s Day” appeared in The Southern Review. She published one story, “Two Hunters,” in Esquire under the pseudonym H. L. Simpson.

After she married Chicago newspaperman Harold Arnow in 1939, writing once again became relegated to stolen times....

(The entire section is 1017 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Harriette Louisa Simpson Arnow was born in 1908 in Wayne County, Kentucky. When she was five years old, her family moved to Burnside. Five of her six novels are set in this southern Kentucky area. Arnow was the second oldest of six children. Her father was a teacher, farmer, and oil-well driller; her mother was a teacher. When she was sixteen years old, she attended Berea College for two years and then taught in rural schools similar to the one she writes of in Mountain Path. She taught until she was able to return to college, this time at the University of Louisville. In 1931, she completed a bachelor of science degree in education. After a few years of teaching, she decided to devote herself to writing.

In 1934, Arnow moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. She wrote, read widely, and supported herself with a variety of jobs, including waitress and typist. The publication of her first short stories brought her to the attention of a publisher, who brought out her first novel. Her second novel, Between the Flowers, did not satisfy publishers; it was published posthumously in 1999. Arnow also was employed by the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Cincinnati, where she met Harold Arnow of Chicago, a newspaper reporter. They married in 1939.

Arnow and her husband tried farming in the Big South Fork area of Kentucky, but farm work left them little time for writing. After the birth of their daughter Marcella, they moved to Detroit, Michigan, where Harold worked for the Detroit Times. For a time, Arnow lived in a Detroit housing project much like the one described in The Dollmaker. Their son, Thomas, was born in Detroit. Arnow’s second published novel, Hunter’s Horn, received positive reviews and popular acclaim. Later, the Arnows moved to the country near Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they lived for the rest of their lives.

In 1954, The Dollmaker was published to critical and popular success. In her later years, Arnow taught writing workshops and continued with her own writing. At the time of Arnow’s death in 1986, she was working on a novel about the Cumberland River area at the time of the American Civil War.