Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Above all, James Whitcomb Riley was a poet; he did, however, try his hand (apparently with little success) at other literary forms. His second book, The Boss Girl, a Christmas Story, and Other Sketches, published in 1886, was a collection of prose pieces that went largely unnoticed. Reprinted in 1891 under the title of Sketches in Prose and Occasional Verses, it still attracted no appreciable attention. Other prose sketches were included in his Pipes o’ Pan at Zekesbury. As Riley’s commentator, Peter Revell (James Whitcomb Riley, 1970), points out, these “abortive” efforts at prose show Riley experimenting in an amateurish fashion with various forms of social and psychological realism. Riley also wrote one verse drama in three acts, The Flying Islands of the Night (pb. 1891), which his publisher, Bobbs-Merrill, advertised as “a weird and grotesque drama in verse.” Apparently begun in the 1870’s, The Flying Islands of the Night is a fantastic amalgam of fairy tales, Maurice Maeterlinck, and William Shakespeare. Although Riley was already an established, enormously popular writer by the time The Flying Islands of the Night was published, the drama was quite ignored. Finally, with humorist Bill Nye, Riley coauthored Nye and Riley’s Railway Guide (1888).