Ruth Suckow (SEW-koh) was the grandchild of German immigrants on both sides of her family. Her father was a liberal Congregational minister whose work took his family to a number of Iowa communities during his daughter’s childhood; at that time western Iowa was but recently settled.
After high school Suckow spent three years at Grinnell College and one year in Boston at the Curry Dramatic School. She received her A.B. degree in 1917 from the University of Denver. While in Colorado she learned beekeeping so as to have a way of earning a living, and after graduation from college she operated the Orchard Apiary at Earleville, Iowa. Her work allowed her to spend the winter months writing in Greenwich Village, New York. Her first published work, “Uprooted,” appeared in Midland, a periodical for which she later became an associate editor. The editor of Midland encouraged her to submit some manuscripts to H. L. Mencken, who praised her work. During the 1920’s she became a contributor to Smart Set, American Mercury, and other periodicals. Her Country People was first published by Carl Van Doren in the Century as a serialized novel.
Her stories, as well as her novels, of the 1920’s set the pattern for all her subsequent work. As a regionalist she drew upon the people and the countryside and the towns of the Midwest, especially the families of German immigrants, thus using the region and the people she knew closely from her early life. The Bonney Family, a novel of life in a minister’s home, reflects the experiences of Suckow’s own family. In the early 1930’s she began working on the novel The Folks, usually considered her most typical and best work. In it she describes the average midwestern small-town family, one that is a single generation removed from the farm and two generations removed from genuine pioneer experience.
Following her marriage to Ferner Nuhn in 1929, she lived at various times in New York City, Washington, D.C., California, Vermont, New Mexico, and Iowa. She considered Cedar Falls, Iowa, where she is buried, as home. During the 1940’s and 1950’s her literary fame and reputation dwindled, and she wrote less than she had earlier in life. Her last novel, The John Wood Case, appeared just a few months before she died in her sixty-eighth year.
Andrews, Clarence A. A Literary History of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.
Casey, Roger. Bulletin of Bibliography 46, no. 4 (1989).
Martin, Abigail. Ruth Suckow. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1978.
Oehlschlaeger, Fritz. “The Art of Ruth Suckow’s ‘A Start in Life.’” Western America Literature 15 (1980).
Oehlschlaeger, Fritz. “A Book of Resolutions: Ruth Suckow’s Some Others and Myself.” Western American Literature 21 (August, 1986).