Vincent Starrett was born as Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett in Toronto, Canada, on October 26, 1886, the first of four sons born to Robert Starrett and Margaret (née Deniston Young) Starrett. The family moved to Chicago in search of better fortunes when Vincent was only four. Before the move, the boy had already become fascinated with books. This bibliophilism had been fostered in a bookstore managed by his maternal grandfather, John Young. Frequent visits to his native Canada kept the boy in contact with both his beloved grandfather and the books of which Starrett eventually came to be a collector.
Young Starrett attended public schools in Chicago until, at the age of seventeen, he dropped out of his final year of high school. After an aborted trip to the headwaters of the Amazon and brief experience in various menial jobs, he set out for London as a deckhand on a cattle boat. Rescued from starvation by the Salvation Army, he managed eventually to get back to Chicago and settle down to a life of journalism. His dream had been to be a serious writer; practicality suggested the steady income for working for a newspaper. Starrett worked as a cub reporter at the Chicago newspaper Inter-Ocean for a year before moving on to the Chicago Daily News. Here he became the star crime writer and made some important literary friends, such as Ben Hecht and Carl Sandburg, who were also young striving writers at the time.
In 1909, Starrett was married to Lillian Hartsig, a striking redhead with a talent for the piano and a bent for sociability. Starrett’s biographer, Peter A. Ruber, suggests that the marriage was not a very successful one because Lillian did not share Vincent’s literary and intellectual tastes. Whatever the truth is, the marriage lasted for fifteen years, until 1924.
During his years at the Chicago Daily News, Starrett covered the Mexican-American War for a year, and he began an extracurricular career writing articles about his favorite writers. In 1917, he decided that he was ready to embark on a literary career of his own and left the newspaper. While writing poetry that he had to pay to have published (in a volume uniting the works of five aspiring poets), Starrett made a scant living writing stories for various magazines, including mystery pulps. Economy soon forced him back into journalism. He did another five-year stint coediting the Chicago suburban weekly The Austinite.
In 1920, two books by Starrett were published: The...
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