William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells, born on March 1, 1837, in Martinsville, Ohio, was a prominent figure in American literature during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As an author, literary critic, and advocate of realism in fiction, Howells played a critical role in shaping American literature through both his own writings and his influential editorial positions.
Educated at home and self-taught in various languages and the classics, Howells began his literary career as a journalist. He penned a campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln, which led to a consulship in Venice—a period that provided him with rich experiences later reflected in his work.
Howells is known as the "Dean of American Letters," partly due to his 35-year stint as editor of the prestigious Atlantic Monthly, where he used his position to encourage and publish now-famous authors such as Mark Twain, Henry James, and Emily Dickinson. His own fiction includes the widely praised "The Rise of Silas Lapham" (1885), which portrayed the ethical dilemmas of a self-made businessman in a nuanced, realistic style.
Throughout his career, Howells advocated for social justice and equality, themes often woven into his literature. He was also a critic of the romanticism and sentimentality that pervaded fiction of his time, championing instead a believable, relatable narrative that reflected the complexities of ordinary life.
William Dean Howells passed away on May 11, 1920, leaving behind a rich legacy as a pioneer of realism in American literature and a mentor to a generation of writers.