Literature Research Guide

Missouri is the home state of many notable writers, including poets T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes, authors Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mark Twain, and playwright Tennessee Williams. Missouri’s contributions to literature can be found in the words of these and other authors whose experiences and observations of the state are recorded in their works. The State Historical Society of Missouri's Manuscript Collections include papers of individual writers of fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry, as well as records of literary organizations, publishers, and journals and magazines.

A Brief History

Authors and writers from Missouri have made their impact on the state and on the world in a variety of ways. Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was a major writer from Missouri whose stories and novels are famous for their humor, vivid details, and memorable characters. A number of classic works, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are set within Twain's native Missouri and draw heavily on his memories of growing up in Hannibal and piloting steamboats on the Mississippi River as an adult. His natural wit and keen observations of human nature found full expression in his work from the mid-nineteenth century to his death in 1910.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, another well-known writer from Missouri, shared vibrant retellings of episodes from her childhood in the classic Little House historical fiction series, which helped shape the popular idea of the American frontier after their publication in the 1930s and 1940s. Wilder wrote each book in the Little House series about a specific time in her young life. While the books were based on her earlier autobiography, she left some facts out and added fictional elements to make the stories more attractive to young readers.

T.S. Eliot, born in St. Louis, Missouri, was one of the pioneers of the modernism movement in America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. His 1922 poem “The Waste Land,” considered one of the twentieth century’s most significant works of poetry, provides a vivid example of modernism’s search for meaning in the face of the disruptions caused by industrialization and urbanization and the horrors of the just-ended First World War. Eliot’s many awards include the Nobel Prize for literature that he received in 1948.

Articles in the Missouri Historical Review

Catalog

Many of the State Historical Society’s holdings are included in Merlin, the shared library catalog of the four University of Missouri campuses. The State Historical Society holds numerous books on the history and study of literature in Missouri, the Midwest, and the United States generally. The broadest term to search is the subject term “Missouri literature” or the specific author of any work. For a more specific search in Missouri, simply add the subject term “Missouri” to your search.

Digital Collections

Historic Missourian Biographies

Missouri has been the home or birthplace of many significant writers and others who have contributed to literary works of note.

  • William Wells Brown - His autobiography, Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave, documents his life as a slave in Missouri and is one of most widely published and influential slave narratives.

  • Dale Carnegie - Best-selling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People who became a pioneer in the field of self-improvement.

  • Samuel Clemens - Also known as Mark Twain, his stories and novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are famous for their humor, vivid details, and memorable characters.

  • Lester Dent - Successful pulp fiction writer of the adventure series featuring the popular fictional character “Doc Savage.”

  • T. S. Eliot - Eliot was one of the pioneers of modernism, a movement in art and literature that was popular in America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.

  • Robert A. Heinlein - Science fiction writer of short stories and novels combining his interests in science, technology, and the military.

  • Langston Hughes - He became a crucial voice during the Harlem Renaissance, an African American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

  • John Neihardt - He is best known for his collection of epic poems, A Cycle of the West, and his nonfiction account of the life of a Sioux medicine man, Black Elk Speaks.

  • Margaret Truman - The only child of President Harry S. Truman, she was best known for her series of murder mysteries set in Washington, DC.

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - One of the most influential children’s authors in American history. Her vibrant retelling of episodes from her childhood in the world-famous Little House historical fiction series helped shape the popular idea of the American frontier.

  • Tennessee Williams - One of the greatest playwrights in American history. Between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s, he wrote several award-winning plays, including The Glass MenagerieA Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Manuscripts

The State Historical Society of Missouri manuscript collections include papers of individual writers of fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry; records of literary organizations, publishers, and journals and magazines. Includes "popular" and "cultural" writers.

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