Guide to Literature in Missouri

Resources for Literature Research

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.