October 19, 2011

Literary Journalists

Before they became best-selling authors, these men and women began their careers as newspaper and magazine reporters. They covered wars and social issues, and ended up writing some of the most memorable books in American literature. These literary journalists are featured in exhibits throughout the Newseum.

Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane never saw the Civil War he described in "The Red Badge of Courage." But he covered the Spanish-American War for the New York World. Crane felt a "thrill of patriotic insanity" charging with the Rough Riders, calling it "the best moment of anyone's life." Crane died from a fever he may have contracted in Cuba at age 28. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn saw 50 years of war as a correspondent for Collier's and others. Author of five novels and two collections of journalism, Gellhorn continued to write about war and social issues into her 80s. And she was constantly asked about her years as the wife of Ernest Hemingway. (E. L. Chapin/Courtesy The Associated Press)

Ernest Hemingway

Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway first was a reporter for the Kansas City Star. He adopted the newspaper's first stylebook rules: "Use short sentences … short first paragraphs … vigorous English." During World War I, the correspondent was also a Red Cross volunteer. His partisan syndicated dispatches from the Spanish Civil War front became the basis for his novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls." (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Langston Hughes

Poet and playwright Langston Hughes wrote a weekly column for The Chicago Defender. It began with conversations with the fictional James B. Semple ("Simple"), a black common man. Simple was created to bolster African-American support for World War II (Hughes had covered black soldiers in the Spanish Civil War for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper). In the 1920s, Hughes was part of the Harlem Renaissance of influential black novelists and poets and penned the classic poem "I Dream a World." (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Jack London

After years of hardscrabble living, Jack London gained fame with his 1903 novel "The Call of the Wild." As a reporter, he covered everything from the San Francisco earthquake to "the greatest battle of the century," the defeat of white boxer James Jackson Jeffries by black boxer Jack Johnson. But celebrity didn't cure London's depression and alcoholism. He died at age 40. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Margaret Mitchell

A decade before her 1936 book "Gone With the Wind" and world fame, Margaret Mitchell wrote about gutsy women for the Atlanta Journal Sunday magazine. She met a "lady axe murderess" and mined Southern history for unsung heroines, all the while barred from the all-male city room. Her advice for successful storytelling: "Tell it like a woman would tell it." (Courtesy The Associated Press)

George Orwell

Under the pen name George Orwell, Englishman Eric Arthur Blair wrote "1984." It's a book about a totalitarian state where Big Brother uses "newspeak" communication and watches citizens through "telescreens." As literary editor for the weekly Tribune, Orwell said: "I do not believe that the kind of society I describe will arrive, but I believe ... that something resembling it could arrive." (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Edgar Allan Poe

Poet of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe worked for newspapers and magazines to pay the rent. Poe saw the future of journalism in magazines. "The magazine in the end will be the most influential of all departments of letters," he said. Poems like "The Raven" and tales like "The Tell-Tale Heart" brought Poe renown only in his last lean years. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

John Steinbeck

The San Francisco News hired novelist John Steinbeck to write a series on California's Okie migrant camp life. "There is more filth here. The tent is full of flies," he wrote in the News in 1936. Steinbeck's reporting on squatter camps became the basis for his classic novel "The Grapes of Wrath." Steinbeck went on to win a Nobel Prize for literature. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Robert Louis Stevenson

A travel essay published in the Portfolio in 1873 marked the beginning of an on-the-road life of letters for Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish-born son of a family of civil engineers. Stevenson's travel essays were overshadowed by classics such as "Treasure Island," "Kidnapped" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Samuel Clemens

At Nevada's Territorial Enterprise, Samuel Clemens honed the writing genius that made him Mark Twain. Reporting is "awful slavery for a lazy man," Twain said, so he cooked up hoaxes. A critic called him a "liar, a poltroon and a puppy." Twain demanded a duel, and then fled. His fiction bloomed in 1865 with "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and later "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." (Courtesy The Associated Press)


E.B.White's elegant essays graced the pages of The New Yorker magazine for half a century as he tried to assemble "a reasonable facsimile of the truth." But White was best known for the writing handbook he co-authored, "The Elements of Style," and classic children's books, "Stuart Little" and "Charlotte's Web." (Kevin Rivoli/Courtesy The Associated Press)

Walt Whitman

At 27, Walt Whitman edited The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "chief of the Long Island journals." He opposed slavery, but his bosses favored it, which "led to rows." Whitman tried other newspaper jobs and carpentry. In 1855, "Leaves of Grass" was published, and Whitman became America's most celebrated poets. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Tom Wolfe

In 1963, Tom Wolfe brought a Yale Ph.D. and a distinctive writing style to the New York Herald Tribune. Wolfe and other "new journalism" writers used the techniques of novelists to "get into the heads" of their subjects. Wolfe, whose books include "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby and "The Right Stuff," is forever linked with the Vroom! Vroom! style that upended American feature writing. (Jim Cooper/Courtesy The Associated Press)

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