William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells (1837-1920) was an American author, critic, and playwright. For a substantial part of his career, he was the editor of the Atlantic Monthly and earned the title “The Dean of American Letters.” The Rise of Silas Lapham, published in 1885, is perhaps his most remembered work.
Howells was born in Ohio, the son of a newspaper editor and printer. Although the family moved frequently during his childhood, Howells parents encouraged a love of literature. He worked for his father as a printer’s devil, and in 1852 his father arranged to have one of his son’s poems published in the Ohio State Journal.
In 1860 he was commissioned to write an official biography of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, and was rewarded with the post of consul in Venice. In 1865, he returned to America and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The following year he became an assistant editor at the Atlantic Monthly. In 1869, he met and befriended Mark Twain, and began pursuing literary realism, manifested in his 1882 novel A Modern Instance.
Howells’ position as editor of the Atlantic Monthly allowed him to introduce American readers to such authors as Henrik Ibsen, Emile Zola, and Leo Tolstoy. He also promoted American writers such as Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, and Sarah Orne Jewett. Howells believed that realism, as well as the novel, would be the future of literature.