Writers' Lives

How well do you know famous American poets and writers? See if you can guess who it is from these clues.

1. He was born on a corn-husk mattress in a cottage near the train tracks. His diapers were made out of flour sacks. He lived for years as a hobo, sometimes going without food in order to buy books. He held various jobs - firefighter, salesman, newspaperman - and wrote poetry late at night, storing it in wire baskets. The rooms in his home were lined with books: 14,000 in all. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, but his favorite honor was to have a school named after him. Now there are at least 24. "Fog" and "Chicago" are his most famous poems.

2. As a girl in Tennessee, she spent afternoons reading in a place she called the Bowers, which had a roof of grapevines and a floor of pine needles. To earn money for paper and postage to mail her first stories, she picked wild grapes. Her books made her the wealthiest writer in Britain or America. Her most famous children's book was retold in a Broadway musical and five movie adaptations. She got the idea for it in her garden in England, surrounded by 300 rose bushes from France. "When you have a garden, you have a future," she wrote.

3. "Andy" sold roach powder, played piano, and worked for a newspaper. For the rest of his life he wrote for The New Yorker magazine, marrying his editor-boss. They moved to a remote farm in Maine where he loved chores so much he tended to write only on rainy days. Evenings were for reading aloud. His favorite book was Thoreau's "Walden," and he carried it everywhere. His interest in spiders inspired the creation of the most famous spider in literature. An instant bestseller, the book is still the top-selling children's paperback novel today.

4. As a boy, Samuel was fond of pranks - putting snakes in his aunt's sewing basket, hiding bats in his pockets for his mother to find, or dropping watermelons from three stories up. When he was of age he worked in print shops, newspaper offices, and on a riverboat. He even prospected for gold and silver out West. He wore white suits, summer and winter, and amazed his neighbors by building one of the most elaborate and eccentric houses in Connecticut.

5. Her family moved around a lot because, in her own words, "they were poor as rats." A meal might consist of apples and bread. She was always taking dares (jumping off the barn, for instance). She started selling stories at age 16 and was soon the family's sole breadwinner. She locked herself in her room for up to 14 hours a day, taking breaks to run in the woods. The publication of her second book, the story of four sisters growing up in a New England town, brought her instant fame and wiped out her family's debts.


1. Carl Sandburg (1878-1967); 2. Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), author of "The Secret Garden" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy"; 3. E.B. White (1899-1985) wrote essays, as well as "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little"; 4. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, a riverboat term meaning "two fathoms" (12 feet) of water; 5. Louisa May Alcott (1832-88), author of "Little Women."

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