The Golden Age of Indiana Literature: From Ben-Hur to Alice Adams
The Civil War interrupted some aspects of the publishing industry but also led to innovations that propelled the industry to new heights in the years after the war. The war also led to changes in the kinds of books Americans were interested in reading. Indiana authors took advantage of these cultural changes and business innovations by writing books that resonated with readers across the county. Perhaps the first writer to raise awareness of Hoosier authors was the poet Sarah T. Bolton with her famous poem, “Paddle Your Own Canoe” in 1850. The next significant Indiana writer was Edward Eggleston with his book The Hoosier Schoolmaster in 1871. Eggleston wrote many books but his “Hoosier” series gained the broadest audience.
Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) is generally credited with initiating the Golden Age of Indiana Literature that lasted into the 1920s. Ben-Hur sold more copies than any other printed work in the 19th century with the exception of the Bible. Men such as Meredith Nicholson, Booth Tarkington, and Maurice Thompson wrote vividly about Indiana cities and towns. “Hoosier Poet” James Whitcomb Riley became the defining voice of Midwestern culture to the rest of the world, while Kin Hubbard’s folksy humor amused the nation from Brown County, Indiana. The impact of Hoosier authors was greatly increased because many of their works were successfully adapted for the Broadway stage and for silent motion pictures. The pinnacle of these adaptions was the 1925 film version of Ben-Hur which was the most expensive silent movie ever filmed.
- George Ade
- Sarah T. Bolton
- Charles Major
- Meredith Nicholson
- James Whitcomb Riley
- Gene Stratton-Porter
- Booth Tarkington
- Lew Wallace
- Susan E. Wallace
- and others
The exhibit opens on Saturday, March 5 (the first Saturday of the season), and will run through Friday, December 9.
To view a list of many of the Golden Age books on Goodreads, click here.