By Mary Giorgio
During his lifetime, Booth Tarkington brought fame to Indiana through his depictions of the state. Many of his plays and novels took place in the Hoosier state. Regarded as one of the greatest authors in America during the 1910s and 1920s, Booth Tarkington is largely unknown today.
Tarkington was born in Indianapolis on July 29, 1869. His father was a prosperous attorney. Tarkington was born into a political family. His uncle Newton Booth was the governor of California. Another relation, James Woodworth, served two terms as mayor of Chicago.
Tarkington attended Shortridge High School. Later, he transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
After graduating from high school, Tarkington studied art for two years at Purdue University then transferred to Princeton University. There, he became involved in acting. Tarkington served as president of the school’s Dramatic Association.
Despite attending Princeton, Tarkington never earned his degree. However, he was later honored with honorary master and doctoral degrees from Princeton. Tarkington was also awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Columbia University and Purdue University.
Tarkington left Princeton in 1893 to pursue a writing career. He spent several discouraging years attempting to publish his stories. Tarkington got his big break in 1899 when McClure’s Magazine agreed to serialize his story, ‘The Gentleman from Indiana’.
Much of Tarkington’s work was set in his home state of Indiana. He wrote about class differences that many people at the time could relate to. Tarkington despised the automobile, and many of his works included critical examinations of the car’s contribution to pollution in the city.
In his lifetime, Tarkington wrote 46 books that eventually sold more than five million copies. He also wrote 20 plays. Several of his plays were produced on Broadway.
Tarkington is one of the few authors in history to have won two Pulitzer Prizes in fiction. He earned his first Pulitzer Prize for The Magnificent Ambersons, which was later made into a movie by Orson Welles. The book is listed in the Modern Library’s list of the top 100 novels.
Tarkington earned a second Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Alice Adams. The story features a lower middle-class girl with ambitions to attract the love of a wealthy man. ‘Alice Adams’ is widely considered to be Tarkington’s best work.
Besides being an author, Tarkington was an outspoken conservative. He served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives, beginning in 1902. Tarkington believed that it was his duty to serve his state. He later wrote a book based on the experience.
In the late 1920s, Tarkington began to lose his eyesight. Eventually, he became completely blind. Despite this setback, Tarkington continued to write novels by dictating stories to a secretary.