Born a Hoosier, Rex Stout achieved an illustrious career as a detective writer. His famed character, Nero Wolfe, graced the pages of numerous novels and novellas over a period of 40 years.
Stout was born on December 1, 1886, in Noblesville, IN. He grew up in a Quaker household. Stout was one of nine children. When he was a young child, his family moved to Kansas.
At an early age, Stout discovered a gift for mathematics. He was also an avid reader. At the age of 13, he won the Kansas State Spelling Bee.
After a short stint in college, Stout enlisted in the US Navy in 1906. For two years, he served as a warrant officer on Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential yacht. Stout resigned his commission in 1908.
Shortly after leaving the Navy, Stout began to write poetry and fictional stories for publication in literary magazines. By 1918, he had published a whopping 40 stories.
Stout soon tired of the frenetic pace of a serial writer. During the 1920s, he took a break from writing. He worked with his brother, Robert, to invent a school banking system. The method was designed to help schools track money that children deposited into accounts. In all, about 400 schools adopted their system. Each school paid royalties to the brothers. By the mid-1920s, the Stout brothers had amassed a small fortune.
In 1929, following the stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression, Stout lost most of the money he had earned from his banking system. He turned to writing to revive his fortunes.
Stout published his first full-length book, ‘How Like a God’, in 1929. Shortly thereafter, Stout found his niche in writing detective fiction. In 1934, he published Fer-de-Lance, the first in what would become a highly popular series featuring detective Nero Wolfe.
Detective Wolfe, along with his side-kick, Archie Goodwin, solved crimes in a series of 33 beloved novels and 39 novellas. Stout published these works of fiction over the course of 40 years.
During World War II, Stout took a break from writing fiction to contribute to the war effort. An outspoken enemy of Nazi Germany, he devoted his time to writing Allied propaganda. Stout also contributed to the famed wartime broadcast on CBS radio titled Our Secret Weapon.
Despite his work on behalf of America and its allies during the war, Stout was targeted by the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s and 1960s as a possible communist. His 1965 book, The Doorbell Rang, appeared on the FBI’s list of suspected subversive literature.
Stout reached the pinnacle of his career in 1959 when he was awarded the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America group. He was also nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century at the world’s largest mystery convention, Bouchercon XXXI.
In all, Stout wrote 46 Wolfe detective novels, publishing his last book about a month before he died at age 88 on October 27, 1975.
Today, Stout is still revered for his contributions to the genre of American detective novels.