Hamlin Garland was born and raised on pioneer farms in the upper Midwest, and his earliest and best fiction (most of it collected in Main Travelled Roads, 1891) deals with the unremitting hardship of frontier life---angry, realistic stories about the toil and abuses to which farmers of the time were subjected. As his fiction became more popular and romantic, its quality seriously declined, and Garland is remembered today chiefly for a handful of stories, such as "Under the Lion's Paw" and "Rose of Dutcher's Coolly." His only contribution to literary theory is Crumbling Idols (1894), in which he argued for an art that was truthful, humanitarian, and rooted in a specific locale. The first volume of his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border (1917), was followed by the much-admired second volume, A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. He published several other volumes of reminiscence, all of which are once more available with the reprinting of the 45-volume collection of his works.
William Dean Howells was born on March 1, 1837, in Martin's Ferry, Ohio. Howells was forced to drop out of high school to work as a typesetter for his father. He later taught himself, becoming adept at German and Spanish. He soon became a reporter, eventually becoming editor of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper's magazines, as well as a literary critic. During his lifetime, Howells rubbed elbows with the great American authors of his day, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1861, he received a consulship at Venice, returning to the U.S. several years later to become assistant editor for The Atlantic Monthly. While his accomplishments are centered in the world of journalism, he also wrote numerous volumes of poetry and novels, such as The Undiscovered Country and A Chance Acquaintance. This last book, like many of his novels, was originally published in serial installments in The Atlantic Monthly. Many of his writings explore the changing face of society in America, often contrasting it with life in Europe. Howells's other significant contribution to literature was his notice of and commentary on the merits of Henry James and Mark Twain. He received several honorary degrees from universities as well as a Gold Medal for fiction (later renamed after him as the Howells Medal) from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He died on May 11, 1920 in New York City.