Mark Twain (1835-1910) was born in Florida, Missouri, and grew up in Hannibal. William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature” and he’s been lauded as “the greatest humorist this country has ever produced.” His some 25 books include classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is often called the Great American Novel.
Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) was born in Wisconsin but spent her adult life in Mansfield. During the Great Depression, she began penning stories about her pioneering childhood, which became the classic Little House on the Prairie nine-book children’s series and 1970s television show.
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis but moved to England at the age of 25. One of the 20th century’s major poets, he wrote at least 13 books and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. His Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, was adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber as the basis for the musical, Cats.
Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was raised by his grandmother in Joplin until he was 13. After extensive travel during his adult years, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, in 1924. Once he graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he began writing in earnest, starting with his first novel, Not Without Laughter, which won the Harmon gold medal for literature. He is recognized as a major contributor of the Harlem Renaissance.
Robert Heinlein (1902-1988) was born in Butler. Known as the “dean of science fiction writers”, Heinlein wrote more than 30 books, some of which have been made into TV series and movies, including Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers. A never-before-published Heinlein novel was released in 2020 – 32 years after his death. The Pursuit of the Pankera was reconstructed from pages of an original manuscript and author’s notes with no additional filler, so the work is entirely his own.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis. A leading literary voice of the Black community, she wrote more than a dozen books of prose and poetry. Her best-selling account of her upbringing in segregated rural Arkansas, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, won critical acclaim in 1970.
George Hodgman (1959-2019) returned to his Missouri roots in Madison and Paris for his highly-praised, best-selling memoir Bettyville. The brutally honest, witty and poignant tale explores the experience of a gay cosmopolitan New Yorker returning to a small town filled with both affectionate and painful memories to care for a mother with dementia.
Alexandra Ivy calls Hannibal home and is perhaps the most prolific writer on our list. The New York Times and USA Today best-selling author, who also writes under the name Deborah Raleigh, has published more than 70 books in a wide variety of genres from paranormal and erotic romance to historical and romantic suspense.
Allen Eskens grew up in central Missouri before moving to Minnesota to earn degrees in journalism and law. He uses his education and 25 years of experience in criminal law to write thrilling crime mysteries. His eight books revolve around the events that occur in a small community as told by four main characters: Joe Talbert, Boady Sanden, Lila Nash and Max Rupert. Esken’s first novel, The Life We Bury, has been published in 26 languages.
Daniel Woodrell lives in the Missouri Ozarks where he has drawn inspiration for six of his nine novels and The Outlaw Album, a collection of 12 short stories. His novel, Winter’s Bone, tells the story of Ree Dolly and her quest to find her absent father in order to protect her two young brothers. Along the way she learns dark family secrets and her own determination. The book was adapted to film in 2010 and won American Film Institute Movie of the Year in 2011.
Jim Butcher is an Independence native who wrote his first book in The Dresden Files series – about a professional wizard named Harry Dresden who works as a private investigator and battles supernatural bad guys in modern-day Chicago – when he was 25. The New York Times best-selling author has written 17 books in the series, as well as a six-book fantasy series, Codex Alera.
Gillian Flynn is a Kansas City native with three novels to her credit – Sharp Objects, Dark Places, Gone Girl, and The Grownup – all of which have been adapted for film or television, plus The Grownup, an Edgar Award-winning homage to the classic ghost story. She was nominated for the Golden Globe, Writers Guild of America Award and BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gone Girl.
Shayne Silvers writes supernatural thrillers – prolifically – from his home in Ozark. He has three separate intertwined series of books featuring Nate Temple, a wizard trying to protect St. Louis from monsters, myths and legends … Callie Penrose, a female spell-slinger in Kansas City … and Quinn MacKenna, a black arms dealer in Boston. The book count in his “Templeverse” stands at 40, and he has also authored a separate three-book vampire series.