Riley, James Whitcomb

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Riley, James Whitcomb,

1849–1916, American poet, b. Greenfield, Ind., known as the Hoosier poet. He was at various times a traveling actor, a sign painter, and a newspaperman. Under the name "Benj. F. Johnson of Boone" he began to write verse in the Hoosier dialect for the Indianapolis Journal in 1875, selections first collected in "The Old Swimmin'-Hole" and 'Leven More Poems (1883). Riley's verse was popular because of its humor, pathos, simplicity, and sentimentality. Especially well-known are his children's poems such as "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Runaway Boy." Among the collections of his verse are Rhymes of Childhood (1890) and Knee Deep in June (1912).


See biography by M. Dickey (Youth, 1919; Maturity, 1922); study by P. Revell (1970).

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Riley, James Whitcomb (Benjamin F. Johnson, of Boone, pen name)

(1849–1916) poet; born in Greenfield, Ind. He left school at age 16, worked as a house and sign painter (1870–71), and as a lecturer (1872–76). After working in his father's law office (1875–76), he moved to Indianapolis (1879) and worked as a journalist (1879–88); many of his poems were first published in the Indianapolis Journal. He was a popular, sentimental poet, often using a Hoosier (Indiana) dialect, as in "Little Orphant Annie" and "When the Frost is on the Punkin'."
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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