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A native of Fayetteville (Washington County), Charles Morrow Wilson was a nationally known freelance author. While the majority of his many books and magazine articles were on international trade, agriculture, and medicine topics, a significant number were on Arkansas culture and politics.
Charles Wilson was born in Fayetteville on June 16, 1905, to Joseph Dixon and Martha (Mattie) Maude Morrow Wilson. He was educated in Fayetteville Public Schools and graduated from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville in 1926. Wilson began writing when he was still a student, and author Charles J. Finger became his mentor. Wilson was included in the group of writers, artists, and scientists who frequently gathered at Finger’s home near Fayetteville, and he was associated with the production of Finger’s magazine of essays and reviews, All’s Well. In 1927, Wilson wrote the introduction to Finger’s book of essays, Ozark Fantasia. With the encouragement of Finger, and following the example of hometown contemporary, J. William Fulbright, Wilson spent a year studying and traveling in England.
In 1930, Wilson moved to New York City, where he worked on a part-time basis for the New York Times and began writing magazine articles and books. Acres of Sky (1931), his first published book, was based on Ozark folk traditions. In 1950, the story was adapted as a dramatic musical, and the next year it was the first production in the University of Arkansas’s new Fine Arts Theatre, which had been designed by another Fayetteville contemporary of Wilson’s, Edward Durell Stone.
Other publications related to Arkansas include Rabble Rouser (1936), the story of a backwoods politician who fights the good old boys and big utilities, The Bodacious Ozarks (1959), and Stars is God’s Lanterns (1969); the latter two return to the subject of Ozark folk ways. Some of his numerous magazine articles have Arkansas subjects ranging from “Ozarcadia” (American Mercury, 1934) to “Orval Faubus, How Did He Get That Way?” (Reader’s Digest, 1959).
The 1930s were important years in Wilson’s personal life. He was married to his first wife, the painter and photographer, Iris Woolcock, from 1933 to 1937. The couple lived in Putney, Vermont, until their marriage ended in divorce. In 1939, Wilson brought his second wife, Martha, to Putney, where they lived and raised three sons.
Beginning in 1940, Wilson was employed by the United Fruit Company, becoming the director of its Middle America Information Bureau. He supervised the company’s publicity and created policy for relations with Central American nations. He also served in management and publicist positions with Firestone Plantations and Firestone Tire and Rubber, often working in Africa. In 1946, he was appointed Special Consultant to the president of Liberia, William S. Tubman.
As his experience and knowledge increased, Wilson published dozens of magazine articles and books about the tropics. Ambassadors in White: The Story of American Tropical Medicine (1942) was widely acclaimed. As part of his work with United Fruit Company, he participated in a company-sponsored archaeological expedition in Chiapas, Mexico, during which the Maya site of Bonampak was uncovered. Wilson wrote several articles about the site and about the Lacondone Indians who lived in the region.
Wilson also worked as a special interest reporter for Reader’s Digest in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, he was employed by the Encyclopedia Britannica. Throughout his life, he maintained a voluminous correspondence with friends, publishers, and adversaries.
Wilson died on March 1, 1977, of complications from diabetes. He is buried in Putney, Vermont
For additional information:Charles Morrow Wilson Papers (1877–1977). Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Williams, Nancy A., ed. Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
University of Arkansas Libraries
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
Last Updated 4/21/2007
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