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James Howell Street was a newspaperman and novelist who worked at the Arkansas Gazette in the 1920s and later wrote essays celebrating the state and the newspaper.
James Street was born on October 15, 1903, in Lumberton, Mississippi, to John Camillus Street and William Thompson Scott Street (her actual name). Although his family was Catholic, he converted and became a Baptist minister after marrying Lucy Nash O’Briant, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, in 1923. After three children were born, he gave up preaching and became a newspaper reporter, first at the Pensacola Journal in Florida and then in 1926 at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was twenty-three when he went to work for the Gazette as a reporter and state editor, but he later said that he added four years to his age to get the job.
After two years, he went to work for the Associated Press. He moved to New York in 1933 and began writing for the New York World Telegram in 1937. In 1936, he produced his first full-length work, Look Away! A Dixie Notebook, a book of sketches of life in Mississippi published by the Viking Press. He wrote it while covering the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, who was convicted of kidnapping Charles A. Lindbergh’s son. In 1939, the Saturday Evening Post published Street’s short story about a boy and his dog, called “The Biscuit Eater,” which was widely acclaimed.
His first of five historical novels, Oh, Promised Land, appeared the next year. Together with Tap Roots (1942), By Valour and Arms (1944), Tomorrow We Reap (1949), and Mingo Dabney (1950), it chronicled the Dabney family in Lebanon, Mississippi, from 1794 to 1896. The central episode in By Valour and Arms concerns the building of the ironclad CSS Arkansas, which destroyed part of Admiral David Farragut’s fleet in 1862 and delayed the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, during the Civil War. Goodbye, My Lady (1954), another book about a boy and a dog, became an American bestseller. His other major books were In My Father’s House (1941), The Gauntlet (1945), and The High Calling (1951). Four of his books were made into films, and several sold more than a million copies.
Street wrote lovingly about Arkansas and especially the Gazette. James Street’s South,a collection of essays about the South published posthumously by Doubleday & Co. in 1955, contained stories about Arkansas and a long tribute to the Gazette and its editor, John Netherland Heiskell. His son, James H. Street Jr., wrote in the introduction: “He always thought of the Gazette as his school and of its editors as his teachers. He thought of it as the embodiment of the qualities of Arkansas that are to be admired and he was quick to defend it.” In that collection and in Look Away! A Dixie Notebook, Street wrote about the prejudice and injustices toward African Americans that he had encountered. James Street’s South relates a biting account of the 1919 Elaine Massacre.
Street moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1945; he died there of a heart attack on September 28, 1954.
For additional information:“James Street.” Mississippi Writers & Musicians. http://www.mswritersandmusicians.com/writers/james-street.html (accessed September 5, 2008).
“James Street, 50, Noted Novelist; Author of ‘The Gauntlet’ and ‘Tap Roots,’ Dies in Chapel Hill of a Heart Attack.” New York Times. September 29, 1954, p. 31.
Street, James. James Street’s South. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1955.
Ernest DumasLittle Rock, Arkansas
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