The 19th state's rich literary heritage at the turn of the century is highlighted in the Indiana Historical Society exhibition, "The Golden Age: Indiana Literature, 1880-1920," through Sept. 11, at the Clay County Historical Society, 100 E. National Ave., Brazil.
Drawn from collections at the HIS, Indiana State Library and Indiana University's Lilly Library, the exhibition explores what came to be known as the "Golden Age of Indiana Literature," a time period in which Hoosier authors achieved both national prominence and popular acclaim.
The exhibition examines some of the many writers who contributed to the state's literary golden age, but concentrates on the lives and careers of four individuals who loomed large during this period, including George Ade, Meredith Nicholson, Booth Tarkington and James Whitcomb Riley.
Indiana writers in the late 19th and early 20th century catered to readers who preferred writing that idealized traditional values or offered escape from an ever-changing world.
A 1947 study found Hoosier authors ranked second to New York in the number of best sellers produced in the previous 40 years.
From the local color poetry of Riley, the historical romances of Lew Wallace, Maurice Thompson and Charles Major, the humor of Ade and Kin Hubbard, the fantasy of George Barr McCutcheon, the nature writing of Gene Stratton-Porter, the grim realism of Theodore Dreiser and the mild realism of Tarkington and Nicholson, Hoosier authors worked in a variety of writing styles.
Many of these writers' works were printed by an Indianapolis publishing firm, the Bobbs-Merril Company.
By 1915, the firm had produced 26 titles that made the annual lists of top 10 best sellers, a mark surpassing any other publisher in the country during this period.
The lustrous Golden Age of Indiana literature began to fade as changes in America's economic and social order accelerated after World War I.
Traditional values, simple pleasures, nostalgia and romance were less important to a postwar society preoccupied with business prosperity and such technological advances as the automobile, radio and motion pictures.
Through the years, however, Indiana authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Jean Sheperd, Dan Wakefield and others have kept alive the Hoosier state's literary tradition.
The Clay County Historical Society has been preserving the county's history since 1925, and obtained the old U.S. Post Office Building in 1977 for a museum to house the artifacts.
The museum is open Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m., and Saturday, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Special tours may be arranged by calling the museum office during business hours.
Since 1830, the Indiana Historical Society has been Indiana's Storyteller, connecting people to the past by collecting, preserving, interpreting and disseminating the state's history.
A private, non-profit membership organization, the society maintains the nation's premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest.
The society also provides support and assistance to local museums and historical groups, publishes books and periodicals, sponsors teacher workshops and provides youth, adult and family programming.
For more information on the Indiana Historical Society, log on to www.indianahistory.org.