A literary legacy

The gift left by Kendall Young at his passing in 1896 did more than establish a free public library in Webster City; it also started a literary and artistic legacy in the town that has continued to this day.

MacKinlay Kantor is probably the best known author from Webster City, with over forty books, numerous short stories and novellas, and screenplays. While he did not receive a formal college education, he spent many hours in the library, educating himself through reading and studying his way through the collection. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for his novel Andersonville and is famous for his accurate depiction of life in America. Readers of Kantor’s books can see Webster City woven throughout the fabric of his stories, with familiar street names, buildings, and landmarks appearing in many different books. Kantor famously said, “Call the towns what you will – or what I did call them – they’re always Webster City.” Kantor’s time spent in the library is reflected by his continued presence in the building – with manuscripts, scrapbooks of his career, and first editions of all his books residing in the Jane Young Room, along with copies available to checkout in the collection.

Clark Mollenhoff was a prominent journalist and also grew up in Webster City. Winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for national reporting of labor racketeering, he also wrote eleven non-fiction titles. Mollenhoff has also credited the Kendall Young Library in influencing his career choice, which makes it fitting that his works are on the shelves and several other items of interest from his career are on display in the Jane Young Room.

While the names MacKinlay Kantor and Clark Mollenhoff are probably familiar, Webster City has also produced several other novelists and artists. One such author was Dr. Faye C. Lewis. Dr. Lewis practiced medicine in Webster City, writing books about her life practicing medicine in a small-town and other medical subjects. She also wrote informative medical texts. Her first book was Doc’s Wife, published in 1940, and covers the first ten years of her married life as both a physician’s wife and physician herself. Another title, Nothing to Make a Shadow, tells the story of her family’s experience homesteading in South Dakota.

The literary legacy continues to the present day, with many new authors still coming out of Webster City. Recent authors like Melissa Tagg, Jane Curtis, Charlotte Stone, and Milissa Bailey all demonstrate this. For those wanting to continue the support of local authors, watch for book signing events this spring with local authors Mike Ellis and Melissa Tagg.