Biography of Elizabeth Madox Roberts

      Elizabeth Madox Roberts (1881-1941), one of America's most original novelists and poets, set her work in the area around her home town of Springfield, Kentucky, what she called her Little Country, the rolling hills at the southern edge of the Bluegrass. Her distinctive voice came clear in her first book, Under the Tree (1922), a never-out-of-print collection of poems for children. Roberts liberated the genre from didactic sentimentalism and instead portrayed a child's sense of wonder and often comic absurdity. In her best known novels -- The Time of Man (1926) and The Great Meadow (1930), both short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize -- she developed a highly idiosyncratic language to explore the inner lives of women as they make sense of their places in the sometimes hostile but vividly rendered outer world.

Roberts attended local schools in Springfield, then high school in Covington, where she lived with her maternal grandparents. Both her parents, Mary Elizabeth Brent and Simpson Roberts, a Confederate veteran turned surveyor/engineer, placed a high value on education, but Elizabeth's frail health kept her from college until 1917 when at age 36 she enrolled at the University of Chicago. There, she discovered a lively literary scene and forged friendships with a group of writers and artists, including Glenway Wescott, Janet Lewis, Yvor Winters, and Monroe Wheeler. Her colleagues recognized her original genius and helped her launch a late-blooming but productive career: seven novels, three volumes of poems, and two collections of stories. (see literary works) Her work received critical acclaim from Carl and Mark Van Doren, Robert Penn Warren, Ford Madox Ford, Sherwood Anderson, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and many others as well as a wide readership and many awards, including the O. Henry Prize.

She died at age 60 and was buried in Springfield,on a hill overlooking the Little Country whose rhythms and ways she conveyed with the attentiveness of an anthropologist, the sensibility of a modernist, and the sensuality of a poet.