Josephine Johnson

While Conrad Richter’s books portrayed – and glorified – the conquest of the land by pioneers, Josephine Johnson’s work, on the other hand, acknowledged nature’s ultimate power over man, and advocated letting the land return to its natural state.

Now in November was Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and it was also her first novel, published when she was only twenty-four. It tells the story of a drought which destroys a Midwestern farm in the midst of the Great Depression. Richard Greenleaf wrote in Contemporary Authors: “Yet somehow it is more a celebration of rural life than a denunciation. It has more bitterness than anger, more resignation than protest… the significant view it gave of a part of American life was odd at the time and is still almost entirely unique.”

Josephine Johnson gained accolades again, later in her career, for The Inland Island, about the thirty-seven acres of land near Cincinnati where she lived with her family, and which they turned into a nature preserve. The book details her observations of the land over the course of a year, interspersed with anti-war and anti-development sentiment. Many critics compared the work favorably with Thoreau’s Walden, and credited it with helping to popularize ecological concerns.

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