Conrad Richter won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Town, in 1951. The book was the third in what became known as Richter’s Ohio Trilogy, later published in one volume entitled The Awakening Land: The Trees, The Fields, The Town. It followed the life of Sayward Luckett Wheeler—widely considered one of the most sensitively drawn pioneer women in fiction—and her participation in the gradual replacement of the gloomy and dangerous Ohio forest wilderness by farming communities and a thriving town. Although Richter published more than twenty other novels and collections of short stories, most of which featured pioneers battling their environment, and some of which won their own awards, he is still best known for his Ohio Trilogy.
Born in Pennsylvania, Conrad Richter lived in Cleveland for fourteen years during his twenties and thirties. But he credits the inspiration for The Awakening Land to an “enthusiastic” Ohioan neighbor and friend he had when he lived in New Mexico. In 1967, he sent “a small account of how I became interested in the Ohio trilogy” to Mrs. Bernice Williams Foley, then director of the Ohioana Association:
One day our neighbor across the Forest Service road brought me two of his books [from Howe’s Historical Collection of Ohio] to read. They were heavy, well used, more than nineteen hundred pages in all. I opened them with misgivings but found them packed with some of the most fascinating, authentic, and often firsthand accounts of pioneer life that I had ever read. For weeks I took notes but could not begin to set down a tenth of what interested me so I asked him if he would trade these two volumes for two of my own… His name was W.T. Boyd and he hailed originally from a farm near Ironton… His two volumes that started me off on the project so long ago still stand on my library shelves.