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Born and raised in Paducah, Kentucky, humorist Irvin S. Cobb (1876–1944) rose from humble beginnings to become one of the early twentieth century’s most celebrated writers. As a staff reporter for the New York World and Saturday Evening Post, he became one of the highest-paid journalists in the United States. He also wrote short stories for noted magazines, published books, and penned scripts for the stage and screen.
In Irvin S. Cobb: The Rise and Fall of a Southern Humorist, historian William E. Ellis examines the life of this significant writer. Though a consummate wordsmith and a talented observer of the comical in everyday life, Cobb was a product of the Reconstruction era and the Jim Crow South. As a party to the endemic racism of his time, he often bemoaned the North’s harsh treatment of the South and stereotyped African Americans in his writings. Marred by racist undertones, Cobb’s work has largely slipped into obscurity.
Nevertheless, Ellis argues that Cobb’s life and works are worthy of more detailed study, citing his wide-ranging contributions to media culture and his coverage of some of the biggest stories of his day, including on-the-ground reporting during World War I. A valuable resource for students of journalism, American humor, and popular culture, this illuminating biography explores Cobb’s life and his influence on early twentieth-century letters.
William E. Ellis, Foundation Professor Emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University, is the author of several books including The Kentucky River and A History of Education in Kentucky. In 1999, he received the Governor’s Award for Robert Worth Bingham and the Southern Mystique.