Friday, January 06, 2006

A Literary Life

Springfield native Barbara Burkhardt has contributed to our city's extraordinary literary heritage with the official and definitive biography of Illinois novelist, William Maxwell. William Maxwell, A Literary Life was published by University of Illinois Press in 2005.

Maxwell spent his early childhood in Lincoln, Illinois and much of his writing depicts that setting around the time of World War I. Maxwell was a longtime fiction editor for The New Yorker and an editor and mentor of John Updike.

Burkhardt established unique access to her subject in 1991, interviewing the novelist at his apartment in New York City for a literary magazine. Her interviews with the Maxwell continued throughout the ‘90s until his death in 2000. She describes a man so committed to the written word that rather than responding verbally to her questions, he typed all of his responses on a typewriter while she sat in his presence and waited. Maxwell’s melancholic observation that human experience ends in oblivion unless it is captured in writing seems to have driven his career.

Burkhardt received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she organized the letters of William Maxwell for the Maxwell archives. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a community history Web site of Lincoln, Illinois,--with many references to William Maxwell, including photos of houses associated with him and his family--, please see

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Darold Leigh Henson said...

Access the following link to read my review of Professor Burkhardt's Maxwell biography published in the Journal of Illinois History:

3:12 PM  
Blogger Larry Stevens said...

Leigh, I've had a wonderful time exploring your website. My ancestor, Judge James Latham, is mentioned there and his youngest son, Col. Robert B. Latham. I'm descended from James Latham's oldest son, Richard. I had never seen a picture of Robert until visiting your site, so thanks for that.

I didn't realize that Postville survived in the form of the Lincoln streets that aren't aligned with the Chicago & Alton tracks. There is so much I don't know about the town.

I'd like to drive out and find the spot where the Edwards Trace crossed the Salt Creek. My family history holds that Richard Latham established a homestead there in the early 1820s. I didn't realize there was a Kickapoo settlement there. The Kickapoo history is especially interesting to me as James Latham was the Indian Sub-Agent who prepared them for removal from Illinois. His journals are preserved at the ALPLM.

There's some interesting history about the Latham family's claim to the land that Peoria was built on. Judge Latham moved his family from their original settlement on Elkhart Hill to his Indian Agency office at Fort Clark and entered all that land in the early 1820s. There was some kind of bureaucratic snafu that prevented him from receiving title to it before he died in 1826 and the Peoria county commissioners obtained title to the land. The Congressional Record in the 1830s is full of legislative efforts by Gov. Reynolds to secure another 100 acres for the heirs of James Latham for the loss of this acquisition. Reynolds gave passionate speeches advocating for the pioneers of the West to win relief for the Lathams.

Again, thanks for the link. I'm eager to get up there to Lincoln and explore sometime.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Leigh Henson said...

Larry, many thanks for your response. I am grateful that you have found my Lincoln Community history Web site of interest, and I much enjoy your New Springfield: I have a lot to learn about the history of the Capital City. I spend time there whenever I travel from the Ozarks to my hometown--typically I visit Prairie Archives and visit with Mr. Brenton Coffey by the new Lincoln family statues as part of this ritual.

I am much interested in where the Edwards Trace crossed Salt Creek, because that is undoubtedly one of the routes used by Abraham Lincoln.

Earlier this year (2006), I was contacted by a descendent of Robert Latham. Feel freet to contact me at, and I'll share more.

Warmest regards,

Leigh Henson

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Leigh Henson said...

Larry, you might be interested in recent Latham-related content that I added to my Lincoln community history site:

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Leigh said...

Just click my name on the previous post to access the Latham material.

6:11 AM  

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