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Born in Moundsville, West Virginia, Grubb wanted to combine his creative skills as a painter with writing and as such attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, his color blindness was a handicap he could not overcome and he gave up on painting to dedicate himself to writing fiction. He did, however, make a number of drawings and sketches during the course of his career, some of which were incorporated into his writings.
In 1940, Grubb moved to New York City where he worked at NBC radio as a writer while using his free time to write short stories. In the mid-1940s he was successful in selling several short stories to major magazines and in the early 1950s he started writing a full-length novel. Influenced by accounts of economic hardship by depression-era Americans that his mother had seen firsthand as a social worker, Grubb produced a dark tale that mixed the plight of poor children and adults with that of the evil inflicted by others. The Night of the Hunter became an instant bestseller and was voted a finalist for the 1955 National Book Award. That same year, the book was made into a motion picture that is now regarded as a classic. Deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Grubb went on to write a further nine novels and several collections of short stories. His 1969 novel Fools' Parade would also be made into a motion picture starring James Stewart. Some of Grubb's short stories were adapted for television by Alfred Hitchcock and by Rod Serling for his Night Gallery series.
His longtime companion in the 1960's was a Lhasa Apso, named Rowdy Charlie, who accompanied him everywhere, including to dinners at P.J. Clarke's Restaurant in Manhattan, where they both ate steak tartare.
Grubb died in New York City in 1980. His novel Ancient Lights was published posthumously in 1982, and St. Martins Press published 18 of his short stories in a book collection titled You Never Believe Me and Other Stories.
- The Night of the Hunter (1953)
- A Dream of Kings (1955)
- The Watchman (1961)
- The Voices of Glory (1962)
- A Tree Full of Stars (1965)
- Shadow of My Brother (1966)
- The Golden Sickle (1968)
- Fools' Parade (1969)
- The Barefoot Man (1971)
- Ancient Lights (1982)
- Twelve Tales of Suspense and the Supernatural (UK title: One Foot in the Grave) (1964)
- The Siege of 318: Thirteen Mystical Stories (1978)
- You Never Believe Me and Other Stories (1989)
- Davis Grubb, The West Virginia Encyclopedia
- Biography of Davis Grubb, West Virginia Wesleyan College Library
- Works by or about Davis Grubb in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Davis Grubb at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Davis Grubb drawings, circa 1954, 1973, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences