Jack Conroy

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Jack Conroy
BornJohn Wesley Conroy
December 5, 1899
Monkey Nest, a coal mining camp near Moberly, Missouri, US
DiedFebruary 28, 1990(1990-02-28) (aged 90)
Moberly, Missouri, US
Pen nameJack Conroy, Tim Brennan, John Norcross
Genreproletarian literature
Notable worksThe Disinherited (1933)
Notable awardsGuggenheim Fellowship, State of Illinois Literary Times Award, NEA artist’s grant, Society of Midland Authors Lifetime Achievement Award, Society for Midwestern Literature’s Mark Twain Award

John Wesley Conroy (December 5, 1899 – February 28, 1990) was a leftist American writer,[1] also known as a worker-writer.[2] He was best known for his contributions to proletarian literature: fiction and nonfiction about the life of American workers during the early decades of the 20th century.[3]


"Jack" Conroy was born John Wesley Conroy to Irish immigrants on December 5, 1899, in the coal mining camp of Monkey Nest near Moberly, Missouri.[3][4] Elements of his childhood experiences growing up in a mining camp can be seen in his Depression-era novels, The Disinherited[2] and A World to Win.[5]


Though he did not complete a formal education, Conroy worked at various jobs including: railroad shop apprentice (and eventual foreman), recording secretary for the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of America union office, an auto factory worker, and construction.[2] While he worked, he wrote, and it is said that in 1934, during a heat wave, Conroy moved his kitchen table outdoors beneath a shade tree where he created his second novel, A World to Win.[2]

From 1931 to 1941 Conroy edited successively the magazines Rebel Poet, The Anvil, and The New Anvil. He included works by Erskine Caldwell, Langston Hughes, and William Carlos Williams, among others.[1] Conroy later edited, with Curt Johnson, a collection of these pieces, Writers in Revolt: The Anvil Anthology (1973).[1] He also contributed to the New Masses magazine as writer and contributing editor; often, his work was reviewed in that magazine, too.

In 1938 Conroy came to Chicago, on Algren's suggestions, to work on the Illinois Writers' Project.[3] Along with recording folktales and industrial folklore, Conroy was assigned to the black history portion of the IWP, and collaborated with Arna Bontemps, producing the pioneering black studies works They Seek A City (1945) and Anyplace But Here (1965), both about African-American migration from the South to the North.[3] Conroy and Bontemps also collaborated on several successful juvenile books based on folktales, including The Fast Sooner Hound (1942) and Slappy Hooper, The Wonderful Sign Painter (1946).[3]

In 1965, Conroy moved from Chicago back to Moberly, Missouri, where he lived until his death. He continued to write into his 80s, publishing The Weed King and Other Stories in 1985.[3] Over the course of his career, Conroy was also a teacher and lecturer, and a mentor to younger radical writers.[3] Known as "the Sage of Moberly",[3] Conroy also wrote under the pseudonyms of Tim Brennan and John Norcross.[1]

Conroy died February 28, 1990, in Moberly, Missouri,[1][3][4] and was buried in Sugar Creek Cemetery.[6]


Conroy has been credited with introducing the worker-writer in literature.[7] His first novel, The Disinherited, challenged critical definitions of what was considered influential literature, blurring the line between the world of the middle-class literate and the world of the worker.[8]

Conroy first achieved national attention when H.L. Mencken published his sketches and stories in The American Mercury magazine.[2] He worked for 23 years as an editor of an encyclopedia sold through Sears stores and as a book reviewer for the Chicago Sun and the Daily Defender.[8] In the United States, awareness of his work diminished after the 1930s for a variety of reasons, including the difficulty Conroy faced in trying to establish himself as a writer while staying loyal to his identity as a worker. In the 1960s, new interest in the lives of workers revived interest in Conroy's life and writings.[8] His works enjoyed more popularity in the Soviet Union: a Russian translation of The Disinherited appeared in 1935 and was warmly greeted by Soviet magazines, and in 1990 Soviet sources offered the opinion that Conroy's novels truly describe the reality of working-class America.[9]

Major works[edit]


  • The Disinherited (1933) reflects Conroy’s own life[1] as it tells the story of a work-seeking coal miner’s son during the Great Depression.[2]
  • A World to Win (1935) is a proletariat novel that follows two brothers as they seek their own definitions of worldly success during the Great Depression


  • The Weed King and Other Stories (1985) is a collection of tales reflecting Conroy’s life and personality[7]



Conroy wrote a number of books with Arna Bontemps, including:

  • The Fast Sooner Hound (1942), children's book, first of three that paints a picture of African-American migration and settlement.[1]
  • They Seek A City (1945) children's book, second of three[1] on the northern migration of African-Americans, both pre- and post-Civil War.[11]
  • Slappy Hooper, The Wonderful Sign Painter (1946), third of three, folktales[7]
  • Sam Patch, The High, Wide and Handsome Jumper (1951) with Arna Bontemps
  • Midland Humor: A Harvest of Fun and Folklore (1947)
  • Anyplace But Here (1966) is a republished version of They Seek A City written with Arna Bontemps. This expanded version adds chapters on Marcus Garvey, the Black Muslims, Malcolm X, and other racial issues.[12]


  • Edited Unrest (1929–1931) with Ralph Cheyney
  • Edited The Rebel Poet (1931–1932)
  • Senior editor for The New Standard Encyclopedia (1947)
  • Edited Writers in Revolt: The Anvil Anthology (1973) with Curt Johnson


Conroy's awards and recognition include:[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Jack Conroy". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 29 October 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Jack Conroy, Novelist, 91". The New York Times. 1990-03-02. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Inventory of the Jack Conroy Papers." The Newberry Library Chicago. 2003. The Newberry Library, Web. 29 Oct 2009. <http://www.newberry.org/collections/FindingAids/conroy/conroy.html Archived 2008-05-14 at the Wayback Machine>
  4. ^ a b c ""Jack Conroy." Moberly Area Community College. Moberly Area Community College, Web. 29 Oct 2009. <http://www.macc.cc.mo.us/~conroy/index2.htm Archived 2009-04-12 at the Wayback Machine>
  5. ^ Conroy, Jack. A World To Win. Intro by Douglas Wixson. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2000.
  6. ^ "John Wesley "jack" Conroy (1898-1990) buried in Sugar Creek Cemetery located in Moberly, MO | People Legacy". peoplelegacy.com. Retrieved 2020-11-08.
  7. ^ a b c d Wixson, Douglas. Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1990. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1994. Print.
  8. ^ a b c "Abrams, Alan. "Author found his inspiration in Toledo's Willys plant." Toledo Blade 06 Mar 1994: E-4. Online. <https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19940306&idoYAUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XAMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4854>
  9. ^ Б. Гиленсон. Конрой, Джек. // Писатели США: Справочник. - М., Радуга, 1990. - С. 193.
  10. ^ "Jack Conroy and the Anvils--Original, New, and North Country." KickTime. The KickTime Management, Web. 29 Oct 2009. <http://www.kicktime.org/story/2005/7/29/182840/766 Archived 2011-09-30 at the Wayback Machine>
  11. ^ "They Seek A City." Bookfever.com. 7 Sep 2009. Bookfever.com, Web. 29 Oct 2009. <http://www.bookfever.com/Book_Listing/Bontemps_Arna_and_Conroy_Jack_THEY_SEEK_A_CITY_book_20096.html>
  12. ^ "Anyplace But Here." University of Missouri Press. U of Missouri P, Web. 29 Oct 2009.<http://press.umsystem.edu/spring1997/bontemps.htm Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine>

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