Orrick Glenday Johns

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Orrick Glenday Johns (June 2, 1887 – July 8, 1946) was an American poet and playwright and was part of the literary group that included T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. He was active in the Communist Party.

Early life[edit]

Johns was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to George Sibley Johns and Minnehaha McDearmon. George Sibley Johns was an editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. George and Minnehaha had three sons. They resided in a home on Compton avenue, where Orrick was born, and later moved farther west, to Cook avenue.[1] The family moved several times during Orrick's childhood, including to St. Charles, Kirkwood, and to the city's West End. Johns' family settled in a house on Cabanne Place when Orrick was six years old.[1]

Orrick lost a leg as a child in St. Louis to a streetcar accident. After the accident, Johns' family had to give up their home on Cabanne Place and move across the tracks to Maple avenue. Johns spent six months in bed recovering from the amputation and spent his time reading and developing a love of writing and publishing. The trolley company was deemed liable for the accident and the family was awarded a small sum. The accident spurred George Sibley Johns to advocate for improvements to the trolley system. He started a newspaper campaign to have the trolleys install better brakes and put fenders on the cars.[1]

Johns was educated locally at public schools, including Dozier School, Central High School, and the University of Missouri.[2] After graduating Johns held several jobs and eventually landed at The Mirror as a drama critic. This position launched his literary career.[1]


Johns' poetry began to attract attention around 1912. He also became interested in leftist politics around this time. Johns moved to New York City, where he resided on and off for the next ten years. He occasionally made trips back to St. Louis to visit his father and wrote some of his best works while in the city.[1] Johns won a poetry contest in 1912 hosted by The Lyric Year, despite competing against Edna St. Vincent Millay's famed "Renascence", a victory he felt was misjudged.

Johns was part of the new poetry movement in America and editor of New Masses. Johns was acclaimed for his poetry and published two volumes, Asphalt and Wild Plum in the 1920s.[2] He wrote a very successful play, A Charming Conscience, which provided him with enough money to travel in Europe extensively. Johns returned to the United States in 1929 and moved to Carmel, California, where he married his third wife. In Carmel, Johns became involved with union organizing and also wrote for Communist newspapers.[1]

From 1935 to 1937, Johns was the supervisor of the WPA Writers' Project in New York City. His leftist politics drew negative attention in the media and occasional death threats. He resigned from the WPA project in 1937 and published Time of Our Lives, a work that is part autobiography and part biography of his father, George Johns, who was editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page.[1]

In 1938, Johns moved to Connecticut with his fourth wife and continued to write articles and short stories.[1]

Personal life[edit]

His first wife was the artist Margarite Frances Baird, also known as Peggy Baird. Johns married a second, third, and fourth time, the third time to Caroline Blackman, who was also from St. Louis.[1]

He committed suicide by poisoning himself in Danbury, Connecticut.[3] Johns died on July 8, 1946.[1]

He is mentioned in Kenneth Rexroth's poem "Thou Shalt Not Kill" as "hopping into the surf on his one leg".

His works include:

  • 1917 - Asphalt and Other Poems
  • 1920 - Black Branches, A Book of Poetry and Plays
  • 1925 - Blindfold, a novel
  • 1926 - Wild Plum: Lyrics, with Sonnets to Charis
  • 1937 - Time of Our Lives: The Story of My Father and Myself, autobiography


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sandweiss, Lee Ann (2000). Seeking St. Louis: Voices from a River City, 1670-2000. St. Louis, Missouri: Missouri History Museum.
  2. ^ a b Literary St. Louis. Associates of St. Louis University Libraries, Inc. and Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc. 1969.
  3. ^ Philip A. Greasley - Dictionary of Midwestern Literature: The Authors
  • Johns, Orrick and George Sibley Johns, Time of Our Lives: The Story of My Father and Myself, ISBN 0-374-94215-3, 1937

External links[edit]