James Whitcomb Riley

American, 1849–1916

James Whitcomb Riley was known as “The Children’s Poet” for his beloved poems for young people, the most famous of which is “Little Orphan Annie.” He was born in Indiana to a family of modest means and spent much of his early adult in dire financial straits due to his determination to earn his living as a poet. He eventually secured an income writing for newspapers and performing at for-profit poetry readings, a popular form of entertainment at the time. His spirited, humorous readings proved popular enough to coast him to fame and fortune. By the time he ended touring in 1895, he was one of the best-known poets in the country and earning $1,000 a week. In the last decade of his life, he received honorary degrees from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Wabash College, and Indiana University, and received a special medal for poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.