Author Kenneth Lewis Roberts (1885-1957) was born in Kennebunk, Maine. Most of his boyhood was spent in suburban Boston. Roberts graduated from Cornell University in 1908, editing the Cornell Widow during his undergraduate years. Within a year, he joined the Boston Post, specializing in humor pieces. Eventual contributions to major humor magazines – Puck, Life and Judge – led to longer pieces for Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post and Robert’s return to the Kennebunk area.
Roberts enlisted in the army in 1917 and wrote articles as part the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia. George Horace Lorimer, editor of the Saturday Evening Post, hired Roberts to report postwar conditions in Europe. The roving postwar assignment ignited Robert’s interest in his English forebears in Maine and his artistic aim to render them in fiction grounded in history. Booth Tarkington, who summered in nearby Kennebunkport, tutored Roberts in the art of fiction writing. His most acclaimed novel is Northwest Passage (1937), which was serialized by Lorimer in the Saturday Evening Post beginning in 1936. In 1938, Roberts bought a large farm, Rocky Pasture, bordering on Tarkington’s estate.
Roberts developed a strong interest in dowsing in later years and founded a company, Water Unlimited, as a paid service for locating reliable groundwater in Maine and elsewhere. His late-career writings featured the topic of dowsing as a response to skeptics. Roberts died at Rock Acres on 21 July 1957 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Columbia University awarded him, posthumously, a special Pulitzer Prize citation for excellence in historical fiction.
The September 1962 issue of the Colby Library Quarterly features articles on Kenneth Roberts’ life and work.
KENNETH ROBERTS AS DONOR
Roberts received an honorary degree from Colby College in 1935. Another tie to the college was through George Horace Lorimer, the benefactor of Colby’s Lorimer Chapel on Mayflower Hill, the construction of which was begun in 1939. Roberts presented manuscripts of his 1931 novel The Lively Lady to Curator Carl Weber in 1950, following with several more gifts until his death in 1957. The Colby College Press printed Don’t Say That About Maine! in 1951. Roberts’ wife Anna donated additional materials in 1960.
Our collection contains letters, manuscripts and books by or about Kenneth Roberts. Inscribed copies of Robert’s novels are located in our James Brendan Connolly, Booth Tarkington and Ben Ames Williams collections.
Additional works consulted:
“Kenneth Lewis Roberts.” American National Biography Online. Web. 19 March 2015.
Maine Memory Network. Web. 19 March 2015.
HIGHLIGHTED DONORS FOR THIS COLLECTION
In addition to primary donors Kenneth Roberts and Anna (Mrs Kenneth) Roberts:
Florence (Mrs Ben Ames) Williams