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Mary Austin (1868–1934)

Author of The Land of Little Rain

Includes the names: Mary Austin, Mary H. Austin, Mary Austin Hunter, Mary Hunter Austin

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Mary Hunter was one of six children born to a father who had emigrated from England and served as an officer in the Civil War, and a mother of Scotch-Irish and French descent. She began writing at a young age and graduated in 1888 from Blackburn College in her home town of Carlinville, Illinois, with a degree in science. Her family moved to California that same year and established a desert homestead in the San Joaquin Valley. Mary's parents died when she was 10 years old. In 1891, she married Stafford Wallace Austin of Hawaii, a teacher and grape grower. Mary Hunter Austin taught school and wrote poems and stories for her students. She also studied Native American life in the Mojave Desert. In 1892, she sold her first short story and soon began contributing to the magazine Overland Monthly. In 1903, Mary published her first book, The Land of Little Rain, which became a classic and her best-known work. It consisted of 14 sketches focused on the Mojave Desert and the Native Americans who lived there. The book brought her instant fame and she became a prolific novelist, poet, critic, and playwright, as well as an early feminist, socialist, and defender of Native American and Spanish-American rights. Mary Hunter Austin and her husband were involved in the California Water Wars, in which the water of Owens Valley was eventually drained to supply Los Angeles. When their battle was lost, he moved to Death Valley, California, and she lived in Carmel, Los Angeles, and Greenwich Village, New York City. She was part of a social circle that included Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and George Sterling and became one of the founders of the Forest Theater. In 1929, while living in New Mexico, Mary co-authored a book with Ansel Adams published in a limited edition as Taos Pueblo. In 1928, she published her only collection of poetry, aimed at children, entitled The Children Sing in the Far West. Four years later, she published her autobiography, Earth Horizon.
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