Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Author and journalist Richard L. Rhodes is not to be envied for his childhood. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, on July 4, 1937, Rhodes lost his mother to suicide thirteen months later. His father, a mechanic with the Missouri Pacific Railroad, moved Richard and his older brother, Stanley, from one boardinghouse to another throughout the city. In 1947 Richard's father married a sadistic woman whom, even when he was an adult, Richard still feared. Beaten and starved by their stepmother and ignored by their father, the boys eventually found sanctuary in the Andrew Drumm Institute, a boys home located on a farm near Independence, Missouri. Books were Richard's window to the wider world, and, against all odds, he gained access to that world when he was admitted to Yale.

He graduated in 1959, and, after working as a trainee writer for Newsweek and then as an editor at Hallmark Cards, he began writing seriously when he was in his thirties, and he has never stopped. His first book, The Inland Ground: An Evocation of the American Middle West (1970), was praised for its portraits of midwestern people and places. His most acclaimed work, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1987), brought Rhodes a National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. Candid analyses of his own sexuality (Making Love: An Erotic Odyssey, 1992) and his harrowing childhood (A Hole in the World: An American Boyhood, 1990) are among the twelve nonfiction and four fiction books he has written. Rhodes has also made numerous contributions to newspapers and magazines both as author and editor.

Despite his successes, Rhodes has never forgotten his abusive childhood, and years of heavy drinking took their toll until he quit drinking when he was nearing fifty. He maintains that all his work, whatever the specific subject matter, is a repetition of one theme: men faced with violence who struggle against it and find, perhaps, a ray of hope.

David J. Wishart University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Jones, Daniel, and Jorgenson, John D., eds. Contemporary Authors. New Revisions series. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997: 58: 354–58.

Rhodes, Richard. A Hole in the World: An American Boyhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

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