Jakes, John (1932—)

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Jakes, John (1932—)

John Jakes was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 31, 1932. His parents fostered a love of the library in him and his association with books has followed him throughout his life. Jakes has enjoyed a long and distinguished writing career but has worked hard for his success. He is the prolific author of over seventy books and over two hundred short stories in such diverse categories as mystery and suspense, science fiction, the western, and children's literature. He is, however, best known for his best-selling historical fiction and intergenerational family sagas. He was so prolific in the mid-to late twentieth century that one rumor stated that John Jakes was actually the pen name for a group of writers, historical researchers, and publishers. His works have sold millions of copies each and several have had the distinction of being on the New York Times Bestseller List. His historical novels have been so influential that he is often referred to as the "godfather of the historical novel" and "the people's author."

John Jakes's early plans to be an actor lasted until he sold his first short story and felt the exhilaration of publication. He graduated with a degree in creative writing from DePauw University and went on to earn a master's degree in American Literature from Ohio State University. He also has been awarded several honorary degrees and has served as a writer-in-residence and research fellow at several universities. Such recognition shows his dedication to the historical accuracy of his works and his influence as a popular historian. Jakes worked at several advertising agencies as a copy writer after graduation while devoting his spare time to the pursuit of his writing career. Mary Ellen Jones quotes him as remarking that his inspiration came from "the swashbuckling adventure films of the 1930s and 1940s" that offered adventure and romance within a framework of loosely-based historical events. His most famous works include the eight-volume Kent Family Chronicles, the North and South trilogy, California Gold, Homeland, and its sequel, American Dreams. Six of his novels have been made into television miniseries, with the North and South saga being one of the highest rated miniseries of all times.

John Jakes has enjoyed a wide following as a writer of American historical fiction. Historical fiction and the historical romance novel have enjoyed widespread popularity in America since the career of popular author Sir Walter Scott in the early nineteenth century. John Jakes is best known for his works in this tradition of historical fiction that are set in America. Jakes traditionally places his fictional characters into a background of real historical events and personages based on extensive research. This attention to detail makes his works dominate in an important field of public history. Jakes adopts this work ethic because he is aware that he is often the reader's only source of history. He also understands that the author must entertain the reader in order to educate them. Jones characterizes his works as promoting "an optimistic affirmation of America and its principles." Jakes's popularity should assure him a lasting reputation as "America's History Teacher."

—Marcella Bush Treviño

Further Reading:

Budick, Emily Miller. Fiction and Historical Consciousness: The American Romance Tradition. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1989.

Jones, Mary Ellen. John Jakes: A Critical Companion. Westport, Greenwood, 1996.