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James Oliver Curwood.

Owosso-native author and conservationist James Oliver Curwood was one of the world's highest-paid and most widely read authors of the early twentieth century--but he never lost his love for his home state of Michigan.

Born on June 12, 1878, Curwood spent his formative childhood years in Owosso, where his father was a cobbler. Though he never completed high school, Curwood entered the University of Michigan in 1898 to study English and journalism, but he left college after two years to work as a reporter for the Detroit News-Tribune. He remained with the newspaper until 1907, leaving to pursue a career in writing fiction.

Possessing a fondness for nature and the outdoors, Curwood often traveled to Alaska and the Canadian Northwest to hunt, explore the region, build cabins, and write stories. Those trips provided him with inspiration to write wilderness adventure stories, such as Kazan (1914), The Grizzly King (1916), and The River's End (1919). Accordingly, many of Curwood's novels are set in the American Northwest and include animals as main characters.

Curwood's career spanned two decades, during which he wrote more than 35 novels and contributed hundreds of stories and articles to magazines. His most successful book, The River's End, sold more than 100,000 copies in its first edition and became the fourth best-selling work in the United States in 1920. Several of his books were translated into different languages for worldwide markets, and a number of films have been based on or inspired by his works. During his career, Curwood amassed nearly $1 million, a staggering amount for a writer in the 1920s.

By 1922, Curwood's success as a writer and remarkable wealth allowed him to build an eighteenth-century, French-style chateau in his hometown of Owosso, which he named Curwood Castle. Overlooking the Shiawassee River, the castle served as both Curwood's writing studio and a space to entertain guests. He also built cabins and acquired land in Michigan, including sites in Roscommon and Baraga Counties.

At first an avid hunter, Curwood gradually became a conservationist as a result of his travels through the American Northwest and interactions with various species of flora and fauna. His infatuation with the environment and desire to preserve Michigan's natural resources led to his appointment to the Michigan Conservation Commission in 1927.

While on a fishing trip in Venice, Florida, in 1927, Curwood was bitten by what he believed to be a spider and suffered an adverse reaction. Within months, the Michigan writer was dead, succumbing to an infection at his home in Owosso and being buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in town. He was just 49 years old.

Curwood's legacy--including his remarkable writing career, passion for conservation, and appreciation for Michigan--lives on today. His Owosso writing studio, Curwood Casde, currently serves as a museum, and the city of Owosso hosts a Curwood Festival each year to celebrate the area's heritage. Today, the Great Lakes State continues to honor the writer who, in spite of his extraordinary worldwide success and love for the American Northwest, always called Michigan home.

By Christopher N. Blaker

Christopher N. Blaker is a historian and the editorial manager at the Historical Society of Michigan.

Caption: Curwood Castle in Owosso, which once served as Curwood's writing studio. (Photo courtesy of Denice Grace.)

Caption: Author and conservationist James Oliver Curwood. (Photo courtesy of the Owosso Historical Commission.)

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Title Annotation:PROFILES; writer and conservationist
Author:Blaker, Christopher N.
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Mar 1, 2019
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