John Jakes is the
acknowledged contemporary master of the family saga. He is the
creator of the legendary eight-volume Kent Family
Chronicles, the Main and Hazard families of The North and
South Trilogy, and the Crowns of Chicago, German-Americans
whose stories interweave the history of the twentieth century in
Homeland and its sequel, AMERICAN DREAMS. Praised as "the
godfather of the historical novel," "the people's author," and
"America's history teacher," Jakes mingles the lives of his
fictional characters with those of historical personages, and
involves them in the great events of U.S. and world.
Born in Chicago in 1932, John Jakes began writing professionally
during his freshman year at Northwestern University, where he was
studying acting. He decided to trade the stage for the typewriter
when, at age 18, he sold his first story for $25. "That check
changed the whole direction of my life," says Jakes.
He enrolled in the creative writing program at DePauw University,
graduated in 1953, and in 1954 earned an M.A. degree in American
literature from Ohio State University. After completing school,
Jakes spent his days writing copy for a large pharmaceutical
corporation, then several advertising agencies, including Dancer
Fitzgerald Sample, one of the world's largest. At night he wrote
and published short stories--eventually 200 of them, along with
some 60 books in genres such as mystery, western, and science
In March of 1973, Jakes began work on THE BASTARD, first of the
eight volumes of The Kent Family Chronicles. The series,
depicting American history through the lives of a fictional family,
became the publishing industry phenomenon of America's Bicentennial
decade. All eight volumes were bestsellers, and are still in print.
In 1975, with the publication of volumes II, III, and IV, Jakes
became the first author ever to have three books on the New York
Times bestseller list in a single year.
NORTH AND SOUTH, the first book in Jakes's celebrated Civil War
trilogy, was published in 1982, LOVE AND WAR in 1984, and the
concluding volume, HEAVEN AND HELL, in 1987. All three were number
one bestsellers, and were made into top-rated ABC Novels for
Television miniseries. NORTH AND SOUTH was nominated for
the Pulitzer Prize.
CALIFORNIA GOLD was published in 1989, and 1993 saw publication of
HOMELAND, the first of a new cycle of novels about a fictional
family in the twentieth century. HOMELAND was named by the New
York Times as one of its "notable books of 1993." The Crown
family saga continues in AMERICAN DREAMS. HOMELAND was the
second Jakes novel to be nominated for a Pulitzer.
Despite his decision to write rather than act, Jakes has remained
actively involved in theater since his high school days in Chicago.
He has acted, directed, and written original plays and musicals.
Currently he is overseeing the development of NORTH AND SOUTH as a
major Broadway musical.
Among his favorite writers, Jakes lists Charles Dickens first ("the
greatest novelist in the English language"), along with Zola,
Balzac, Scott Fitzgerald, and Georges Simenon. His roster of great
historical novelists includes Dumas, Tolstoy, and among Americans,
Kenneth Roberts, Hervey Allen, Thomas Costain and Samuel
Shellabarger ("all four neglected and nearly forgotten now, which
is a shame, because each is a wonderful story-teller"). He
considers the late John D. MacDonald "one of the most consistently
and unjustly underrated novelists of the last half of the twentieth
century." Contemporary favorites include Larry McMurtry, John
Irving, Robert B. Parker, and several personal friends: Sandra
Brown, Patricia Cornwell, Ken Follett, John Maxim, and especially
Evan Hunter, whom he has known for several decades, and to whom he
dedicated ON SECRET SERVICE.
Jakes is married to the former Rachel Ann Payne of Danville,
Illinois, whom he met at DePauw. They have four children and eleven
grandchildren. They divide their time between homes in South
Carolina, and Fairfield County, Connecticut.