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 fiction.
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.