Ripley and parents
Ripley and parents ca. 1900.
Home  Intro   Bio  Historical Perspectives  Ripley the Man  Ripley's Works  Gallery Credits

An Introduction to Stuart Cummings Ripley
by Don Swaim

This website is dedicated to the little-known Ohio-born author Stuart Cummings Ripley, who has a link to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death in 1964, Ripley was living in Uhlerstown, on the Delaware River north of New Hope. By chance, I met Bill Castenberry, nephew of Ripley's late companion, Jill Castenberry. Bill had in his possession an uncompleted memoir by his aunt as well as a number of notes and letters regarding Ripley, all of which he shared with me. The bulk of Ripley's manuscripts and papers are archived at Cummings College in Ohio, but effectively inaccessible at present.

I discovered the name of Stuart Cummings Ripley while researching a book about Ambrose Bierce's disappearance in Mexico. In 1916, Ripley was a youthful correspondent for the leftist New Masses Journal in New York. While he's virtually unknown in the pantheon of America authors, his influence on generations of the cognoscenti is profound.

H.L. Mencken's analysis of Ripley's work, published 1947
image courtesy Jack Stewart

Allen Weinstein, University of Chicago (author of Literary Dynamics in the Cornfields, University of Pittsburgh Press) wrote, "Without Ripley's The Town I would, in my classes, have become virtually impotent regarding the Midwestern experience." Michiko Kakutani: The New York Times: "Five generations of Americans, lost to his exposure, were deprived by neglect of an irreplaceable literary influence, although Ripley never rose to his potential." John Updike: "As a boy in Shillington, Pennsylvania, my mother forced me to read Ripley's 'Desert Triad,' and I'm thankful she did." Norman Mailer: "I wanted to be, like Hemingway, a 'tough guy' writer, but I found Stu Ripley even tougher than I." Harold Bloom: "Temporarily losing track of my American literary influences, I rediscovered Ripley, and realized he was one of them."

Most of Ripley's works, long out of print at the time of his death, had been issued by obscure publishing houses, themselves forgotten, except for Ventricle Press, which in 2003 published in trade paperback an omnibus collection called Ripley, Selected Writings, which the publisher was forced to withdraw by the author's grandson, who protects the copyrights.

Special issue of New Masses Journal,
honoring Ripley for his contributions. Nov. 1958.
image courtesy Jack Stewart

A recent check of ABE (a consortium of worldwide booksellers on the Internet) found only two of Ripley's books available for resale. None of his books is listed in the New York Public Library catalog. A limited archive of his books, manuscripts, and letters is housed in the library of Cummings College, Cummings, Ohio, the author's birthplace. However, Ripley's grandson, Stuart Providence Ripley, is a zealous protector of his grandfather's files, and has only on rare occasions allowed scholars to examine the collection's contents. It's thought that only after Stuart Providence Ripley's death, will the archive be open to scholars.

For those unfamiliar with Stuart Cummings Ripley this Timeline of his life will be helpful.


Home     Intro      Bio     Historical Perspectives     Ripley the Man     Ripley's Works     Gallery    Credits