Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Original Hoosier Poet

Kathryn Page Camp
How many poets do you know whose works inspired comic strips and doll names? I can think of one: James Whitcomb Riley.
Born October 7, 1849 in Greenfield, Indiana, Riley was known for writing poetry using a Hoosier dialect. He was called the Hoosier Poet based on poems about country living in Indiana, such as “The Old Swimmin’ Hole” and “When the Frost Is on the Punkin.” He was also known as the Children’s Poet for poems such as “Little Orphant Annie,” whose first verse goes like this:
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep,
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you
This poem became part of the inspiration for the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” which was created by Harold Gray. It also inspired the name Raggedy Ann, given to a character created by writer Johnny Gruelle. Raggedy Ann combined the Anne from “Little Orphant Annie” with the “Raggedy Man” title from another Riley poem.
If you want to read more of Riley’s poems for children, go to the library or your bookstore and get his Rhymes of Childhood. Look for the version illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy.
This April we commemorate both poetry month and Indiana’s 200th birthday. Why not celebrate with the original Hoosier Poet?
The picture of James Whitcomb Riley was taken around 1913. Although it was once copyrighted by Moffett, Chicago, it is now in the public domain because of its age.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

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