The Lois Level Reads Arkansas

How I Read Arkansas

Every time I finish a new State Reads post (this is number 6 already), I feel as though I have taken a trip to the state I’m covering because I’ve learned new things about it, whether I have visited there in person or not.

What I came to appreciate about Arkansas is its unique position as a border state between Texas and The Rest of the South.

While there are things that The South has in common with Texas, Texans (I’m sure) and the rest of the country would probably agree that Texas has it’s own unique culture that is a combination of The South, The Southwest (which is different), and then of course, TEXAS.

Arkansas shares the Ozarks with Missouri as well…so in that way, it borders on The Midwest as well.

In fact, if I have failed to get the delineation between the Ozarks, Missouri, and Arkansas right, please let me know. The information I found wasn’t always clear, and I occasionally had to take a not-so-educated guess.

The sense of being at a crossroads, to me, gives Arkansas a large part of its flavor.

Besides it’s status as a “frontier” Southern state (coming from the times that it was literally the frontier), Arkansas, more specifically, Little Rock, is famous for the demonstrations that occurred their during integration, when it became the focal point for a struggle happening across the South.

I found thoughtful writing about that issue from multiple perspectives, including, I’m glad to report, not one but several memoirs of “The Little Rock Nine” and another memoir from Little Rock Central High School’s Assistant Principal, who was tasked with helping these students.

I hope your enjoy your literary visit, which also includes, as always, everything I could find from every genre.

Let me know what I missed.


Books Written by Arkansans and set in Arkansas


John Grisham

Grisham was born in Jonesboro. Although he is known for his legal thrillers, A Painted House is a novel based on his childhood in Arkansas.

Charles Portis

Portis was born in El Dorado.

Ellen Gilchrist

Gilchrist divides her time between Fayetteville and Ocean Springs, MS.

Read The Lois Level’s Ellen Gilchrist’s “Acts of God” and the New South: Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana

Jenny Wingfield

Wingfield was born in Fountain Hill.

Ed Bethune

Bethune is from Pocahontas.

Mary Medearis

Medearis was born in West Little Rock.

Vivienne Schiffer

Schiffer is from Little Rock.

Joan Hess

Hess if from Fayetteville.

Donald Harington

Donald Harington was born in Little Rock, but his books are set in Drake’s Creek, where he summered as a child.

Douglas C. Jones

Jones was born in Winslow.


Grif Stockley

Stockley moved to Marianna (Lee County) as a child and lived and worked in Arkansas for most of his life.

Vance Randolph

Randolph died in Fayetteville. He lived most of his adult life in the Ozarks.

Kat Robinson

Robinson is based in Little Rock but regularly travels the entire state to write about Arkansas cuisine.

Margaret Jones Bolsterli

Bolsterli was born in Watson.

Stephen Koch

Koch is a musician from Little Rock.

Morris S. Arnold

Arnold was born in Texarkana, TX but lived and worked in Arkansas for most of his life.

Harry Ashmore

Ashmore lived in Little Rock where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the integration riots. Books by some of the students appear below, in Memoirs.

Evin A.O. Demirel

Demirel is from Little Rock.

Elizabeth Jacoway

Jacoway grew up in Little Rock.

Look in the Memoir section below for additional titles related to the integration of Little Rock Central High School.

Anita Paddock

Paddock is from Van Buren.

Mark K. Christ

Christ lives in Little Rock.

Rex Nelson

Nelson lives in Fayetteville.

Tim Ernst

Ernst is from Fayetteville.

Fay Hempstead

Hempstead was from Little Rock.

Webster Hubbell

Hubbell is from Little Rock.

Memoir and Autobiography

Maya Angelou

Angelou, née Marguerite Annie Johnson, grew up in Stamps.

Melba Patillo Beals

Beals was born in Little Rock.

Daisy Bates

Bates was born in Huttig and lived as an adult in Little Rock.

Terrence Roberts

Terrence Roberts was born in Little Rock.

Elizabeth Huckaby

Huckaby was from Hamburg.

Dale Bumpers

Former Arkansas governor Bumpers was born in Charleston.

Brooks Hays

Former Arkansas Congress Member Brooks Hays was born in London.

Betsy Singleton Snyder

Snyder lives in Little Rock.

Beth Ditto

Ditto, née Mary Beth Patterson, was born in Judsonia.

Janis F. Kearney

Kearney was born in Gould.

Carolyn D. (C.D.) Wright

C.D. Wright was born in Mountain View. She is primarily a poet, but Cooling Time, which includes elements of essay and memoir, is her bestselling work.

Damien Echols

Echols is from West Memphis.


Frank Stanford

Stanford lived in Mountain View and Fayetteville.

Miller Williams

Williams was born in Hoxie.

Jo McDougall

McDougall was raised near Dewitt, in Arkansas County.

James Whitehead

Whitehead lived in Fayetteville.

Selected Books Written for Older Children and Teens

Bette Greene

Greene grew up in Parkin. Summer of My German Soldier is heavily based on her life there.

This novel was one of Lois’ favorite childhood books (The list is long, but still!).

Crescent Dragonwagon (and Paul Zindel)

Dragonwagon lives in Eureka Springs, which is probably the real-life basis for “Excelsior Springs”, where this book is set.

It is one of those wonderful Young Adult books that could only have been written in the late 70’s-early 80’s (1982).


Books Written by Arkansans (but set elsewhere)


Bernie Babcock

Babcock lived in Little Rock and died in Petite Jean.

Velda Brotherton

Brotherton was born in Mountainburg.

John Williams

Williams was born in Fayetteville.

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Wesley K. Clark

Clark grew up in Little Rock.

C. Vann Woodward

Woodward was born in Vanndale. His book The Strange Career of Jim Crow was a key text in helping to end racial segregation in the American South.

Tom Cotton

U.S. Congress Representative Cotton was born in Darden.

John Gould Fletcher

Fletcher was from Little Rock.

Roy Reed

Reed was born in Hot Springs.


Selected Books Written for Older Children and Teens

Books Set in Arkansas but written by Non-Arkansans


Charlaine Harris

Jack Butler

Pamela Morsi

Janey Dailey

Earlene Fowler

Fowler’s father was an Arkansan.

Bernice McFadden

Heather Huffman


Thomas Bangs Thorpe

Thorpe was a humorist who lived part of his life in the Louisiana Territory and wrote about the area. He is best known for his story, “The Big Bear of Arkansas”, which is one of the stories about Arkansas included in this collection.

Michael B. Dougan

Selected Books Written for Older Children and Teens

Lois Lenski

Lenski wrote Cotton in My Sack, set in Arkansas but currently out of print. Houseboat Girl is set on the Mississippi River and touches on several states, inlcuding Arkansas.

Keep an eye out for Cotton in My Sack; many of her books are coming back into print.

More from The Lois Level on Lois Lenski:

Lois Lenski’s exquisite portraits of 20th century America’s hidden children

Kristin Levine

Levine is not an Arkansan, but her mother was from Little Rock.

John Corey Whaley

How we picked these books:

Please comment at the bottom or on Facebook with suggestions. The idea is to make each state’s page as complete as possible but focused enough so that the page gives the reader an overall sense of place.


In the case where the author has written several books set in the state, the most famous or recently published one will be selected. Multiple books will be shown only if there is a reason to do so (e.g. significant topics, different genres, etc.).

The author may be listed in more than one category, usually because the author’s most famous book is not set in the state. The famous book is listed to help readers recognize the author, but additional, less well known books, will be listed for those who want to read more about the state.

The intended audience for the The Lois Level is adult general readers, so books considered primarily for academic use will not be listed. For the same reason, authors who are completely out of print will usually not be included.

Children’s books are limited to those that have adult appeal. Normally picture books are not included.

Recent and significant biographies of state notables are included with priority given to those written by state natives/residents or to individuals whose major contributions were state related.

Biographical Information

Wikipedia and author web pages are the primary sources for author information. If the author has several connections, usually the earliest one (birth, childhood) is used.

About the Cover Photo

Brian Stansberry (photographer) / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

Brian Stansberry (photographer) / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)