Benjamin McKinlay Kantor was a self-described storyteller. He used the stories that his relatives told about the Civil War and pioneer families and became one of the most prolific historical fiction writers of our time.
Kantor was born in his grandparents' home in Webster City, Iowa, in 1904. Out of not only a love for writing but also out of necessity, his mother, Effie McKinlay Kantor, was the editor of the Webster City Daily News. Before Benjamin was born, his father deserted the family, leaving Effie no other option than to work to support a family.
Early in his life, MacKinlay changed the spelling of his name. He added the "a" because of his Scottish background - he thought that the additional letter made his name more appropriate to his ethnic background. Soon he became simply "Mack" to his friends and schoolmates. Shortly thereafter, he, Effie, and his sister, Virginia, moved in with his grandparents, Mr.
and Mrs. Adam MacKinlay.
MacKinlay attended Lincoln High School in Webster City, Iowa, graduating in 1923. In tenth grade, Kantor entered a writing contest under a pseudonym and won with the short story "Purple." Kantor did not attend college, but said that Kendall Young Library was his own personal university from the time he was a small boy. The librarian, Charlotte Crosley, was an extremely important figure in his life - she, as his "college professor" supported him and encouraged him in the pursuit of knowledge.
Kantor became a newspaper reporter in Cedar Falls in 1923, after graduating high school. He also wrote columns for the Des Moines Tribune (1930-31). In 1928, Kantor's first novel hit the shelves, Diversey, which dealt with Chicago gangsters. It was an entirely uncharacteristic book for him, he may have been looking for a story that would...