Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers Conference
|2013 Literary Legend|
Jakes is best known for his highly acclaimed 8-volume Kent Family Chronicles telling the story of an American family from the Revolution to 1890. This was followed by the blockbuster success of all three volumes of The North and South Trilogy dealing with two families, from Pennsylvania and South Carolina, who have their emotional and marital ties tested by the Civil War.
Born in Chicago, Jakes originally studied to be an actor but turned to writing professionally after selling his first short story for $25 during his freshman year at Northwestern. He enrolled in DePauw University’s creative writing program shortly thereafter, graduating in 1953. A year later he received his master’s degree in American literature from Ohio State. At DePauw Jakes met Rachel Ann Payne,whom he married in 1951.
After finishing his M.A. he worked as a product promotion manager for a large pharmaceutical company, then as a copywriter and creative director for several ad agencies. In spare hours he continued to write fiction, publishing 200 short stories and numerous mystery, western, science fiction novels, and non-fiction for young people. He turned to historical fiction, long an interest of his, in 1973 when he began work on The Bastard, the first of the eight-volume Kent Family Chronicles.
Upon publication of the next three books in the series - The Rebels, The Seekers, and The Furies, Jakes became the first writer ever to have three books on the New York Times bestseller list in a single year. The series remains popular today; it has never been out of print, with more than 55 million copies in print world-wide and still climbing.
The first three Kent Family novels were filmed, 4 hours each, by Universal Studios and aired on television. In a scene in The Seekers, Jakes appears as a scheming attorney sent to an untimely end by villain George Hamilton.
Jakes followed the success of his first series with The North and South Trilogy. Set before, during, and after the Civil War, all three books were chart-topping bestsellers The trilogy was made into three ABC miniseries - a total of 30 hours of programming - starring Patrick Swayze and James Read. Produced by David L. Wolper for Warner Brothers, North and South remains one of the highest-rated miniseries in television history.
The author followed these two series with several stand-alone bestsellers including California Gold, Homeland, Charleston, On Secret Service, Savannah or A Gift for Mr. Lincoln, and The Gods of Newport.
Jakes remains active in theater as a director and playwright. His adaptation of A Christmas Carol is widely produced every year by university and regional theaters He holds five honorary doctorates, the most recent from Ohio State. He has received many other awards for his dedication to libraries, including a dual Celebrity and Citizen’s Award from the White House Conference on Libraries and Information.
Jakes is a member of the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild, PEN American Center, and Writers Guild of America East. He and his wife have four children and 11 grandchildren. He and his wife reside in Sarasota, where he has resumed his work on behalf of theaters and libraries while he continues writing.
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