Elizabeth Madox Roberts (October 30, 1881 - March 13, 1941) was a Kentucky novelist and poet, primarily known for her novels and stories about the Kentucky mountain people, including The Time of Man (1926), The Great Meadow (1930) and A Buried Treasure (1931). All of her writings are characterized by her distinct, rhythmic prose. While she was a major influence on Robert Penn Warren and a contemporary of the Southern Renaissance writers, Roberts has been neglected in recent years of critical attention.
Born in Perryville, Kentucky, on October 30, 1881, Roberts grew up and spent most of her adult life in nearby Springfield, Kentucky. She was the second of eight children born to Simpson Roberts and Mary Elizabeth Brent Roberts, a Confederate soldier turned engineer and a school teacher. Roberts attended high school in Covington, Kentucky, before enrolling briefly at the University of Kentucky (then the State College of Kentucky) in 1900 but was forced to drop out after one semester on account of her poor health. For the next ten years, Roberts taught elementary school in the Springfield area with her mother.
In 1910 she went to live for several years with her sister in Colorado and it was here that she contributed several poems to a little book of photographs of mountain flowers which would become her first published work. (In the Great Steep's Garden, privately printed, 1915). On the recommendation of a professor friend, Roberts enrolled as a freshman at the University of Chicago at the age of 36 in 1917, avidly studying literature and philosophy and fulfilling a lifelong dream of acquiring a college education. At the University of Chicago, she joined the poetry club which included Glenway Wescott, Yvor Winters and Janet Lewis forming friendships and professional relationships which proved useful throughout her life. She graduated with honors in 1921 and was awarded the Fiske Prize for a group of poems she wrote which went on to be published as Under the Tree in 1922. After completing her education, Roberts returned to Springfield, Kentucky, where she would spend much of the rest of her life.
The success of Under the Tree led Roberts to write her first novel, The Time of Man (1926), about the daughter of a Kentucky tenant farmer, which garnered her an international reputation. She went on to write several more successful and critically-acclaimed novels throughout the 20s and 30s, including The Great Meadow (1930), a historical novel about the early settling of Kentucky, and A Buried Treasure about a rural Kentucky farm family who find a pot of gold. Roberts was diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin's disease in 1936. After this blow, Roberts began spending her winters in Florida, however she always returned to Springfield for the warmer months as she considered Kentucky to be her true home. Her public recognition was solidified by several major prizes she won toward the end of her life, including the John Reed Memorial Prize in 1928, an O. Henry Award in 1930, and the Poetry Society of South Carolina's prize in 1931.
Roberts died in Orlando, Florida in 1941 and was returned home to Springfield for her burial.