MacKinlay Kantor was born in Webster City in 1904. His mother, Effie McKinlay Kantor, was the editor of the His father, John Kantor, deserted the family before MacKinley was born, a tragedy that marred his early life.
Early in his life, MacKinlay decided to change the spelling of his name by adding the extra "a" in the "Mc" because he thought it sounded more Scottish. He was later called simply "Mack." Mack attended school in Webster City graduating from Lincoln High School in 1923. He published his first poem at the age of 17, and at 18 he won a state story writing contest and $50. After graduating from high school in 1923, the youth became a newspaper reporter in Cedar Falls. In 1930 and 1931, he wrote a column for the Des Moines Tribune. His first novel, Diversey, was about Chicago gangsters and was written in 1928, when the subject matter was contemporary.
His special interest was the Civil War. He spent hours sitting and listening to the Civil War veterans. This led him to write his novel, Andersonville, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. He wrote the book For God and Country about his experiences as a boy scout. His best writings were his historical novels, and he wrote over forty books.
Kantor lived in Sarasota, Florida, for his last 41 years and died of a heart ailment in 1977. According to his wishes, his ashes are buried at Webster City's Graceland Cemetery.
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