Wellman, a Brief Biography
Manly Wade Wellman
was born on May 21, 1903, in Kamundongo (now Angola), Portuguese West
Africa where his father Dr Frederick Creighton Wellman was a physician
at a British medical outpost. It was there that he first encountered
African tales of magic and the spirit world, a fascination that would
stay with him for life. His first story published, "The Lion Roared"
(Thrilling Tales, 1927), was based on the stories told to him in his
African childhood upbringing.
He later moved to the
States, going to grade school in Washington DC, prep school in Salt
Lake City, and college at Wichita, Kansas where he received a BA in
English in 1926. Around that time he started a friendship with Vance Randolf, an
acclaimed folklorist and expert on Ozark mountain magic and traditions.
Randolf took Wellman on trips through the Arkansas Ozarks, learning
folk traditions and meeting the secluded people of the American back
country. It was through Randolf that Wellman met folk music legend
Obray Ramsey, whose music would have a profound affect on Wellman and
Also in this period he worked in Wichita at the papers The Beacon and
Eagle, and married Frances Obrist "Garfield" (her pen
name), who is a horror writer in her own right; she sold her first yarn
to Weird Tales in 1939. During the depression Wellman's newspaper work
started to dwindle, so he moved to New York where he became Assistant
Director of the WPA's New York Folklore Project.
In the late 20's Wellman was writing for Ozark Stories
and Thrilling Tales, and then later in the 30's and 40's, the bigger
publications Weird Tales, Wonder Stories and Astounding Stories. At
this time, Weird Tales published numerous stories based on three of his
most famous characters, Judge Keith Hilary Persuivant (writing
under the pen name Gans T. Fields), psychic detective and New York
playboy John Thunstone, and possibly the most famous and
enduring character, John the Balladeer. He also wrote for comic
books (what he called "squinkies") and wrote the first issue of Captain
Adventures for Fawcett Publishers. Later he would be called
into court to testify against Fawcett in a lawsuit by National (D.C.
Comics) about plagiarism of Superman by the creators of Captain Marvel.
Wellman testified that his editors had encouraged their writers to use
Superman as the model for Captain Marvel. Though it took three years,
National won their case.
In 1946 Wellman won the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Award over William Faulkner for his Native American detective tale "A
Star For A Warrior". Apparently Faulkner was quite upset to be second
fiddle to a sci-fi and horror writer. Faulkner indignantly wrote to the
editors of the magazine, proclaiming that he was the father of the
French literary movement and the most important American writer in
After serving as a
lieutenant in WW II, Wellman moved his family to Pine Bluff, North
Carolina, population 300, to be closer to the folksy backwoods people
he was starting to write about. There he immersed himself in American
southern mountain folklore and history, becoming an expert on the Civil
War and the historic regions and peoples of the Old South. Then in
1951, he made his final move to the college town of Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, where he lived out his days writing and teaching fiction.
Wellman built a
vacation cabin on what he called Yandro Mountain in the Smokies, next
to his friend Obray Ramsey's place, where they would invite friends for
a taste of mountain music, food, fun and a good lick of blockade
In 1986 Wellman took
a fall from which he never recovered and he died on April 5th,
he finished his novel Cahena, about an
African warrior princess (possibly the inspiration for Xena?), and the
John the Balladeer short story "Where Did She Wander". Frances Wellman passed away on May 7th, 2000.
She was cremated and her ashes spread on the lawn of their home at
Dogwood Acres in Chapel Hill, NC.