The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Corey, Paul Frederick
(July 8, 1903–December 17, 1992)

–author—was the last of seven children of Edwin Olney Corey and Margaret Morgan (Brown) Corey. He was born on a farm in Clay Township, Shelby County, in southwest Iowa. Paul's father died when he was two years old, leaving the running of the family farm to Paul's older brothers. Paul attended rural schools near his home and graduated from Atlantic High School in 1921. That fall he entered the State University of Iowa, where he majored in journalism, worked in the geology library, wrote for the Daily Iowan, and organized a La Follette for President Club on campus to support Robert M. La Follette's run for U.S. president as a Progressive in 1924.

    Following graduation in 1925, Corey first located in Chicago, then moved to New York, where he worked at various jobs while writing at night. On February 1, 1928, Paul mar- ried Ruth Lechlitner, a poet he had met at the State University of Iowa, where she worked as an assistant to John T. Frederick, editor of the Midland. In the fall of 1928 the couple went to France for an extended stay. They returned in 1929 and purchased some land near the town of Cold Spring in Putnam County, north of New York City. There Corey built his first house and had room to grow a garden and raise chickens. The sale of eggs provided some much-needed cash.

    During the 1930s, Corey published short stories, mostly in little literary magazines. In 1935 he made a trip to the Midwest to see the conditions of farmer in Iowa and South Dakota. The journey provided important insights he used in his later fiction. Sometime in 1937 he became a field-worker for the New York State Federal Writers' Project in Albany at a salary of $125 per month. He proved to be one of the most productive writers on the project, but he soon returned home to finish his first novel.

    In 1939 the Bobbs-Merrill Company published Three Miles Square, the first volume of his "Mantz trilogy."The next two volumes, The Road Returns (1940) and County Seat (1941), soon followed. The trilogy, while fictional, forms an economic and social history of rural Iowa from 1910 to 1930, a time of great change on Iowa farms. The fictional Mantz family was based on the real Corey family. Paul called the trilogy "an agrarian Middletown "; others have compared it to Her bert Quick 's trilogy about pioneer days in Iowa.

    In 1947 Corey was named one of 99 outstanding living alumni of the State University of Iowa. That same year the Corey family trekked west and built a rural home in Sonoma, California, just north of San Francisco. There Corey continued his life as a writer. In all, he wrote some 20 books. In 1946 four of his books were published, including The Little Jeep, a pleasant juvenile novel, and Acres of Antaeus, a novel portraying the effects of company ownership and management of farms during the 1930s. He continued to write short stories, but also turned to publishing do it yourself articles for magazines such as Popular Mechanics. Practical books included Build a Home (1946), Homemade Homes (1950), and Home Workshop Furniture Projects (1957). In 1968 he brought out a work of science fiction titled The Planet of the Blind. Wild and domestic felines, including mountain lions, were a major interest. He wrote two volumes on cat behavior, Do Cats Think? Notes of a Cat-Watcher (1977) and Are Cats People? Notes of a Cat-Watcher (1979).

    Corey died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 17, 1992, at age 89; his wife, Ruth Lechlitner, had died in 1988. They were survived by a daughter, Anne Margaret Corey, and a grandson, Alex David Mathews.
Sources The Paul Corey Papers are in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, and consist of 26 linear feet of document boxes organized into four series: correspondence, subject files, manuscripts, and scrapbooks. There are a number of articles about Corey in Books at Iowa; see 17 (November 1972), 49 (November 1988), 52 (April 1990), and 61 (November 1994).
Contributor: Robert A. Mccown