Robert Ruark (1915-1965)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Born in Wilmington on December 29, 1915, Robert Chester Ruark was known as the “poor man’s Hemingway” and he became one of North Carolina’s most prominent twentieth-century writers. Ruark was reared in Wilmington, but his family moved within the city throughout his childhood. During his summer breaks, Ruark stayed at his grandfather’s home in Southport.  His interactions with his grandfather provided the material for his greatest work, The Old Man and the Boy (1957).

At the young age of fifteen, Ruark started study at the University of North Carolina, and he graduated when he was only nineteen years old with a degree in journalism. Ruark worked at the Hamlet News Messenger and the Sanford Herald during his professional career. He later moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Works Progress Administration.

Ruark eventually landed a job working as a sportswriter for the Washington Daily News, but when America joined the World War II effort, he enlisted. The North Carolina journalist spent three years in the Navy. Ruark was first a gunnery officer and then a press censor in the Pacific theater of the war. In 1945, Ruark moved back to D.C. and he continued working as a Daily News columnist.

With wit, Ruark used his columns to explain his personal grievances, including army generals, scheming women, and Southern cooking. Ruark earned a salary of $40,000 while working as a columnist in D.C. and he gained popularity for his grammatical style and cutting wit. Eventually, Ruark’s best columns were made into collections,  I Didn’t Know It Was Loaded (1948) and One for the Road (1949).

As a columnist he supplemented his income by writing short stories and novels. In 1947, Ruark finished his first novel, Grenadine Etching, and his second novel, Grenadine’s Spawn, was a 1952 follow-up.  Ruark also wrote articles for True, the Saturday Evening Post, and Esquire.

During the 1950s, Ruark moved to Africa, and his writing-style emphasized the violence in the region during the Mau-Mau rebellion. He produced both Horn of the Hunter: The Story of an African Hunt (1953) and Something of Value (1955). Although some critics labeled Ruark a Hemingway spinoff, the North Carolina writer earned his spot in literary acclaim with The Old Man and the Boy (1957). Originally published as columns in Field & Stream, Ruark’s novel details his childhood with his grandfather who taught him how to fish, hunt, and train dogs.

The North Carolina native traveled to North Carolina for one last time in 1957, moving to Spain later that year. Ruark wrote three more works: Poor No More (1959), a rags-to-riches story; Uhuru (1962); and The Honey Badger (1965) that posits the story of a North Carolina novelist split between his writing and swindling women. In 1965, Robert Ruark died from a liver disease in London, and he was interred in Palamos, Spain. Ruark married Virginia Webb, an interior decorator from Washington, in 1938.