Lella Warren was born in Clayton, Ala. Her family moved away when she was two, but they visited on a regular basis, often spending summers with her father's family. Warren's father was a physician in the United States Marine Hospital Service, and the family moved frequently, but, in 1912, they settled in Washington, D.C. Warren showed an early talent for storytelling. However, when she got into trouble for mixing fact with fiction, her father suggested she begin putting her stories into notebooks. Warren attended college at George Washington University and Goucher College, graduating in 1921 with an AB from George Washington. In 1926, Warren published her first novel, the autobiographical A Touch of Earth. Although it had mixed reviews, an editor at Cosmopolitan obtained the option to publish her short fiction. In the 1920s and 1930s, Warren wrote and published short stories in nationally distributed magazines and wrote freelance articles for three Washington, D.C., newspapers.
Warren's father wanted her to write a book based in Alabama, and, in 1927, she began researching and planning a trilogy based on her father's family and their lives in Clayton. Warren's efforts were delayed for two years in the early 1930s due to a serious illness, but she resumed work on the book after her recovery. In 1936, Warren and her family lived for a year in Clayton, which allowed her to research the Warren family history and the history of the locality. Her novel Foundation Stone was published in 1940 and was an immediate success, widely compared to Gone With the Wind. After the publicity tours, Warren returned to Washington, D.C., and began working on the second book of her proposed trilogy, Whetstone Walls, which was published in 1952. Although Warren continued to write essays, short stories, and novels, she did not publish after 1953. She worked on the third book of her trilogy for thirty years but was unable to complete it before her death in 1982. Warren completed an “interlude” novel in the family saga, entitled This Nettle Danger, but it was never published.
Lella Warren's fiction centers on home and family and is frequently based on events from her own life or the lives of family members. Her two Whetstone novels are based on Warren family history and are set in a fictionalized version of Clayton.
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Photo courtesy of the Lella Warren Papers, Auburn University Montgomery, Archives and Special Collections.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.