Novelist Davis Alexander Grubb (July 23, 1919-July 24, 1980) was born in Moundsville in an area where both sides of his family had lived for generations. He came from prosperous forebears, his grandfather William Davis Alexander having been among the founders of Moundsville’s Mercantile Bank, but the family fortunes were reduced by the Depression. Grubb’s family was evicted from their home and the trauma, no doubt dramatized by Grubb, became in his writing a cry against the powerful and against capitalistic society. Grubb was likewise critical of organized religion.
Intending initially to be a graphic artist, Grubb studied design in Philadelphia after completing high school. In 1939, he went to New York City as a page for NBC and to write radio plays, alternating for the next decade between New York and Philadelphia, where he worked for an advertising agency. The brush, however, was never far from reach, and Grubb remained an artist all his life.
Grubb’s first commercial writing was the script for a 1939 radio show aired by WBLK-Clarksburg. He also acted in the show. It was published, he said, in Anthology of 100 Radio Plays, and he received $5. He returned to Philadelphia and at night wrote stories. His first published story was ‘‘The Lollipop Tree’’ (Good Housekeeping, 1944). His renown came with his first novel, Night of the Hunter (1953), a gripping suspense story adapted to film in 1955 and for television in 1991.
Although The Night of the Hunter is his most famous work, Grubb regarded his next novel, A Dream of Kings (1954), as his best. ‘‘I was very upset by the film version of Night of the Hunter, because it hadn’t conformed exactly with what I had seen in my own mind,’’ he said of the Robert Mitchum movie.
Grubb wrote Shadow of My Brother in 1956 (published in 1966), his only book not about Appalachia but about the lynching of a little black boy in Mississippi. The Watchman followed in 1958. The next work was Voices of Glory (1962), a book of 28 stories, or voices. One story evolved into another novel, Fools’ Parade (1969), adapted to film in 1971. The Barefoot Man (1971) was next.
In 1977, Davis Grubb returned to West Virginia for a statewide speaking tour that lasted two years. Then he remained and worked on his last novel, until, near the end, he returned to New York, where he died of cancer at the age of 61. This novel, Ancient Lights, published posthumously in 1982, was his adventure into postmodernism, where characters and themes traverse time and space—a subject that fascinated him toward the end of his life. In all, Grubb published 11 books, four of them collections of short stories.
Written by William Plumley
Bunting, Camilla. When Hollywood Came to Moundsville: Filming Davis Grubb's Fools' Parade. Goldenseal, (Summer 1995).