Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Lee Martin  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction Non-Fiction

Born: 1955 in Lawrenceville, Illinois

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-- Lee Martin on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Lee was born in Lawrenceville, Illinois and attended Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. He lived in Illinois from 1955 through 1979. His memoirs, ''From Our House'' and ''Turning Bones'', feature Illinois settings.

Biographical and Professional Information

Martin is the award-winning author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist ''The Bright Forever''; a novel, ''Quakertown''; a short story collection, ''The Least You Need to Know''; and two acclaimed memoirs, ''From Our House'' and ''Turning Bones''. Martin graduated from Eastern Illinois University, the University of Arkansas and University of Nebraska. He now resides in Columbus, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at The Ohio State University.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

The Least You Need to Know: Stories
ISBN: 0964115131

Sarabande Books. 1996

Book by Martin, Lee

From Our House
ISBN: 0452282543

Plume. 2001

A touching memoir of family, faith, and forgiveness explores the American father/son relationship through the eyes of an awkward boy who is living in the embittered shadow of a father hobbled by a farming accident. Reprint.

ISBN: 0525945830

Dutton Adult. 2001

An evocative novel set against the backdrop of 1920s Texas captures the lives of members of a flourishing African-American community segregated from its white neighbors as two families--one white and one black--become caught up in a shameful, real-life episode from north Texas's history. A first novel. 12,500 first printing.

Turning Bones (American Lives)
ISBN: 0803232314

University of Nebraska Press. 2003

Farmers and pragmatists, hardworking people who made their way west from Kentucky through Ohio and Indiana to settle at last in southern Illinois, Lee Martin’s ancestors left no diaries or journals or letters apart from the birth certificates and gravestones that marked their comings and goings, they left little written record of their lives. So when Lee, the last living Martin, inherited his great-grandfather’s eighty acres and needed to know what had brought his family to this pass and this point, he had only the barest of public records—and the stirrings of his imagination—to connect him to his past, and to his beginnings. Turning Bones is the remarkable story brought to life by this collaboration of personal history and fiction. It is the moving account of a family’s migration over two hundred years and through six generations, imagined, reconstructed, and made to speak to the author, and to readers, of a lost world. A recovery of the missing, Turning Bones is also one man’s story of love and compromise as he separates himself from his family’s agrarian history, fully knowing by book’s end what such a journey has cost.

The Bright Forever: A Novel
ISBN: 1400097916

Shaye Areheart Books. 2005

On an evening like any other, nine-year-old Katie Mackey, daughter of the most affluent family in a small town on the plains of Indiana, sets out on her bicycle to return some library books.

This simple act is at the heart of The Bright Forever, a suspenseful, deeply affecting novel about the choices people make that change their lives forever. Keeping fact, speculation, and contradiction playing off one another as the details unfold, author Lee Martin creates a fast-paced story that is as gripping as it is richly human. His beautiful, clear-eyed prose builds to an extremely nuanced portrayal of the complicated give and take among people struggling to maintain their humanity in the shadow of a loss.

Reminiscent of books such as The Little Friend and The Lovely Bones, but most memorable for its own perceptions and power, The Bright Forever is a compelling and emotional tale about the human need to know even the hardest truth.

River of Heaven: A Novel
ISBN: 0307381242

Crown. 2008

“You have to know the rest of my story, the
part I can’t yet bring myself to say. A story
of a boy I knew a long time ago and a
brother I loved and then lost.”

Past and present collide in Lee Martin’s highly anticipated novel of a man, his brother, and the dark secret that both connects and divides them. Haunting and beautifully wrought, River of Heaven weaves a story of love and loss, confession and redemption, and the mystery buried with a boy named Dewey Finn.

On an April evening in 1955, Dewey died on the railroad tracks outside Mt. Gilead, Illinois, and the mystery of his death still confounds the people of this small town.

River of Heaven begins some fifty years later and centers on the story of Dewey’s boyhood friend Sam Brady, whose solitary adult life is much formed by what really went on in the days leading up to that evening at the tracks. It’s a story he’d do anything to keep from telling, but when his brother, Cal, returns to Mt. Gilead after decades of self-exile, it threatens to come to the surface.

A Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Bright Forever, Lee Martin masterfully conveys, with a voice that is at once distinct and lyrical, one man’s struggle to come to terms with the outcome of his life. Powerful and captivating, River of Heaven is about the high cost of living a lie, the chains that bind us to our past, and the obligations we have to those we love.

Break the Skin: A Novel
ISBN: 0307716759

Crown. 2011

Laney—a skinny, awkward teenager alone in the world—thinks she’s found a kindred spirit in thirty-five-year-old Delilah. Then the police come to ask Laney questions and she finds herself reconstructing a story of suspense, deceit, and revenge a story that will haunt her forever.

Seven hundred miles away, in Texas, Miss Baby has the hardened heart of a woman who has been used by men in every possible way, yet she is desperate for true love. When she meets a stranger, a man who claims he can’t remember his real name or his past but who seems gentle and trusting, Miss Baby thinks she may have finally found someone to love, someone who will protect her from the abusive men who fill her past.

But Miss Baby and Laney are connected by a terrible crime, and, bit by bit, the complex web of deceptions and seemingly small misjudgments they’ve each helped to create start to unravel. Action, speculation, and contradiction play off one another as the story is told through their first-person voices, which keep you nervously guessing all the way to the shocking, tragic climax. Break the Skin is expert storyteller Lee Martin at his very best.

Such a Life (American Lives)
ISBN: 0803236476

University of Nebraska Press. 2012

Lee Martin tells us in his memoir, “I was never meant to come along. My parents married late. My father was thirty-eight, my mother forty-one. When he found out she was pregnant, he asked the doctor, ‘Can you get rid of it?’” From such an inauspicious beginning, Martin began collecting impressions that, through the tincture of time and the magic of his narrative gift, have become the finely wrought pieces of Such a Life.
Whether recounting the observations of a solemn child, understood only much later, or exploring the intricacies of neighborhood politics at middle age, Martin offers us a richly detailed, highly personal view that effortlessly expands to illuminate our world.
At a tender age Martin moved to a new level of complexity, of negotiating silences and sadness, when his father lost both of his hands in a farming accident. His stories of youth (from a first kiss to a first hangover) and his reflections on age (as a vegan recalling the farm food of his childhood or as a writer contemplating the manual labor of his father and grandfather) bear witness to the observant child he was and the insightful and irresistible storyteller he’s become. His meditations on family form a highly evocative portrait of the relationships at the heart of our lives.


  • Finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, ''The Bright Forever''
  • Lawrence Foundation Award for''The Bright Forever''
  • Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction for ''The Least You Need to Know'' in 1995
  • Master Award, Individual Artist Fellowship in Fiction, Nebraska Arts Council in 1995
  • Associated Writing Programs Short Fiction Prize in 1995
  • ''From Our House'' was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection in 2000 and was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awards.
  • Glenna Luschei Prize
  • Martin was honored at the 2004 Illinois Authors Book Fair sponsored by the Illinois Center for the Book and the Illinois State Library in Springfield, Illinois.

    Speaking Engagements

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    Contact Information

    Phyllis Wender c/o Rosenstone/Wender 38 E. 29th Street, 10th Floor New York, NY 10016 212-725-9445