Richard Marius, historian and novelist, was born in Martel, the son of a Greek father and a Methodist mother from Bradley County. Looking back on his childhood, Marius later identified three elements that contributed to his writing career: a love of the English language, the experiences of a vividly remembered childhood, and his profession as a historian. Among those childhood memories, he recalled his mother reading to him from the Bible and the classics of English and American literature and growing up in rural East Tennessee during the Great Depression and World War II.
After attending public schools in Lenoir City, Marius graduated summa cum laude in Journalism from the University of Tennessee in 1954. He earned his B.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1958), but not finding the ministry to his liking, he took his M.A. (1959) and Ph.D. (1962) from Yale. He taught history at Gettysburg College and the University of Tennessee before becoming director of Expository Writing at Harvard University, where he taught English until his death in 1999.
While at the University of Tennessee, Marius wrote his first novel, The Coming of Rain (1971), a period novel heavy with memory set in fictional Bourbonville in East Tennessee twenty years after the Civil War. In characterization, plot structure, imagery, and pure craftsmanship, The Coming of Rain ranks among the finest novels written by a Tennessean about Tennessee. The author dramatized the work for stage production. Marius followed with Bound for the Promised Land (1976), an episodic novel of a Tennessee man in search of his father in the American West; After the War (1992), set once again in Bourbonville after World War I, with Paul Alexander, a Greek immigrant like Marius’s father, as the protagonist; and An Affair of Honor (1998), also set in Tennessee.
Other writings include Luther (1974), Thomas More: A Biography (1985), The McGraw-Hill College Handbook (with Harvey Weiner, 1985), A Writer’s Companion (1994), and The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry (coedited with Keith Frome, 1994). His biography Martin Luther (1999) was his last major work. Marius died at Belmont, Massachusetts, on November 5, 1999.