"I cannot remember any time in my life when I was not writing." In an interview with Amazon.com, historian, novelist and naturalist Allan Eckert went on to say he was in high school when he decided to make writing his career. He had discovered that "there were people out there who actually made a living by selling what they wrote."
Eckert was born in Buffalo, New York. By the time he was in kindergarten, his parents had moved the family to Chicago, where he lived throughout childhood. He attended four schools between first and sixth grades, and two during high school. In 1948, Eckert graduated from high school and joined the United States Air Force. He was based at San Antonio, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Dayton, Ohio during his four years with the Air Force. Now, he credits his strong concentration for writing with his time in the military: "I would sit on my bunk, balance a tiny portable typewriter on my knees, and concentrate…despite the comings and goings of many people, the barracks horseplay, and other such occurrences. With practice, one can learn to ignore almost any outside influence."
Following his stint in the Air Force, Eckert attended the University of Dayton and The Ohio State University in Columbus, but did not receive a degree from either. (Later in his writing career, Bowling Green State University would honor him with an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters, and in 1998, Wright State University gave him his second honorary doctorate in Humane Letters.) At that time, however, his focus was strictly on writing and getting published. Before his first major magazine sale, he had spent twelve years submitting work to publishers and had accumulated 1,147 rejection slips! Since writing had yet to provide a livable income, Eckert relied on a string of over forty different types of jobs to keep him going while he wrote. The list includes an interesting variety of skills, from airboat operator, bowling-pin setter, bus driver, and golf caddy to short-order cook, handyman, and court reporter.
After publishing various articles, essays, and short stories, Eckert discovered he liked writing books the best, particularly nature novels. His first book, The Great Auk, was published in 1963 and followed the life and death of the last of a species of wingless birds. The book reflected not only his love of writing, but also his passion for wildlife and natural history.
Following the success of that first novel, Eckert wrote many more, quickly publishing an account of the 1913 Dayton, Ohio flood, the story of the ecological balance of Midwestern Lake, and a young adult novel set in the Louisiana bayou. By 1970 he had published thirteen books, including the first three of his renowned series The Winning of America. Five of the books were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes in History. Later in his career, two more of his books were nominated for that prestigious award.
Like all great writers, Eckert spent considerable time researching his historical novels. The Frontiersmen, his account of the Northwest Territory from 1755 to 1836, required seven years of research. While The Frontiersmen featured stories of such familiar figures as Simon Kenton, Daniel Boone, and William Henry Harrison, it was the story of Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his efforts to drive out the settlers and restore his people's land that captured the most interest. The Frontiersmen won Eckert the Ohioana Library Association Book-of-the-Year Award in 1968. Three years later, it was adapted into a trade paperback and then into an outdoor drama, which has been performed in Chillicothe, Ohio since 1973. It is estimated over two million people have seen Tecumseh!
Eckert -- considered a top-notch naturalist -- took his love of the outdoors to television and wrote 225 scripts for the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom series. For this body of work, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded him an Emmy in 1970. He also wrote several screenplays in the '70s.
Throughout the years, Dr. Eckert has also written young adult books, including Incident at Hawk's Hill, which garnered the prestigious Newbery Honor Book Award. The made-for-TV movie The Boy Who Talked to Badgers was adapted from that novel, and several decades after its publication, Eckert wrote a sequel titled Return to Hawk's Hill. He has also written children's fantasy adventures, including The Dark Green Tunnel and The Wand.
A poll taken by the Ohioana Library Association in 1999 showed Eckert is one of Ohio's favorite writers. His book The Frontiersmen was voted "favorite book about Ohio or an Ohioan," and he himself tied for first place in the "Overall Favorite Ohio Writer of All Time." He has lived in Ohio, on and off, for over 33 years and currently resides in Bellefontaine.
Despite his critical and commercial success, Eckert still keeps a demanding schedule. "I start my work day, usually, about 2 or 3 a.m.," he says, "when any kind of interruptions are rare and I can quickly build up a good head of steam." He says he then works without break until dinner, sleeps, and then starts the process again the next morning. This level of concentration lasts until the project is finished. On some of his longer novels, he says he'll work this way for up to nine months. But then, he takes a break before he dives into researching another project. Eckert's drive to write is astounding, perhaps because he remembers those twelve years when nothing was published. Now he won't even slow down to eat lunch. "Fortunately," he says, "I have never required much sleep…."