Dubuque County Historical Society Images

The Artists, Writers, and Musicians

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Richard Bissell

Richard Bissell, perhaps more than any other writer, captured life on the river in the 20th century. His novels, including A Stretch on the River ("Steamboating is an incurable disease"), High Water, Goodbye Ava, The Monongahela (for the Rivers of America series), and My Life on the Mississippi or Why I am Not Mark Twain brought the rivers to countless readers and earned him the title, "Modern Day Mark Twain."

A graduate of Harvard University, Bissell also wrote 7 1/2 Cents (about a pajama factory strike in the river town of Dubuque) which became the Broadway and film hit, The Pajama Game. He held the pilot's license for steam and the mate's license, and he also worked on several towboats for the Federal Barge Line and Centennial Barge. He lived for several years in a houseboat on the Mississippi, and he built and operated the first switch boat at Dubuque. Bissell's accurate depiction of life on 20th-century towboats has earned him a place in both river and literary history.

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