Basso, Hamilton, 1904-1964

Alternative names
Birth 1904-09-05
Death 1964-05-13

Biographical notes:

Hamilton Basso was the author of The View from Pompey's Head and an associate editor at the New Yorker. Lester C. Walker was an art historian at the University of Georgia. Charles and Maurice Prendergast were artists who depicted turn of the century leisure activities in their works.

From the description of Basso, Hamilton letter, 1948. (University of Georgia). WorldCat record id: 264798442

Hamilton Basso (1904-1964), American journalist and novelist, wrote the best-selling The View From Pompey's Head.

From the description of Hamilton Basso papers, 1861-1975. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702132893

Joseph Hamilton Basso was born September 5, 1904 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His early years were spent in the French Quarter of the city, where his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had established a successful shoe factory. He attended Tulane University, first studying law, but eventually concentrating on journalism and literature, though he did not take a degree. The change in his scholarly interests was precipitated by his association with a group of southern writers who contributed to the Double Dealer, published in New Orleans, the magazine that would eventually publish the first of Basso's own work. Included in this group were writers with whom Basso established lasting friendships, including Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, and Edmund Wilson.

In 1926, Basso moved to New York City, establishing himself for a few years in Greenwich Village. He soon moved back to his native New Orleans, where he progressively established himself as a writer and editor at all three of the city's newspapers, including the Times-Picayune . His first novel, the semi-autobiographic Relics and Angels, was published in 1929. The work garnered little acclaim and Basso would later dismiss it as a piece of juvenilia. His next work, Beauregard, the Great Creole (1933), a biography of the Confederate general, was a success, allowing Basso to move to the mountain retreat Pisgah Forest, North Carolina to work on his next novel, accompanied by his wife, Etolia (née Simmons) and their infant son, Keith.

Basso's efforts of the 1930s established him as a novelist of note. His Cinnamon Seed (1934) was well received, as was In Their Own Image (1935) and Courthouse Square (1936), which was optioned to be made into a motion picture. Days Before Lent, published in 1939, became widely acclaimed, winning the Southern Writer's Award for 1940. The film version of the novel, retitled Holiday for Sinners, was released 12 years later. Sun in Capricorn, a novel about the struggle of a Yale graduate against the wiles of a southern politician named Gilgo Slade, who was fashioned after Huey Long, was issued in 1940. In 1943, Basso published Mainstream, a collection of profiles of famous Americans, including Franklin D. Roosevelt.

During the productive years of the 1930s and 1940s, Basso resumed his editorial work by moving to New York to write for several nationally known magazines. Beginning with New Republic in 1935-37, and continuing at Time from 1942-43, Basso eventually established himself as an associate editor at the New Yorker in 1943, a position he held until 1964. The New Yorker gave him the opportunity to work with a variety of other writers and to publish his own short fiction and nonfiction.

The World from Jackson Square, a collection of writings about New Orleans, published in 1948, was done in conjunction with his wife. In 1954, Basso published what is likely his most widely-read book, The View from Pompey's Head . The novel, concerning the conflicting emotions of a Southern expatriate who must confront his heritage when he is called back to his hometown, the fictional Pompey's Head, South Carolina, stayed on the best-seller lists for the better part of a year. The movie, made from the book the following year, proved to be just as successful.

Though Basso and his family settled in Weston, Connecticut in the 1940s, he had a passion for travel. Many of his voyages would provide background for his work. After writing several short pieces for Holiday magazine, Basso issued some of his essays as a collection, titled A Quota of Seaweed, in 1960.

The Light Infantry Ball, a prequel to The View from Pompey's Head and the second in a unfinished trilogy about the town, was issued in 1961. Basso's final novel, A Touch of the Dragon, was published shortly after he died of cancer on May 13, 1964 in New Haven, Connecticut.

From the guide to the Hamilton Basso papers, 1861-1975, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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Ark ID:


  • American literature
  • American literature--20th century
  • Fiction--20th century
  • American literature--Southern States
  • Historical fiction
  • Voyages and travels


  • Novelists
  • Authors


  • Southern States (as recorded)
  • Charlottesville (Va.) (as recorded)