James Whitcomb Riley (October 7, 1849 – July 22, 1916) was an American writer and poet. Known as the "Hoosier Poet", "National Poet" and the "Children's Poet," he started his career during 1875 writing newspaper verse in Indiana dialect for the Indianapolis Journal. His verse tended to be humorous or sentimental, and of the approximately one-thousand poems that Riley published, over half are in dialect. Claiming that “simple sentiments that come direct from the heart” were the reason for his success, Riley vended verse about ordinary topics that were "heart high." Riley was a bestselling author during the early 1900s and earned a steady income from royalties; he also traveled and gave public readings of his poetry. His favorite authors were Robert Burns and Charles Dickens, and Riley himself befriended bestselling Indiana authors such as Booth Tarkington, George Ade and Meredith Nicholson. Many of his works were illustrated by the popular illustrator Howard Chandler Christy.
James Whitcomb Riley was born on October 9, 1849, in Greenfield, Indiana, to local attorney Reuben A. Riley and his wife, Elizabeth (Marine) Riley, in a small cabin. His parents named him after James Whitcomb, the governor of Indiana. James Whitcomb Riley was their third child. He lived on the same property until he was 21. Riley was influenced by many of the visitors to his father's home. In particular, he was able to pick up the cadence and character of the dialect of central Indiana and the travelers along the old National Road, which came through in the many poems he went on to write. One particular visitor was Mary Alice Smith, who eventually stayed on to live with the Rileys. Mary Alice ("Allie") Smith influenced Riley's poem, Little Orphant Annie, which was originally to be called Little Orphant Allie but a typesetter's error changed the name of the poem.
Riley was never a great student. Before he dropped out of school at age 16, a former teacher encouraged him to appreciate nature. He attempted to study law in his father's law office, however he found that the law was not for him, whereupon he took several different jobs in rapid succession.