Name at birth: Henry Louis Mencken
A reporter, columnist and editor for Baltimore's Sun papers (1906-48), H.L. Mencken was one of America's foremost men of letters during the first part of the 20th century. A sharp critic of hypocrisy in religion and politics, he was especially well-known in the 1920s for his witty and insightful commentaries on the wretchedness of humanity. He edited the satirical magazines The Smart Set (1914-23) and American Mercury (1925-33) (along with George Jean Nathan) and published collected essays (Prejudices, 6 volumes, 1919-27) and books, including the philological undertaking The American Language (1919). Less popular in his later years, in 1948 he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. In recent years his literary reputation has suffered as a result of charges that he was a racist and anti-Semite.