Riley, James Whitcomb, 1849–1916, American poet, b. Greenfield, Ind., known as the Hoosier poet. He was at various times a traveling actor, a sign painter, and a newspaperman. Under the name "Benj. F. Johnson of Boone" he began to write verse in the Hoosier dialect for the Indianapolis Journal in 1875, selections first collected in "The Old Swimmin'-Hole" and 'Leven More Poems (1883). Riley's verse was popular because of its humor, pathos, simplicity, and sentimentality. Especially well-known are his children's poems such as "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Runaway Boy." Among the collections of his verse are Rhymes of Childhood (1890) and Knee Deep in June (1912).
See biography by M. Dickey ( Youth, 1919; Maturity, 1922); study by P. Revell (1970).