John Richard Hersey (June 17, 1914 – March 24, 1993), born in Tientsin, China to missionaries Roscoe and Grace Baird Hersey, returned to the United States with his family when he was ten years old. Hersey attended the Hotchkiss School, followed by Yale University and graduate study as a Mellon Fellow at Cambridge. He obtained a summer job as a secretary for Sinclair Lewis in the summer of 1937, and, that fall, started work at Time. Two years later he was transferred to Time 's Chongqing bureau.
During World War II he covered the fighting in both Europe (Sicily) and Asia (Battle of Guadalcanal), writing articles for Time, Life, and The New Yorker. His writings during this time included "Men on Bataan," "Into the Valley," and A Bell for Adano.
His most notable work was "Hiroshima," a story for The New Yorker about the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on that Japanese city on August 6, 1945. The article, which tells the story of six victims of the bombing , was later turned into a book.
He also wrote the novel The Wall (1950) which gives a graphic account of the birth, development, and destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
His article about the dullness of grammar school readers in a 1954 issue of Time was the inspiration for The Cat in the Hat. Further criticisms of the school system came with "The Child Buyer," a speculative-fiction novel. Hersey also wrote The Algiers Motel Incident, about racist killings by the police during the 12th Street Riot in Detroit, Michigan, in 1968, A Bell for Adano, which won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1945. The novel was adapted into the 1945 film A Bell for Adano directed by Henry King starring John Hodiak and Gene Tierney. Hersey is also known for his pseudo-chronicle, A Single Pebble, about a young American engineer traversing upstream Yangtze.
Hersey was the Master of Pierson College, one of the twelve residential colleges at Yale University, from 1965 to 1970. He taught two writing courses, in fiction and non-fiction, to undergraduates.
A longtime resident of Vinalhaven, Massachusetts, Hersey died at home in Key West, Florida, on March 24, 1993. He was survived by his wife, Barbara, his five children, and six grandchildren.
On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century times with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn, John Hersey, George Polk, Ruben Salazar, and Eric Sevareid. Postmaster General Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press Managing Editors Meeting in Washington. Hersey's "Hiroshima" described the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Aug. 6, 1945.