Vereen Bell wrote fiction and magazine articles set in the southern outdoors, and he achieved popular success with Swamp Water, a coming-of-age novel set in the Okefenokee Swamp. A World War II (1941-45) naval officer, Bell was killed during the Battle for Leyte Gulf.
The son of Jennie Vereen and Reason Chesnutt Bell, a prominent Georgia Supreme Court judge, Vereen McNeill Bell was born in Cairo on October 5, 1911. After graduating from North Carolina’s Davidson College in 1932, he began his career under the tutelage of Frederic Litten in Lake Charles, Louisiana, writing for “Sunday school” and juvenile magazines. In 1934 Bell married Florence Eleanor Daniel of Thomasville. They settled near Bell’s family home in Cairo and had two sons, Vereen McNeill and Frederic Daniel.
Bell worked briefly as an editor at the Detroit, Michigan-based American Boy/Youth’s Companion, but he preferred to write as a freelancer from his south Georgia home. In the late 1930s his outdoor stories and wildlife photography routinely sold to Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post. His two novels, Swamp Water and Two of a Kind, first appeared serially in the Post.
Swamp Water (1940) follows a defiant young man into the wild Okefenokee, where his friendship with a fugitive ignites a struggle within his backwoods community. The story inspired a 1942 Hollywood movie and a 1952 remake. Two of a Kind (1943) tells a similar story of a young man’s conflicting loyalties against a backdrop of sporting dogs and field trials. Several of his stories about hunting dogs were published in a posthumous Armed Services Edition compilation, Brag Dog and Other Stories, which was republished in 2000 in an expanded form.
In World War II Bell volunteered for navy air combat intelligence duty. He was a lieutenant assigned to the escort carrier USS Gambier Bay when the ship was sunk October 25, 1944, near Samar in the Philippines.
In 1947 Bell’s college roommate, D. Grier Martin, established the Vereen Bell Award for creative writing at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, in his memory.
Bell was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2015.