Alfred Leland Crabb, author of popular historical novels published in the mid-twentieth century, was born in Warren County, Kentucky, and educated at Bethel College, Peabody College, University of Chicago, and Columbia University. He received his Ph.D. in 1925 from Peabody. In 1911 he married Bertha Gardner; they had one son, Alfred Leland Crabb Jr. Interspersed with the years of his formal education, he was teacher and later principal at several rural schools in Kentucky and Louisiana. After receiving his doctorate, he taught at what is now Western Kentucky University, where he soon became dean. In 1927 Peabody president Bruce Payne invited Crabb back to Peabody, where he became professor of education, retiring in 1949. Crabb assumed the editorship of the Peabody Journal of Education in 1932, a position he retained until 1970. For this publication, and for the Peabody Reflector, he wrote hundreds of articles, essays, editorials, and poems.
Crabb was best known for his trilogy of historical novels published between 1942 and 1945 and memorably titled for Nashville landmarks: Dinner at Belmont, Supper at the Maxwell House, and Breakfast at the Hermitage. The historical sites and traditional southern meals of their titles reflect Crabb's preoccupation with the southern way of life in Nashville during the last half of the nineteenth century. These three novels cover forty years of the city's history, from the eve of the Civil War to 1897, the date of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, and depict a period of upheaval for the city, state, and nation. Almost as popular as Crabb's Nashville trilogy was the Civil War trilogy that followed: Lodging at the Saint Cloud, A Mockingbird Sang at Chickamauga, and Home to Tennessee.
Southern food, folk music, tall tales, and detailed descriptions of Tennessee's flora and fauna are the hallmarks of Crabb's writing. Two of his most colorful creations, a nameless driver and his sidekick, College Grove (named for his place of nativity), impart a wide variety of southern and rural folklore and music.
Like many historical novelists of his time, Crabb adopted an old-fashioned style. Though writing in the modern era, he shared the values of the pre-modern society he described. His works featured everything that modernism lacked: continuity, certainty, and closure. Most importantly, Crabb revealed his pre-modernist sensibilities in the power he gave his characters to shape events rather than be shaped by them. His protagonists always viewed their lot as meaningful fate, never as random happenstance.
In addition to the Nashville and Civil War trilogies, he authored Journey to Nashville: A Story of the Founding, in which he described the adventures of the Robertson and Donelson parties on their trek through the wilderness and waters of Tennessee to establish the settlement first called Nashborough. Home to the Hermitage, a novel about Andrew and Rachel Jackson toward the end of her life, was dramatized and presented on the Cavalcade of America radio program in 1948. In Nashville: Personality of a City (1960) he described the various people, places, and subjects for which he had demonstrated a fondness in his fictional work.