Donald Justice was born in Miami and educated at Miami University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Iowa. He taught for a number of years first at Iowa and then at the University of Florida. Several important contemporary poets—including Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright—were among his students. His career began with witty and technically exquisite poems like “The Wall” and “An Old Fashioned Devil,” then moved to a reflection on his own work in “Early Poems,” and finally moved to the more open and meditative style of “Absences” and “Presences.”
Thomas James was born Thomas Edward Bojeski in Joliet, Illinois, the city in which he lived most of his life. The obvious predecessor who was his inspiration was Sylvia Plath. As a reviewer writes in the Boston Review years later, “like the Ariel sequence, James’s poems fondle and embroider the delicate veil between life and death.” James died in 1974 at his own hand at the age of twenty-seven, just after the first publication of his only book, Letters to a Stranger.
Andrew Hudgins was born in Killeen, Texas, as part of a military family. That entailed relocating through the South repeatedly while he was growing up. Some of that comes through in his verse autobiography The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood (1994). His essay collection The Glass Anvil (1997) takes up both his personal poetics and the complexities of childhood memory. Hudgins was educated at Huntingdon College, the University of Alabama, and the University of Iowa.
Albert Goldbarth was born in Chicago and educated at the University of Illinois at Chicago and at the University of Iowa. He taught for a decade at the University of Texas at Austin and now teaches at Wichita State University in Kansas. His poems are rich with the history of the language and manage to extract both dark and witty meaning from that very history. The erudition on display is both dazzling and compulsive, and the unsteady line between the two impulses provides part of the pleasure of his work.
Charles Bernstein was born in New York City and educated at Harvard. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, he observed about his work, "It’s true that, on the one hand, I mock and destabilize the foundation of a commitment to lyric poetry as an address toward truth or toward sincerity. But, on the other hand, if you’re interested in theory as a stable expository mode of knowledge production or critique moving toward truth, again, I should be banned from your republic.
There are three overarching subjects in Natasha Trethewey’s work—history, the arts, and the social construction of her own family’s identity and experience. Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on Confederate Memorial Day, exactly 100 years after it was first celebrated. Her parents—a black mother and a white father—had been married illegally a year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia.
Sol Funaroff was born of Russian parents; his father died in Palestine after his family fled across Europe. While Funaroff's mother was working in a sweatshop in 1915, the tenement they lived in on New York's East Side slums burned down. Neighbors carried him gasping from the building, but his lungs were weak thereafter. As a child, he and his brother sold candy and fruit to garment workers. Later he worked in a matzo factory and in an upholstery shop.
John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York. He grew up on a farm in nearby Sodus and was educated at Harvard and Columbia. After a Fulbright fellowship that took him to France, he stayed on and worked as an art critic for several newspapers and magazines, finally returning to become executive editor of Art News from 1965 to 1972.
John Ashbery has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime as a poet in comparison to his contemporaries. He stresses that language is something to be challenged and played with. He has withstood the twentieth-century as a powerful writer and influencer. Ashbery won the Yale Younger poets prize in 1956 for Some Trees, which was his first published book. He also won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976 for Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which became a huge success for Ashbery. With more awards and grants under his belt, Ashbery continues to awe his supporters.
The son of former slaves, Paul Laurence Dunbar was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. His father had escaped from Kentucky to serve in a Massachusetts regiment during the Civil War. He began writing poetry in high school and eventually acquired a large multiracial audience. By late nineteenth century standards, Dunbar's work was steadfast both in its black pride and its rejection of racism. Yet during the Harlem Renaissance, his dialect poetry would win praise from Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown, while meeting severe criticism from James Weldon Johnson and others.