Had Wallace Stevens not existed—a lifelong insurance executive writing some of his country's most insistently metaphysical poetry—it would hardly have been plausible to invent him. Yet Stevens had actually committed himself to writing poetry before taking a position with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company; the job was a way to earn a living. He was born and grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was educated at Harvard and at the New York University Law School. He began publishing poems in magazines in 1914, but his first book, Harmonium, did not appear until 1923.
Born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, of American parents, Mark Strand moved regularly as a child whenever his salesman father was relocated. Strand was educated at Antioch College and at several universities—Yale, Florence, and Iowa. He has taught at Utah, Johns Hopkins, and in the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, and served as poetry editor of The New Republic. In addition to his poetry, he has written a book on the painter Edward Hopper as well as short stories and books for children.
Born in Guthrie, Kentucky, Robert Penn Warren was educated at Vanderbilt University, the University of California at Berkeley, Yale University, and Oxford University. At Vanderbilt he was associated with the literary group called the Fugitives, which evolved into the Agrarian movement. The Agrarians advocated traditional values and an agricultural economy as a way of opposing industrialization and its accompanying alienation. At the time, Warren also wrote in support of racial segregation, a position he later came to regret.
Born to a Boston Brahmin family, John Wheelright's father was an architect who designed a number of the city's well-known buildings. After his father's suicide in 1912, Wheelwright underwent a religious conversion, abandoning his family's historic Unitarianism and becoming an Anglican. At Harvard from 1916-20, however, he became uneasy with his new commitment and joined the circle of Aesthetes, among them E.E. Cummings and Malcolm Cowley. Attracted to socialism, he remained at once emotionally connected to Christian myth and reluctant to embrace the uneducated masses.
Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Richard Wilbur was educated at Amherst College and Harvard. He served as a cryptographer during World War II and was stationed in Africa, France, and Italy. Since then he has taught regularly, done successful translations of Molière, coauthored an operetta (Candide, 1957) with Lillian Hellman, and written two books of children's poetry. Taking the English metaphysical poets as his models in his own work, Wilbur has excelled at polished, witty, self-contained lyrics with formal stanzas and controlled metrics.
Born in New York City, raised on Long Island, and educated at Boston University, Paul Violi worked as managing editor of Architectural Forum, on various special projects for Universal Limited Art Edition, and taught at several colleges, including New York University. He published eight books of poetry since the 1970s. "Index" is not the only poem of his that textualizes apparently innocent linguistic contexts. "Errata" achieves similar results with an invented errata page. "Marina" makes a socially unstable poem out of real or imagined boats' names.
Lucia Trent's third book of poems, Children of Fire and Shadow (1929), a collection whose often witty radicalism anticipates some of the poetry of the next decade, is her most notable. She is also known for a number of editing projects, including the magazine Contemporary Verse and some ten books, on many of which she collaborated with her husband, Ralph Cheyney. The most historically important of these may be America Arraigned (1928), a collection of poems about the Sacco and Vanzetti case.
Born in rural Kansas, William Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II and was active in pacifist organizations. After degrees from the University of Kansas, he went on to study at the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he also earned a Ph.D., and to teach at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, from 1956 to 1979, publishing his first book, West of Your City, in 1960. Stafford's writing process, as he explained it, was to rise early and work in the quiet before others awoke.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, to a middle class black family that moved to New Orleans a decade later, Margaret Walker first enrolled at New Orleans University. Then she met poet Langston Hughes, who encouraged her writing and advised her to go north to complete her education, which she did at Northwestern University. It was in Chicago, in 1936, that she met novelist and poet Richard Wright, about whom she would publish a critical biography fifty-two years later.
Born Nathan Pinchback Jean Toomer in Washington, D.C., Toomer from the age of five was raised by his mother, until her death in 1909, and her father, P.B.S. Pinchback, lieutenant governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction when blacks had political power in the South. By 1919, he had enrolled and left several schools, including the Universities of Wisconsin and Chicago, New York University, and the American College of Physical Training.