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Auden, W. H. (21 February 1907–29 September 1973), poet, was born Wystan Hugh Auden in York, England, the son of George Augustus Auden, a physician and public health officer, and Constance Rosalie Bicknell, a nurse. Both his grandfathers were Church of England clergymen. His father was originally in private medical practice; when Auden was eighteen months old, the senior Auden became school medical officer for the city of Birmingham. Thus Auden grew up in a large industrial town and in a family that was comfortably off, though no more than that. His father’s intellectual interests were broad and included history, archeology, and philosophy; his mother was devoutly religious and loved music. Both parents’ interests were reflected in Auden’s later life....

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Bodenheim, Maxwell (26 May 1892–07 February 1954), poet, critic, and novelist, was born in Hermanville, Mississippi, the son of Solomon Bodenheimer and Caroline Herman. An emigrant from Alsace, Solomon Bodenheimer never found financial or professional security; his career included stints as a traveling whiskey salesman and unsuccessful forays into clothing stores and men’s haberdashery. The daughter of a distinguished and wealthy surgeon, Caroline Bodenheimer came from a milieu that was vastly different from that of her husband. Indeed, the town of Hermanville itself obtained its name from Caroline Bodenheimer’s uncle, M. B. Herman, who had founded the town and established a small mercantile empire there. Caroline’s tales of lost prosperity provided a bitter contrast to the impoverished world in which Maxwell Bodenheim was reared....

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Bontemps, Arna Wendell (13 October 1902–04 June 1973), writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923....

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Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont (06 December 1878–08 June 1962), poet, critic, and anthologist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Smith Braithwaite and Emma DeWolfe. Of his two preoccupations—American poetry and the status of the American Negro—the second clearly had its origins in an unusual cultural heritage. The Braithwaite family, of mixed black and white descent, was wealthy and held prominent positions in British Guiana. Braithwaite’s father studied medicine in London but quit because of apparent mental strain and moved to Boston, where he married DeWolfe, whose family had been in slavery. His father remained aloof from neighbors, educating his children at home. Braithwaite’s autobiography mentions no employment held by his father, whose death, when his son was eight years old, left the family destitute....

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Brodsky, Joseph (24 May 1940–28 January 1996), poet, was born Iosif Alexandrovich Brodsky in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, the son of Alexander I. Brodsky, a commercial photographer, and Maria M. Volpert Brodsky, both of whom were secular Jews. As an adult he anglicized his first given name. Maria Brodsky worked as a language teacher and translator and provided most of the family's income. Although he grew up in a nonreligious household, young Brodsky was acutely conscious of being Jewish because of prevailing anti-Semitism, a factor he later blamed for his father's abrupt dismissal from the navy and his subsequent lack of success, and which made the son feel like an outsider from an early age....

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Bryant, William Cullen (03 November 1794–12 June 1878), poet and journalist, was born in Cummington, Massachusetts, the son of Peter Bryant, a physician, and Sarah Snell, daughter of one of the first settlers. Young Cullen, as he was called, was a precocious child of poor health and nervous temperament. His mother taught him the alphabet at sixteen months. At twelve he was tutored in Latin by an uncle, Rev. Thomas Snell, and in Greek by Rev. Moses Halleck. His father, himself well versed in the classics as well as British poetry, shared his sizable personal library with his son and encouraged him to write poetry. Bryant’s mother kept a diary of observations on local events. Thus, the environment of his boyhood was not only conducive to an appreciation of culture and the disciplined development of his literary skills, but also to the nurture of spiritual and moral qualities. In particular, Bryant retained through his life vivid memories of long hours spent at the Congregational church, with its biblical orientation and rigorous Calvinism....

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Bynner, Witter (10 August 1881–01 June 1968), poet and playwright, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Thomas Edgarton Bynner and Annie Louise Brewer. His parents separated when he was seven as a consequence of his father’s alcoholism, and he and his younger brother lived for three years with his mother and her family in Norwich, Connecticut. After his father’s death in 1891, the family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, to live with his father’s sisters....

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Alfred H. Marks

Carman, Bliss (18 April 1861–08 June 1929), poet, was born William Bliss Carmen in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of William Carman, registrar of the New Brunswick Supreme Court, and Sophia Mary Bliss. He spent his earliest years with a private tutor, and then was educated in a local private school and the University of New Brunswick, from which he received his B.A. in 1881, his M.A. in 1884, and his LL.D. in 1906. He also studied briefly at Oxford and Edinburgh, in 1882 and 1883, and for a longer period at Harvard, where he studied English literature under ...

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Russell Elliott Murphy

Crane, Hart (21 July 1899–27 April 1932), poet, was born Harold Hart Crane in Garrettsville, Ohio, the son of Clarence Arthur Crane, a wealthy candy manufacturer and retailer, and Grace Hart. The Cranes’ marriage was troubled, ending in divorce in 1917, and Hart Crane, an only child whose formal education ended in high school, became a pawn in their turbulent relationship. Forced to choose sides, he eventually became more and more estranged from his father and devoted to his mother, whose surname he honored by dropping Harold from the name he was known by professionally....

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David Halliburton

Crane, Stephen (01 November 1871–05 June 1900), writer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Jonathan Townley Crane, a prominent Methodist minister and author of books denouncing popular amusements, and Mary Helen Peck, a Methodist church writer. The youngest of fourteen children, Crane rebelled against the ecclesiastical/moral tendencies of his elders, indulging in such forbidden activities as baseball, smoking, drinking, going to the theater, and reading novels. Among his favorite “respectable” activities were bicycle riding and horsemanship....

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Cullen, Countée (30 May 1903?–09 January 1946), poet and playwright, was the son of Elizabeth Thomas Lucas. The name of his father is not known. The place of his birth has been variously cited as Louisville, Kentucky, New York City, and Baltimore, Maryland. Although in later years Cullen claimed to have been born in New York City, it probably was Louisville, which he consistently named as his birthplace in his youth and which he wrote on his registration form for New York University. His mother died in Louisville in 1940....

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Cummings, E. E. (14 October 1894–03 September 1962), poet and painter, was born Edward Estlin Cummings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister of the South Congregational Church in Boston, and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. Cummings’s mother encouraged him from an early age to write verse and to keep a journal. He was educated at the Cambridge Latin School and at Harvard College, where in 1915 he received his A.B., graduating magna cum laude in Greek and English; he received his A.M. from Harvard in 1916. In his last year of college, he became intensely interested in the new movements in the arts through his association with ...

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De Casseres, Benjamin (1873–06 December 1945), author and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of David De Casseres, a printer, and Charlotte Davis. On his father’s side he was a collateral descendant of Spinoza. De Casseres left high school at thirteen and went to work as a four-dollar-a-week office boy for ...

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Dunbar, Paul Laurence (27 June 1872–09 February 1906), author, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Joshua Dunbar, a plasterer, and Matilda Burton Murphy, a laundry worker. His literary career began at age twelve, when he wrote an Easter poem and recited it in church. He served as editor in chief of his high school’s student newspaper and presided over its debating society. While still in school, he contributed poems and sketches to the ...

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Eckman, Frederick (27 October 1924–28 October 1996), poet, editor, scholar, and teacher, was born Frederick Willis Eckman in Continental, Ohio, the son of Hector B. Eckman, a mechanic, and Helen E. Osborn Eckman. Fred Eckman grew up in the environs of small-town, rural Ohio and attended public schools. His affinity for language and the dramatic emerged early. He read voraciously, and schoolmates recall impromptu dramatic productions in barns and garages. During World War II, he served as a surgical technician in the U.S. Army and enrolled in premedical courses at the University of Florida. Following his discharge in 1946, Eckman enrolled at Ohio State University, majoring in English. He married Mary Louise Drummer Campbell in March of 1947; a son, Thomas Frederick Eckman, was born the following October....

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Eliot, T. S. (26 September 1888–04 January 1965), poet, critic, and editor, was born Thomas Stearns Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Henry Ware Eliot, president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, and Charlotte Champe Stearns, a former teacher, an energetic social work volunteer at the Humanity Club of St. Louis, and an amateur poet with a taste for ...

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Fearing, Kenneth Flexner (28 July 1902–26 June 1961), poet and novelist, was born in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Henry Lester Fearing, an attorney, and Olive Flexner, a newspaper reporter. Within a year of Fearing’s birth, his mother had left her “unfulfilling” life in the suburbs, returned to Chicago, and divorced his father. Although she did have joint custody, she relinquished this right, and Kenneth was raised from infancy by his father and his father’s unmarried sister Eva. He attended local schools and graduated from Oak Park-River Forest Township High School in 1920. Like his famous predecessor ...

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Dalton Gross and MaryJean Gross

Ficke, Arthur Davison (10 November 1883–30 November 1945), lawyer and poet, was born in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Charles August Ficke, a lawyer, and Frances Davison. As a child he traveled extensively with his parents and came to share his father’s interest in art, although his primary interest lay in poetry. He took an A.B. degree from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Iowa and in 1908 settled into legal practice with his father. In 1907 he married Evelyn Bethune Blunt, with whom he had one son....

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Frost, Robert (26 March 1874–29 January 1963), poet, was born Robert Lee Frost in San Francisco to Isabelle Moodie, of Scottish birth, and William Prescott Frost, Jr., a descendant of a Devonshire Frost who had sailed to New Hampshire in 1634. The father was a former teacher turned newspaper man, a hard drinker, a gambler, and a harsh disciplinarian, who fought to succeed in politics for as long as his health allowed. In the wake of his death (as a consumptive) in his thirty-sixth year, his impoverished widow, with the help of funds from her father-in-law, moved east. She resumed her teaching career in the fall of 1885 in Salem, New Hampshire, where Robert and his younger sister were enrolled in the fifth-grade class. Soon he was playing baseball, trapping animals, climbing birches. And his mother, who had filled his early years with Shakespeare, Bible stories, and myths, was reading aloud from ...

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Gibran, Kahlil (06 January 1883–10 April 1931), poet and painter, was born Gibran Khalil Gibran in Besharri, Lebanon, the son of Khalil Gibran, a gambler and olive grove owner, and Kamila Rahme, a peddler. The boy was named by prefacing his father’s name Khalil with the surname of his paternal grandfather, thus Gibran Khalil Gibran. Although in later years Gibran fabricated stories of his family’s origins and their years in Besharri, factual accounts (particularly Gibran and Gibran, ...