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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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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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MacKaye, Percy (16 March 1875–31 August 1956), poet and playwright, was born Percy Wallace MacKaye in New York City, the son of James Morrison Steele MacKaye, an actor-dramatist, and Mary Keith Medbery, a writer. MacKaye was schooled chiefly at home and in public schools in New York City, though he also attended Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, for a short time....

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MacLeish, Archibald (07 May 1892–20 April 1982), poet and playwright, was born in Glencoe, Illinois, the son of Andrew MacLeish, a prosperous dry-goods merchant, and Martha Hillard MacLeish, a college professor. Andrew MacLeish was a reserved, stern father whose lack of attention to his son may have generated Archibald’s fierce drive to succeed. The influence of Martha MacLeish, who worked to develop her four children’s sense of social responsibility, helps account for Archibald’s intense involvement in American public life as well as his concern for those in personal or political trouble....

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Mathews, Cornelius (28 October 1817?–25 March 1889), author and editor, was born in Port Chester, New York, the son of Abijah Mathews, a cabinetmaker, and Catherine Van Cott. Little is known about Mathews’s childhood. No diaries, letters, or articles exist before the mid-1830s. However, according to Trows New York Directory, his family moved from Westchester County to Manhattan, and Mathews resided for the rest of his life in various locations in lower Manhattan. He attended Columbia University from 1830 to 1832. In 1833 he transferred to the College of the City of New York, now known as New York University. The Reverend James Mathews, a relative of the family, was the chancellor of the newly established college. Cornelius Mathews received his A.B. degree in the first graduating class of 1834, and, at the commencement ceremony held at the Middle Dutch Church of New York, he gave a speech titled “Females of the American Revolution.” Mathews was admitted to the bar in 1837 and practiced law for a short time. He became the first president of the university’s alumni association in 1846. For a Eucleian Society meeting he presented his speech “Americanism—What Is It?” (1845), later published in the ...

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Sexton, Anne Gray Harvey (09 November 1928–04 October 1974), poet and playwright, was born in Newton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ralph Harvey, a successful woolen manufacturer, and Mary Gray Staples. Anne was raised in comfortable middle-class circumstances in Weston, Massachusetts, and at the summer compound on Squirrel Island in Maine, but she was never at ease with the life prescribed for her. Her father was an alcoholic, and her mother’s literary aspirations had been frustrated by family life. Anne took refuge from her dysfunctional family in her close relationship with “Nana” (Anna Dingley), her maiden great-aunt who lived with the family during Anne’s adolescence. Sexton’s biographer, Diane Middlebrook, recounts possible sexual abuse by Anne’s parents during her childhood; at the very least, Anne felt that her parents were hostile to her and feared that they might abandon her. Her aunt’s later breakdown and hospitalization also traumatized her....

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Williams, Tennessee (26 March 1911–24 February 1983), playwright, poet, and writer of fiction, was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi, the son of Cornelius Coffin Williams and Edwina Dakin. The circumstances of Tom Williams’s birth speak volumes about his parents’ relationship. In 1909 Edwina Williams had returned to Columbus to live with her parents, an Episcopal rector and his wife, rather than live with her temperamental, hard-drinking husband. (C. C. Williams, a traveling salesman, usually stayed with them on weekends.) The model for many of her son’s characters, Edwina Williams played the role of southern belle more than was necessary, even in Ohio where she spent much of her adolescence. She also apparently had a distaste for sex, and her denial of what her husband saw as his connubial rights was one of the greatest sources of marital discord, particularly when he found sexual release elsewhere. C. C. Williams came from a good Tennessee family but hardly acted the southern aristocrat. In addition to his turbulent relationship with his wife, C. C. did not care much for his firstborn, Rose (born 1909), nor Tom, his second, whom he called “Miss Nancy.” His affection was saved for his third child, Dakin (born 1919). The happiest times of Tom’s youth were spent in his grandparents’ rectory. In many ways, the Reverend Dakin was the central father figure for the young man, taking him to New York and Europe. And his beloved maternal grandmother later paid for the completion of his degree at the University of Iowa....