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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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Anne Agnes Colwell

Bishop, Elizabeth (08 February 1911–06 October 1979), poet, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of Gertrude Bulmer and William Thomas Bishop, owners of the J. W. Bishop contracting firm. Bishop’s childhood was filled with a sense of loss that pervades her poetry. Her father died from Bright’s disease when she was eight months old. Her mother, psychologically distraught, spent the next five years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. With William’s death, Gertrude lost her U.S. citizenship and, when she experienced the decisive breakdown in her family home in Nova Scotia, was hospitalized in a public sanatorium in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Elizabeth Bishop was five when this breakdown occurred; she later recounted it in her prose masterpiece “In the Village.” Her mother, diagnosed as permanently insane, never saw Elizabeth again....

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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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Brooks, Gwendolyn (07 June 1917–03 December 2000), poet and novelist, was born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks at her grandmother's home in Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, and Keziah Wims Brooks. When she was two months old, the family settled in Chicago, where she would live the rest of her life. Brooks and her brother had a sheltered upbringing in a cheerful, orderly household. (She would later draw on memories of those years for her poem “a song in the front yard” [1945].) At Forrestville Elementary School, where she learned that light skin and fine hair were valued, this shy child with dark skin and coarse hair felt socially isolated. Her mother, however, encouraged her interest in writing, and Brooks published her first poem in ...

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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 ...

Article

Cary, Phoebe (04 September 1824–31 July 1871), writer, was born in Hamilton County, Ohio, the daughter of Robert Cary and Elizabeth Jessup, farmers. The farm was located near the village of Mount Healthy, eight miles outside Cincinnati. At an early age Cary lost her mother and two sisters to tuberculosis. After her father remarried and moved to another house on their farm in 1839, the five remaining Cary children maintained an independent household, with their elder sister, ...

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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....

Article

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....

Article

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....

Article

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 ...

Article

Jane Donahue Eberwein

Dickinson, Emily (10 December 1830–15 May 1886), poet, was born Emily Elizabeth Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Dickinson, an attorney, and Emily Norcross. The notation “At Home” that summed up her occupation on the certificate recording her death in that same town belies the drama of her inner, creative life even as it accurately reflects a reclusive existence spent almost entirely in the Dickinson Homestead. That home, built by her grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson, represented her family’s ambition. Edward Dickinson’s young family shared the Homestead first with his parents and (after Samuel Fowler Dickinson’s financial collapse as a result of overextending his resources on behalf of Amherst College) with another family before moving in 1840 to the home on North Pleasant Street where Emily spent her adolescence and young womanhood. In 1855 Edward Dickinson celebrated the family’s renewed prosperity by repurchasing the Homestead, where Emily Dickinson remained until she died. Although her father and grandfather held prominent places in the town as lawyers and college officers, it is indicative of changing reputations that the Homestead is maintained today by Amherst College as a memorial to this woman, who has become an American legend for the poems she wrote in its kitchen pantry and in her second-story chamber. Like the “Circumference”-seeking songbird of one of her poems, Dickinson is now as much “At home—among the Billows—As / The Bough where she was born—” ( ...

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Doolittle, Hilda (10 September 1886–27 September 1961), poet and novelist, was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Charles Leander Doolittle, a professor of astronomy, and Helen Eugenia Wolle. With two older stepbrothers and one older and two younger brothers, the writer who later established herself as “H.D.” was early sensitive to the defining nature of her gender. She was also aware of her special upbringing within the Moravian traditions of her mother’s religion in contrast to her father’s scientific and mathematical aspirations for her. Later in memoirs, poetry, and fiction she would palimpsestically return to these tensions between mother and father, spirit and science, mythic understanding and measured reality....

Article

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 ...

Article

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....