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Aiken, Conrad (05 August 1889–17 August 1973), author and critic, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the first child of Dr. William Ford Aiken, an ophthalmological surgeon, and Anna Potter, transplanted New Englanders. Aiken’s father was brilliant but unstable, hectored increasingly by bouts of paranoia in the late 1890s. The main targets of his rage during these seizures were his wife, who strove vainly to convince relatives in the North of his worsening mental condition, and his oldest son, who was often beaten for slight or imaginary wrongs. Aiken later said of this period, “I hardly ever forgot what it was to be afraid.”...

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Bacon, Leonard (26 May 1887–01 January 1954), poet, literary critic, and teacher, was born in Solvay, New York, the son of Nathaniel Terry Bacon, a chemical engineer, and Helen Hazard. Bacon led a sheltered life at his mother’s familial estate in Peace Dale, Rhode Island. His parents enrolled him in 1898 in St. George’s at Newport, where he spent seven years preparing to matriculate at Yale, following in the footsteps not only of his father but of some twenty other relatives. Bacon gives candid insight into his college years, remembering colleagues and professors in an amiable light though remarking that “with the exception of English and German, I think we were not particularly well taught, or rather that the conception of teaching was poor” ( ...

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Beach, Joseph Warren (14 January 1880–13 August 1957), educator, literary critic, and poet, was born in Gloversville, New York, the son of Eugene Beach, a physician, and Sarah Jessup Warren. After graduating from a public high school there, he attended the University of Minnesota, where his uncle Cyrus Northrop was president. He earned his B.A. in English in 1900 and moved on to Harvard University, where he received his M.A. in 1902 and his Ph.D. in 1907, both in English. At Harvard Beach studied under philosopher ...

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Maxwell Bodenheim. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112040).

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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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Bogan, Louise (11 August 1897–04 February 1970), poet and critic, was born Louise Marie Bogan in Livermore Falls, Maine, the daughter of Daniel Joseph Bogan, a superintendent in a paper mill, and Mary Helen Murphy Shields. She grew up in various mill towns in the Northeast, moving often with her parents and brother. Her parents’ marriage was volatile, and her mother’s affairs haunted Bogan for much of her life....

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William Stanley Braithwaite Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1947. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 142 P&P).

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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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Casal, Lourdes (5 Apr. 1938–1 Feb. 1981), poet, literary critic, social psychologist, and political activist, was born Lourdes Emilia Irene de la Caridad Casal y Valdés in Havana, Cuba, the daughter of two professional parents, Pedro Casal, a doctor in medicine and a dentist, and Emilia Valdés, an elementary school teacher. Of mixed heritage, Casal’s family included black, white, and Chinese ancestry....

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Dabney, Richard (1787– November 1825), poet, critic, and translator, was born in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Samuel Dabney, a planter of modest means, and Jane Meriwether, aunt of the explorer Meriwether Lewis. Richard did not attend college, but at sixteen he took eagerly to languages at a Latin and Greek school and before he was twenty was invited to become an assistant Latin and Greek teacher at a Richmond academy. It is not known where Dabney learned Italian and French. His precocious assimilation of literature in four languages is remarkable in light of his scant formal education....

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Frederick Eckman. Photograph by Martha Eckman, 27 Oct. 1989. Courtesy of Martha Eckman and David Adams.

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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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T.S. Eliot. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109122).

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Engle, Paul (12 Oct. 1908–22 March 1991), poet, literary critic, and educator, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Thomas Allen, a horse trader, and Evelyn (Reinheimer) Engle. He was educated at local schools, helped his father in the livery stable, and worked as a newsboy selling papers on the streets, a carrier boy, a chauffeur, a gardener, and, for many years, a drugstore clerk. He began writing poetry at Washington High School and was elected class poet. At Coe College in Cedar Rapids, he studied English literature, American history, and languages, and was awarded a B.A. in ...

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Gregory, Horace Victor (10 April 1898–11 March 1982), poet and critic, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Henry Bolton Gregory, a self-taught chemist and businessman, and Anna Catherine Henkel, his former housekeeper. Of English and Irish descent on his father’s side and German on his mother’s, Gregory was born prematurely and burdened by tuberculosis of the bone, which paralyzed his left hand and foot and caused a slight tremor in his right hand. He walked with the aid of a cane all his adult life, and his frail condition kept him out of World War I....

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Guiney, Louise Imogen (07 January 1861–02 November 1920), poet and scholar, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Patrick Robert Guiney, a lawyer and Union brigadier general in the Civil War, and Janet M. Doyle. She studied at the Jesuit Elmhurst Convent of the Sacred Heart in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1877, two years before she graduated, her father died from an old war wound; the martial and chivalric strains in her poetry have been attributed to his influence....

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Hayne, Paul Hamilton (01 January 1830–06 July 1886), poet and man of letters, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Paul Hamilton Hayne, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and Emily McElhenny, members of families prominent in politics, law, and religion. Two of the elder Hayne’s brothers were U.S. senators, one of whom, ...

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Hillyer, Robert Silliman (03 June 1895–24 December 1961), poet, novelist, and critic, was born in East Orange, New Jersey, the son of James Rankin Hillyer and Lillian Stanley Smith. After graduating from the Kent School, he entered Harvard College. In 1916, while still an undergraduate, he won Harvard’s Garrison Prize for poetry and published his first poem in the ...

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Jarrell, Randall (06 May 1914–14 October 1965), poet and critic, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of Owen Jarrell and Anna Campbell. Owen’s working-class family was from Shelbyville, Tennessee; Anna Jarrell came from a prosperous Nashville business family. During the first year or so of Jarrell’s life, the family moved several times. In 1915 they settled on a 45-acre farm outside Los Angeles, not far from Owen Jarrell’s parents and grandmother. Jarrell’s father and mother separated, and she returned to Nashville with Jarrell and his younger brother. It was during this time that Jarrell served as a model for Ganymede in the bas-relief sculpture on Nashville’s replica of the Parthenon. According to an often cited story, the sculptors were so taken with young Jarrell, who entertained them with stories of mythology, that they told his mother they would like to adopt him. Jarrell’s mother did not tell him of the offer, for fear that he would want to go with the sculptors. When Jarrell finally heard of the story much later, he answered, “She was right. I’d have gone with them like ...