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Mona van Duyn ( 1921 - 2004 )  Category ( Poets ) [suggest a correction]
 

In addition to her contributions to American literature, Mona Van Duyn is perhaps best known as the first female American Poet Laureate. She was appointed to that position in 1992 and served until May 1993. Hailing from Waterloo, Iowa, van Duyn received a bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Arts from the University of Iowa, which has a renowned creative writing program. van Duyn served as an instructor in that program.

She was later awarded honorary doctorates from Washington University in St. Louis, and Cornell College in Iowa. She was the founder of the literary journal Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature. Her husband, Jarvis Thurston, helped in the founding of the journal and served as its coeditor for decades.

As with a number of poets and writers, Van Duyn was also a writing instructor. She taught literature and creative writing at Washington University, the University of Louisville, and lectured at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies (Austria), as well as at the Sewanee Writers and the Breadloaf Writing Conferences.

Prior to her Poet Laureate appointment, she was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Eunice Tietjens Award, the Harriet Monroe Award, the Helen Bullis Prize, the Hart Crane Memorial Award, and won first place in the Borestone Mountain Awards, the National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize, the Loines Prize, the Shelley Memorial Prize, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize for her work entitled Near Changes.

She was among the first recipients of grant funding from the National Endowment For the Arts. She was also awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Her work was described by the editor of Poetry Magazine, Joseph Parisi, as possessing a "subtle intelligence and formidable technical skill...her gift of humor and satire, her formal elegance, and especially her understanding of the vagaries of vulnerabilities of the human heart."

Despite the high praise and numerous awards, Van Duyn was relatively unknkown to many until she was appointed a Poet Laureate. Even her work displays swings of extremes. For example, some of her poetry about love and marriage is highly critical, even scathing. At other times she speaks of love as something tender and eminently desirable. Perhaps she was drawing from her own extensive experience with the institution of marriage. She and her husband lived and worked together for many decades.

Van Duyn was a close friend of the poet James Merrill and was instrumental in bringing his papers to the Washington University special collections during the 1960s. In her early eighties she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and died from her illness at the age of eighty-three, at her home in Missouri, in 2004.


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