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Richard Wilbur ( 1921 - )  Category ( Poets ) [suggest a correction]
 

Light-hearted, urbane, and witty are all terms used to describe American poet and Poet Laureate, Richard Wilbur. Born into a generation that would be tested by the fires of the Great Depression and World War II, Wilbur was a rare example of a poet whose style remained almost entirely the same, throughout the traumas of the mid-twentieth century.

Born in New York City, he published his first poem at the age of eight. He attended Amherst College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English. While in college he served as editor of the school newspaper. Sometimes his position as editor got him into trouble with authorities. For example, when the United States Army discovered Wilbur had expressed support for leftist causes, he was demoted for wartime service. He was training as a cryptographer, but once he was exposed as a possible leftist, he was sent to the front as an infantryman.

For the duration of the war he saw action across Europe. After the war, he enrolled at Harvard University, where he received the Master of Arts in 1947. His first book was published the same year. Following graduation he began to teach at Harvard, staying there until 1954. That same year he accepted a position at Wellesley College. Later, he taught at Wesleyan University, where, through the Wesleyan University Press Poetry series he met a number of prominent poets of his generation.

He became acquainted with Robert Bly, James Wright, James Dickey, Richard Howard, and Barbara Howes. Following his tenure at Wesleyan, he taught at Smith College as writer-in-residence. In 1987 he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. He received two Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, the Drama Desk Special Award for his translation of The Misanthrope, and the National Book Award. He is also a recipient of the Edna St. Vincent Millay award, the Bolligen Prize, and the Chevalier, Ordre National des Palmes Academiques, and the National Medal of Arts. In 2006 he won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and in 2010 he won the National Translation Award for the translation of The Theatre of Illusion by Pierre Corneille.

Despite his success, Wilbur is not generally considered a major American poet. Literary critic Robert von Hallberg wrote of Wilbur in the Cambridge History of American Literature that "Wilbur is still admired, but really as the best poet of the 1950s." Wilbur married Mary Hayes Ward in 1942 when he graduated from Amherst and she was a student at Smith College.


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