W. S. Merwin was born William Stanley Merwin on 30 September 1927 in New York, NY. He grew up in Union City, New Jersey, where he lived until 1936, when his family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania. When he was five, Merwin began writing hymns for his father who was a Presbyterian minister.
Merwin attended Princeton University (BA, 1947). Afterwards, he married his first wife, Dorothy Jeanne Ferry, who had been a secretary at Princeton, and moved to Spain, where he tutored Robert Graves' son. While in Spain, he met Dido Milroy (1912-1990), an Englishwoman, who had ambitions to be a writer and who later became his second wife. They separated in 1968 but did not divorce at that time.
Merwin published his first book of poetry,
A Mask for Janus, in 1952. The work received great acclaim and won the Yale Younger Poets Prize. In 1956-1957, Merwin took a fellowship as playwright in residence at the Poets’ Theater in Boston.
In 1962 he became poetry editor of
The Nation magazine. He also became a prolific translator of poetry from various languages, including Spanish, French, Latin and Italian; also Sanskrit, Yiddish, Middle English, Japanese and Quechua. The following year, he was featured in
Seven Princeton Poets (1963), a special edition of
Princeton University Library Quarterly, which featured one of his poems and a biographical sketch.
Merwin became one of America's most distinguished writers, praised for his poetry, his prose, and his translation of foreign literary works into English. He developed a distinctive, sparse style. Over the years, his style evolved from indirect, unpunctuated narration during the Vietnam War era of the 1960s. In the 1980s and 1990s, his writing reflected his interests in Buddhism and ecology. He is probably best known for his poetry about the Vietnam War. Altogether, he published more than 50 volumes of poetry, prose, and translations.
He received many honors over the years, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice (1971 & 2009), the National Book Award for Poetry (2005). In 2010 the Library of Congress named him the nation’s 17th United States Poet Laureate.
In 1977, Merwin moved to Maui to study Buddhism. While there, he divorced his second wife Dido Milroy. Shortly thereafter, in 1983, he met and married Paula Schwartz, an editor of children's books, in a Buddhist ceremony. Merwin never had any children. Today, at age 89, Merwin continues to live and write in Hawaii.
"W.S. Merwin Papers (Merwin 1-5)#01/01/MSS00035". 31.5 cubic feet. Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"A Poet of Their Own", by Dinitia Smith. [Biographical Sketch]
New York Times Books (19 Feb. 1995).
"W. S. Merwin". [Biographical Sketch]
"W. S. Merwin". [Biographical Sketch]
"W. S. Merwin". [Biographical Sketch]
Author: Jonathan Dembo, with the assistance of Dale Wetterhahn, 10/3/2016, 2/27/2017, 3/24/2017.
Stuart Wright collected and compiled the W. S. Merwin Papers. He was born, Stuart Thurman Wright, on 30 March 1948, in Roxboro, North Carolina. He was the son of Frances Critcher Wright (1919-2010) and Wallace Lyndon Wright (1921-1965). An avid reader as a boy, Wright developed a strong interest in the American Civil War and with his father toured many of the war's battlefields searching for artifacts and studying the history of the era. At the age of 12, he won a statewide "Johnny Reb" essay contest and by the age of 15 had visited every major battlefield of the Civil War. Wright attended Roxboro High School, from which he graduated in 1966. It was during these years that he developed an interest in collecting historical books and manuscripts and began relationships with a number of local collectors and dealers.
In the fall of 1966, Wright enrolled at Wake Forest University as a pre-med, history, German and music student. Wright earned a B.A. in German and music in 1970. As a graduate student at Wake Forest University, Wright focused his studies on Southern history and literature, his ambition being to build an authoritative Southern Studies collection for the university. He received a master's degree in Southern Studies in 1973 and a second master's degree in U.S. History in 1980. Additionally Wright holds a professional degree from England in a medically related field. It was while studying there that he became interested in Thomas Wolfe, the noted North Carolina native and novelist.
Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Wright began to develop his collections more systematically, acquiring many first editions of Southern writers. In 1976 he began teaching at Reynolda House, a Wake Forest University affiliate dedicated to the arts and arts education. Wright taught classes in American music as well as human anatomy for art students. In 1978 Wright became Lecturer in Education at Wake Forest University. During his 10 years teaching at Wake Forest University, Wright authored numerous works of Civil War and North Carolina history, and dozens of articles, bibliographies, essays and reviews on Southern literature and the writers whose papers he collected. In addition, he developed a strong interest in the writings of the English poet Donald Davie and the Minnesota-born poet Richard Eberhart, whose works he also collected.
At the same time, Wright also began a career as a publisher by starting Palaemon Press in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By 1984, Palaemon Press had produced 316 titles, consisting mainly of broadsides and limited editions, of the poetry and essays of such Southern writers as A. R. Ammons, Fred Chappell, James Dickey, William Goyen, George Garrett, and Eudora Welty. He also built comprehensive collections and compiled book-length descriptive bibliographies of A.R. Ammons, Andrew Lytle, Reynolds Price, James Dickey, William Goyen, Walker Percy, Randall Jarrell, Peter Taylor, George Garrett, Richard Eberhart, and Donald Davie. As well as serving as editor of the contemporary literature section of the
Bulletin of Bibliography throughout the 1980s, Wright also contributed pioneering checklists of the writings of Southern poets Henry Taylor, Charles Wright, and Robert Morgan. For Meckler Publishing he served as series editor for a number of book-length bibliographies and checklists. In recognition of these accomplishments, when he was just 32, Wright was elected to membership in New York's prestigious Grolier Club.
All of these works are represented in the Stuart Wright Collection. In his dealings with these various authors Wright made consistent efforts to acquire personal papers, letters and documents, photographs, manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and published materials to supplement his continuing activities as a purchaser of their works. In this way, Wright acquired perhaps a majority of his overall collection. Over the years a number of biographers used Wright’s collection to aid their research. For example, James A. Grimshaw, Jr. used the collection extensively for his
Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979 published by the University Press of Virginia, in 1981 and Craig S. Abbott did so as well for
John Crowe Ransom: A Descriptive Bibliography, published by Whitston Publishing Company, Inc. in 1999. Joseph Blotner also used the Wright collection in researching
Robert Penn Warren: A Biography, published by Random House in 1997.
Nevertheless, from the mid- to late 1980s, Wright began to look for a permanent home for his collection, which he felt had grown too large and yet had been too little used. Unable to find a repository willing to accept the entire collection under suitable conditions, he sold a number of individual author collections to Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University. It was not until 2010 that he reached agreement to house the remaining, and largest part of his collection at East Carolina University. The Stuart Wright Collection in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection of J.Y. Joyner Library includes 106 sub-collections of the papers of Southern American writers, illustrators, composers, and publishers. The related Stuart Wright Book Collection holds several thousand volumes by or about many of the same writers. Many of these volumes contain annotations, inscriptions, and insertions that reveal much about the authors in the collection and their relationships with one another. In 1998 Wright moved to England, and since 2001 he has resided in the medieval market town of Ludlow, in Shropshire.
Author: Jonathan Dembo, 11/2/2016