Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Although William Stafford lived most of his adult life in Oregon, he drew heavily on memories of his early days in Kansas for his poetry. Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914, Stafford received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kansas and later earned his doctorate at the University of Iowa. Following World War II, during which he was a conscientious objector, Stafford began his teaching career at Lewis and Clark College, from which he retired in 1979. He died in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on August 28, 1993.

Though he was widely published in magazines, his first collection, West of Your City, did not appear until 1960. It was followed two years later by Traveling through the Dark, which received the National Book Award. Other awards include the Shelley Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an appointment as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.

A master of the short lyric, Stafford wrote poetry that was deceptively quiet and often focused on natural settings but that frequently contained an implicit criticism of the artifices of urban life. There is a liveliness of imagery and rhythm throughout his work that shows his keen-eyed pleasure in invention. Very active as a public reader of his poetry, he also took part in many writers conferences and workshops throughout his career. His prose– essays, reviews, and interviews–was collected in three volumes. Always responsive to small magazines and presses, he published some sixty collections and chapbooks over the years.

Vern Rutsala Lewis and Clark College

Holden, Jonathan. The Mark to Turn: A Reading of William Stafford's Poetry. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976.

Stitt, Peter. The World's Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

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