Biography and History

Stanley Kunitz was born on July 29, 1905, in Worcester, Massachusetts. His parents, Yetta Helen and Solomon Z. Kunitz, both Eastern European immigrants, owned and operated a dress manufacturing company in Worcester. After graduating from Classical High School, Kunitz left Worcester to attend Harvard University. In 1926 he received his bachelor's degree with highest honors and was also awarded the Garrison Medal for Poetry by the University. Kunitz remained in Cambridge to earn a master's degree, which he completed in 1927. At this time, Kunitz returned to Worcester, where he worked as a feature reporter for the daily newspaper, The Worcester Telegram ; however, Kunitz grew weary of his hometown rather quickly and so left for New York City in 1928 in search of more interesting prospects.

In New York City Kunitz secured a position at the H. W. Wilson Company, where he edited, either alone or collaboratively, seven reference works of literary biography and the Wilson Library Bulletin . Kunitz's first H. W. Wilson book, Living Authors: A Book of Biographies , was published in 1931 under the pseudonym “Dilly Tante,” and his final Wilson book, European Authors, 1000-1900 , was published in 1967. The H. W. Wilson Company offered Kunitz a great deal of freedom to pursue his literary interests. For instance, Kunitz was permitted to go abroad in 1929-1930, during which time he polished the poems (and worked on an unfinished novel) that would become, upon his return from Europe in 1930, his first published book of verse, Intellectual Things . Kunitz was also able to maintain his position at H. W. Wilson despite having relocated from New York City to a farm in Mansfield Center, Connecticut around 1931 with his first wife, Helen Pearce (married 1930-1937).

Although Kunitz continued to edit reference books for H. W. Wilson Company through the 1960s, he relinquished his position in 1943 when he was drafted into the U. S. Army. Initially Kunitz petitioned to be classified as a conscientious objector, but the Army denied his request, forcing Kunitz to serve in the military with the Air Transport Command for the duration of the war. During his enlistment, Kunitz published his second book of poetry, Passport to the War (1944), which was inspired by his wartime experiences.

After his release from the service in 1945, Kunitz lived briefly in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then accepted his first teaching position at Bennington College in 1946. This was to be the first of many such positions for Kunitz, who continued to teach through the 1980s but remained determined to put writing before teaching, never accepting a tenure-track faculty position. He left Bennington College precipitously in 1949 after a dispute with an administrator and took a position at Potsdam State College (now SUNY College at Potsdam), Potsdam, New York, as the curriculum advisor to the English Department. Here, he also taught summer workshops from 1949 to 1953. During this brief (1949-1950) stay in Potsdam, Kunitz's second wife, Eleanor Evans (married 1939-1958) gave birth to their daughter, Gretchen.

In 1950 Kunitz again found himself in New York City, where he held numerous teaching positions at various universities, colleges, and institutions, including The New School for Social Research (1950-1957), the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA (1958-1962), Queens College (1956-1957), and Columbia University as a lecturer (1963-1966) and then as an adjunct professor of writing (1967-1985). He also held teaching positions further afield in such places as the University of Washington, where he was the poet-in-residence (1955-1956), Brandeis University (1958-1959), Yale University (1971, fellow since 1969), Rutgers University (1974), and Princeton University (1978-1979). In 1958 he married the painter and poet Elise Asher (1912-2004), with whom he spent the rest of his life.

Aside from teaching, Kunitz was an active member of the greater literary community. In 1968 he helped found the Fine Arts Work Center, an artists' colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and continued to be a stalwart supporter of the Center, evident in his service on the Board of Trustees, the Executive Committee, and the writing division. As the editor of the Yale Series of Younger Poets from 1969 to 1977, Kunitz gave rise to a new generation of poets, including such well-known poets as Carolyn Forché and Michael Ryan. Kunitz was also a member of the Academy of American Poets and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He served as the Poetry Consultant for the Library of Congress (1974-1976) and, along with Elizabeth Kray, founded Poets House in New York City in 1985. At the age of 95 Kunitz was named U.S. Poet Laureate, a post he served for two years (2000-2001). Internationally Kunitz participated in a number of cultural exchange programs, which included trips to Russia and Poland in 1967, to Senegal and Ghana in 1976, to Russia again in 1979, and to Israel and Egypt in 1980.

Kunitz's other publications include Selected Poems, 1928-1958 (1959), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1959, The Testing-Tree (1971), The Terrible Threshold (1974), The Poems of Stanley Kunitz: 1928-1978 (1979), Next-to-Last Things (1985), and Passing Through (1995), for which he received the 1995 National Book Award, The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (2000) and The Wild Braid (2005), a book he co-wrote with Genine Lentine. In 1975 Kunitz published a book of prose entitled A Kind of Order, A Kind of Folly . He edited The Poems of John Keats (1964) and The Essential Blake (1987). In addition Kunitz has also been involved in translating poetry into English. He collaborated with Max Hayward on Poems of Akhamatova (1973) and, with others, translated Andrei Voznesenskii's Story under Full Sail (1974). In 1978 he edited and co-translated the Ukrainian poet Ivan Drach's Orchard Lamps .

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Kunitz won other prestigious awards, which include a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1945-1946), National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1959), Academy of American Poets fellowship (1968), National Endowment for the Arts senior fellowship (1984), Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Yale University Library (1987), and the National Medal of Arts (1993).

Equally lauded for his talents as a gardener, Kunitz's Provincetown, MA home featured a sprawling, multi-tiered garden that he had coaxed from sand. His final book, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden (2005), co-written with Genine Lentine, reveals the interconnectedness of his writing and gardening habits. A few months shy of his 101th birthday, Stanley Kunitz died at his home in New York City.

Source: From the finding aid for C0837

Biography and History

American poet Stanley Kunitz won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 for Selected Poems and held the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1974 to 1976. In 2000 he was named United States Poet Laureate. He also translated the work of a number of Russian poets.

Source: From the finding aid for C0903


  • Poets, American -- 20th century..
  • Stanley Kunitz Papers. 1960-2005 (bulk), 1900-2014 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0837

    The Stanley Kunitz Papers consists of the literary and personal papers of Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006). A prominent American poet, Kunitz was also a known editor, translator, essayist, and educator. Kunitz's diverse interests are evident in the collection, which includes manuscripts of his writings, extensive correspondence, special-interest files, teaching materials, travel files, documents, photographs, memorabilia, artwork, calendars, annotated books, audiocassettes, papers of others, and printed material.

  • Atlantic Monthly Press Author Files of Stanley Kunitz. 1965-1983 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0903

    Consists of Atlantic Monthly Press author files (1965-1983) of American poet Stanley Kunitz.