Frederic Will

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Frederic Will is a Midwestern American writer. Will has been active in many genres: poetry, fiction, cultural history, philosophy, translation, travel memoir.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

The American Catholic writer Frederic Will was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1928. His parents, Samuel and Constance, moved the family to the Midwest in 1930; Will's father was for the next 25 years a professor of French at the University of Illinois and at Indiana University. His mother was a bilingual (English/French) housewife. Will was raised on the campus of the University of Illinois, where—except during two years of asthma recovery in Arizona—he remained until going to Phillips Andover for his senior year of high school. His subsequent education was at Harvard (1946), Indiana University (B.A. in Classics, 1949), and Yale University (PhD Comparative Literature, 1954).

Personal life[edit]

Will is married, has six children, and lives both in Mount Vernon, Iowa and in Delta State, Nigeria.


Will has taught Comparative Literature, Classics, and Translation Workshops at various Universities in the United States and abroad: Dartmouth (1951–54), Penn State (1955–60), University of Texas (1960–65), University of Iowa (1965–70, 1983–85), University of Wisconsin (1967), University of Massachusetts Amherst (1970–83), University of Colorado (1978), Deep Springs College (2004–06), Instituto de Estudios Criticos (2007). He was Overseer and President of Mellen University (1990–1999). Abroad he has taught at the Universities of Tuebingen, Tunis, Ivory Coast, Chang'sha (Hunan Normal). He currently teaches in the School of Advanced Studies of the University of Phoenix (2008–).[1]


Editorial work[edit]

Founding editor (with William Arrowsmith) of Arion, A Journal of Classical Culture (1962--) University of Texas. Founder and editor of Micromegas, A Journal of Poetry in Translation (1965–75).

Archival material[edit]

Will's literary and editorial papers (1962–) are in the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.

Criticism and themes[edit]

Review entries on his work[edit]

Contemporary American Thought; Twentieth Century Literary Criticism; Politica Economia Cultura (Santiago de Chile); Contemporary Authors 1; Margins; International Who's Who in Poetry. Essay studies of his work in Frank Shynnagh (pseudonym), "Opus," Iowa Review (1992); Albert Cook, "On Frederic Will," Iowa Review (1992); book length study, Frank Shynnagh (pseudonym), Song Broken, Song: The Work of Frederic Will (Mellen, 2008).

Themes of his work[edit]

Transformation of life through language or art is the dominant concern of Will's work. That transformation was the explicit theme of Will's first book, Intelligible Beauty in Aesthetic Thought (1958) and plays out in different registers throughout his writing. In poetry and fiction he has worked to let the daily redeem itself by the new clarity of the writing artifact. In his philosophy and cultural critique he has tried to identify zones where art pushes the concept to the front, so that the felt world can freshly understand itself. In his works of 'sociology', on truckers and agricultural workers, he seeks outlets for the self-expression of worker sensibility. In several versions of autobiography he tries to make himself a text richer than he is. All these transformations abut on conditions of clarification which Will believes lived life needs for its perfection.


Review of Epics of America, 1977, in Aspect[edit]

"…in this unique collection the poet is still searching for the inner meaning of things—the heart of flame in the rock, in iron hearts, in cement roads, in desert towns, in extinct volcanoes. He wants to restore, through a long march through the States, a greenness to his country, a pristine, uncontaminated morphology…Will's Whitmanesque catalog is compact, imaginative to the highest degree. Animals, riders, planets, all come to life as in a new naming of creatures at the beginning of the world, a creative declaration of love to the hills, rivers, mountains, and simple people of America.

The way Frederic Will uses words is simply startling. The language echoes in our ears even more than in our minds; it evokes mystery by not pronouncing it and calls for a responsive awe…his poems invite us to use our sense of smell, taste, touch, our hearing, in order to enjoy this sensuous world before us…the density of his language and novelty of his figures of speech are unparalleled…in Epics of America language grows irresistibly for the sake of expression. It is an act both of joy and growth, as root turns green when it leaves the soil where it was nourished, in silence and darkness."[2]

Personal Letter To Will from George Oppen (1967); cf. The Selected Letters of George Oppen, 1990, p. 156[edit]

"Reading the Speculative Essays (Literature Inside Out, 1966) for several days. It is a luminous book, and profoundly moving in that it insists on the depth of our concern. I mean the depth of the things that concern us. …Of the Heidegger: thinking of the poets I know, I believe this may be the most immediately useful of the essays to get into poets’ hands at this moment, the most likely to move things most sharply forward now…"[3]

Albert Cook, "On Frederic Will," Iowa Review, spring/summer 1992[edit]

"Working at his own important tasks, Will generally, here and in his impressive earlier career, shows an instinct for essences and analogies, whether it be of a whole culture (the Tarahumaras dear to Antonin Artaud), a strained and vanished subculture (the Manx), or the nub of a single line of verse…such a rare instinct guides this poet-philosopher-critic-anthropologist onto the road, and back into the meditations the road furnishes…"[4]

Frank Shynnagh. "Opus," Iowa Review, spring/summer 1992[edit]

"Quite simply, he interviews the world around him, in the eastern Iowa he's grown to love. (How it resembles the rolling green hills north of Sydney, my own shaping landscape; how freely you can talk on those Iowa backroads, which are already in advance the backroads of my own mind.) First (in Big Rig Souls) he interviews truckers—guys and gals encountered in truckstops around the Midwest, usually in Iowa; then (in Assemblyline Arguments) he lets assembly line workers become his speech—men and women in foundries, feed mills, packing houses; then, in volume three called Hightech Hogs, he turns on inside him the voices of contemporary hog farmers in eastern Iowa. The result of this interviewing, this becoming the language of work in his own environment, is to give Will a new voice of his own, that of the continuity of labor. What he has given me to understand—I look back to my first encounter with his work twenty years ago-is that the shifting borders of poetry and philosophy are fixable stillnesses across which the subtle mesh of Being is constantly moving. In that mesh, of which Will and I have in fact become expressions, catch facets of what-is so brilliant that we must turn away from their glare."[5]


  1. The Long Poem in the Age of Twitter and The Being Here Site of the Poetic (Mellen, Lewiston, 2011).
  2. Time, Accounts, Surplus Meaning: Settings of the Theophanic (Cambridge Scholars Press, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2011).
  3. Frederic Will’s Short Fiction: Literature as Social Critique (Mellen, Lewiston, 2009). (Under pseudonym: Frank Shynnagh.)
  4. Frederic Will’s Travel Writings (1957–2007): A Design of the World (Mellen, Lewiston, 2008). (Under pseudonym: Frank Shynnagh)
  5. The Concept of the Moment (Mellen, Lewiston, 2008). (Under pseudonym: Frank Shynnagh)
  6. Une petite Tâche brune (Publications universitaires de la côte d’ivoire, Abidjan 2007).
  7. Song Broken, Song: The Work of Frederic Will (Mellen, Lewiston, 2008). (Under pseudonym: Frank Shynnagh)
  8. China: A Modern History (Micromegas Editions, Series Two, #1, 2006).
  9. The Male’s Midlife Rite of Passage: Three Imagined Lives (Mellen, Lewiston, 2006).
  10. Three Essays on Mellen University: early life and times (Mellen, Lewiston, 2004).
  11. English for Success (Hachette, Abidjan 2002).
  12. Flesh and the Color of Love: An African American Marriage (Publications universitaires de la Côte d'Ivoire, Abidjan 2002).
  13. Miroirs d’Eternite: une saison au Sahel (Publications universitaires de la Côte d'Ivoire, Abidjan 2002).
  14. Field Research in Three North American Agricultural Communities: Products and Profiles from the North American Family (Mellen, Lewiston, 2002).
  15. Social Reflections on Work: Factory and Farm labor in Iowa (Mellen, Lewiston, 2002).
  16. Singing with Whitman’s Thrush: Itineraries of the Aesthetic (Mellen, Lewiston, 1993).
  17. Literature as Sheltering the Human (Mellen, Lewiston, 1993).
  18. Textures, Spaces, Wonders (Mellen, Lewiston, 1993).
  19. Trips of the Psyche (Mellen, Lewiston, 1993).
  20. Recoveries (Mellen, Lewiston, 1993).
  21. Translation Theory and Practice: Reassembling the Tower (Mellen, Lewiston, 1993).
  22. Big Rig Souls (A and M Publishers, Detroit, 1991).
  23. Founding the Lasting (Wayne State, Detroit, 1991)
  24. A Portrait of John (Wayne State, Detroit, 1990).
  25. Entering the Open Hole (L'Epervier, Seattle, 1989).
  26. Thresholds and Testimonies (Wayne State, Detroit, 1988).
  27. Shamans in Turtlenecks (Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1984).
  28. The Sliced Dog (L'Epervier, Seattle, 1984).
  29. Our Thousand Year Old Bodies (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1980).
  30. Epics of America (Panache, Amherst, 1977).
  31. Belphagor (Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1977).
  32. The Generic Demands of Greek Literature (Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1976).
  33. Botulism (Micromegas, Amherst, 1975).
  34. Guatemala (Bellevue, Binghamton, 1973).
  35. The Knife in the Stone (Mouton, The Hague, 1973).
  36. The Fact of Literature (Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1973).
  37. The Jargon of Authenticity (Northwestern University, Evanston, 1973).
  38. Brandy in the Snow (New Rivers, New York, 1972).
  39. Herondas (Twayne, New York, 1972).
  40. Archilochus (Twayne, New York, 1969).
  41. Planets (Golden Quill Press, Francestown, 1968; Selection of the Book Club for Poetry; winner, Voertman Poetry Award, Texas Institute of Letters).
  42. From a Year in Greece (University of Texas, Austin, 1967).
  43. The King’s Flute (University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1966).
  44. Literature Inside Out (Western Reserve, Cleveland, 1966).
  45. Flumen Historicum (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1965).
  46. Hereditas (University of Texas, Austin, 1965).
  47. Metaphrasis (Verb, Denver, 1964).
  48. The Twelve Words of the Gypsy (University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1964).
  49. A Wedge of Words (University of Texas, Austin, 1963; second printing 1964; annual poetry prize, Texas Institute of Letters, 1963).
  50. Mosaic and other poems (Penn State, University Park, 1959).
  51. Intelligible Beauty in Aesthetic Thought (Niemeyer, Tuebingen, 1958).


  1. ^ "Frederic Will". Contemporary Authors. Gale Cengage. 
  2. ^ "Review of Epics of America". Aspect. 1977. 
  3. ^ Oppen, George (1990). Selected Letters of George Oppen. p. 156. 
  4. ^ Cook, Albert (Spring–Summer 1992). "On Frederic Will". Iowa Review. 
  5. ^ Shynnagh, Frank (Spring–Summer 1992). "Opus". Iowa Review.