Kenneth Fearing

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Kenneth Fearing (July 28, 1902 – June 26, 1961) was an American poet, novelist, and founding editor of Partisan Review. Literary critic Macha Rosenthal called him "the chief poet of the American Depression."[1]

Early life[edit]

Fearing was born in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Harry Lester Fearing, a successful Chicago attorney, and Olive Flexner Fearing. His parents divorced when he was a year old, and he was raised mainly by his aunt, Eva Fearing Scholl. He went to school at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and was editor of the student paper, as was his predecessor Ernest Hemingway. After studying at the University of Illinois in Urbana and the University of Wisconsin, Fearing moved to New York City where he began a career as a poet and was active in leftist politics.

Literary career[edit]

In the 1920s and 1930s, he published regularly in The New Yorker and helped found Partisan Review, while also working as an editor, journalist, and speechwriter and turning out a good deal of pulp fiction. Some of Fearing's pulp fiction was soft-core pornography, often published under the pseudonym Kirk Wolff.[2]

A selection of Fearing's poems has been published as part of the Library of America's American Poets Project. His complete poetic works, edited by Robert M. Ryley, were published by the National Poetry Foundation in 1994.

Fearing published several collections of poetry including Angel Arms (1929), Dead Reckoning (1938), Afternoon of a Pawnbroker and other poems (1943), Stranger at Coney Island and other poems (1948), and seven novels including The Big Clock (1946).

In 1950, he was subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C.; when asked if he was a member of the Communist Party, he is supposed to have replied, "Not yet."[3]

Fearing died in 1961, of malignant melanoma, at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.[4]

Personal life[edit]

From 1923 to 1928, Fearing had a relationship with fellow writer Margery Latimer. In 1931, he met Rachel Meltzer, and they married on April 26, 1933. Their only child, poet Bruce Fearing, was born on July 19, 1935. Their marriage collapsed in 1942, partly due to Fearing's growing alcoholism. They divorced in 1943. Fearing married artist Nan Lurie on June 18, 1945. They separated in 1952.



  • Angel Arms, Coward McCann (New York, NY), 1929.
  • Poems, Dynamo (New York, NY), 1935.
  • Dead Reckoning: A Book of Poetry, Random House (New York, NY), 1938.
  • Collected Poems of Kenneth Fearing, Random House, 1940.
  • Afternoon of a Pawnbroker and Other Poems, Harcourt (New York City), 1943.
  • Stranger at Coney Island and Other Poems, Harcourt, 1948.
  • New and Selected Poems, Indiana University Press (Bloomington), 1956.
  • Complete Poems, ed. Robert M. Ryley, National Poetry Foundation (Orono, Maine), 1994.


  • The Hospital, Random House, 1939.
  • Dagger of the Mind, Random House, 1941, as Cry Killer!, Avon (New York, NY), 1958.
  • Clark Gifford's Body, Random House, 1942.
  • The Big Clock, Harcourt, 1946, as No Way Out, Perennial (New York, NY), 1980.
  • (With Donald Friede and H. Bedford Jones under joint pseudonym Donald F. Bedford) John Barry, Creative Age Press (New York, NY), 1947.
  • Loneliest Girl in the World, Harcourt, 1951, as The Sound of Murder, Spivak (New York, NY), 1952.
  • The Generous Heart, Harcourt, 1954.
  • The Crozart Story, Doubleday, 1960.


  1. ^ Fearing, Kenneth; Ryley, Robert M. (1994). Complete poems. Orono, Me.: The National Poetry Foundation. ISBN 978-0-943373-25-6.
  2. ^ Cary Nelson, editor, (2000) An Online Journal and Multimedia Companion to Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ Ishmael Reed, ed., From Totems to Hip-Hop, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003.
  4. ^ Ryley, Robert M. "Kenneth Fearing's Life". Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. From Kenneth Fearing: Complete Poems. Ed. and with an Introduction by Robert M. Ryley. The National Poetry Foundation, 1994. Retrieved June 2, 2010.

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