Shirley Barker

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Shirley Barker
Born Shirley Frances Barker
April 4, 1911 (1911-04-04)
Farmington, NH
Died November 18, 1965(1965-11-18) (aged 54)
Penacook, NH
Nationality American
Education Radcliffe College, Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science
Occupation poet, author, librarian

Shirley Frances Barker (April 4, 1911 – November 18, 1965)[1] was an American author, poet, and librarian.

Barker was born in Farmington, New Hampshire, a descendant of early settlers of Massachusetts.[2] She attended the University of New Hampshire, graduating with a B.A. in 1934 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.[1][3]:689 While still an undergraduate, she won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition with her poetry collection The Dark Hills Under (1933). It was published with a foreword by Stephen Vincent Benet and was well reviewed.[1]

One of the judges had detected some literary affinities between her work and that of Robert Frost, so UNH President Edward M. Lewis asked Barker to send a copy of the collection to Frost, Lewis' friend and correspondent.[3]:471 Frost was enraged by what he perceived as anti-Puritan and anti-theistic sentiments in Barker's poetry and bizarrely insisted that Barker was the illegitimate descendent of a person described in her poem "Portrait".[3]:471–3 In what his biographer described as "a characteristic act of poetic retaliation", Frost penned the ribald poem "Pride of Ancestry"[3]:473 and the religious poem "Not All There".[3]:474 He did not tell Lewis of his objections to Barker's work[3]:474–5 and there is no record that there was any correspondence between Frost and Barker.[3]:690

Barker did not publish another book for sixteen years. She graduated with an A.M. in English from Radcliffe College in 1938 and a degree in library science from the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science in 1941. Beginning in 1940, she worked as a librarian at the New York Public Library, primarily in the American history section.[1]

In 1949, she published her debut novel, Peace My Daughters, about the Salem witch trials, which she believed her ancestors had attended.[4] She wrote a series of successful formula historical novels, most of them set in her native New England and some with supernatural elements.[1] Two of her novels, Rivers Parting (1952) and Swear by Apollo (1959), were Literary Guild selections.[2] The success of these novels enabled her to leave the New York Public Library in 1953 and she moved to Concord, New Hampshire.[3]:689

Barker was found inside a car in her garage in Penacook, New Hampshire, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. The car windows were up and the gas tank was empty. Her death was ruled a suicide.[4] When Frost biographer Lawrance Thompson attempted to access her papers, he was told by her executor that they all "had disappeared under mysterious circumstances".[3]:690 However, typescripts, galleys, and plate proofs of the novels Liza Bowe, Swear by Apollo, and The Last Gentleman are in the University of New Hampshire Library.[5]


  • The Dark Hills Under (poems), Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1933.
  • Peace, My Daughters, Crown (New York, NY), 1949.
  • Rivers Parting, Crown, 1950.
  • A Land and a People (poems), Crown, 1952.
  • Fire and Hammer, Crown, 1953.
  • Tomorrow the New Moon, Bobbs (New York, NY), 1955.
  • Liza Bowe, Random (New York, NY), 1956.
  • Swear by Apollo, Random, 1958.
  • The Trojan Horse, Random, 1959.
  • The Last Gentleman, Random, 1960.
  • Corner of the Moon, Crown, 1961.
  • The Road to Bunker Hill, Duell, Sloan & Pearce (New York, NY), 1962.
  • Strange Wives, Crown, 1963.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Shirley Frances Barker." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.
  2. ^ a b Walker, Cynthia L. (1979). "Shirley Barker". In Mainiero, Lina. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present 1. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. pp. 100–02. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thompson, Lawrance (1970). Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph, 1915-1938. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 003-084530-0. 
  4. ^ a b "Shirley Barker, Novelist, Was 54". New York Times. November 20, 1965. p. 35. 
  5. ^ "Shirley Barker (1911–1965) – Milne Special Collections". University of New Hampshire Library. Retrieved February 16, 2013. 

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