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William Morris Meredith Jr.

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William Meredith
BornWilliam Morris Meredith Jr.
(1919-01-09)January 9, 1919
New York City, U.S.
DiedMay 30, 2007(2007-05-30) (aged 88)
New London, Connecticut, U.S.
  • Author
  • poet
  • professor
EducationPrinceton University (BA)
Notable awardsNational Book Award (1997)
Pulitzer Prize (1988)
PartnerRichard Harteis (1970s–2007)

William Morris Meredith Jr. (January 9, 1919 – May 30, 2007) was an American poet and educator. He was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980,[1] and the recipient of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.


Early years[edit]

Meredith was born in New York City to William Morris Meredith Sr. and Nelley Keyser. He attended Lenox School in Massachusetts, graduating in 1936.[2] He began writing while a college student at Princeton University. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton in 1940, having written a senior thesis on Robert Frost. His first volume of poetry, Love Letter from an Impossible Land, appeared in 1944. Archibald MacLeish selected it for publication as part of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition.


Meredith worked briefly for the New York Times as a copy boy and reporter before joining the United States Army Air Force in 1941. The next year, he transferred to the United States Navy as a carrier pilot. He served in the Aleutian Islands and Pacific Theater and reached the rank of lieutenant. He continued his service in the United States Navy Reserve until 1952, when he reenlisted to serve in the Korean War. He ultimately attained the rank of lieutenant commander and was awarded two Air Medals.[2]

From 1946 to 1950, Meredith had several teaching appointments at Princeton University: Instructor in English, Woodrow Wilson Fellow in Writing, and Resident Fellow in Creative Writing. This was followed by an appointment as associate professor at the University of Hawaii (1950–51). After the Korean War he was hired as an associate professor of English at Connecticut College, where he taught until 1983. Meredith was promoted to professor in 1965. He settled on a farm in Uncasville, where he continued to write poetry and developed his talents as an arborist, planting and nurturing rare trees on the banks of the Thames. During this period, he also taught for several years in the summer graduate program at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English. He was also an instructor at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference from 1964 to 1971.[2]

From 1964 to 1987, Meredith served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. From 1978 to 1980, he was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position which in 1985 became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He has the distinction of being the first gay poet to receive this honor.[citation needed]

In 1983, Meredith suffered a stroke and was immobilized for two years. The stroke caused expressive aphasia, which affected his ability to produce language. Meredith ended his teaching career and could not write poetry during this period. He regained many of his language skills after intensive therapy and traveling to Britain for treatment.[citation needed]

In 1988, Meredith was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry[3] and a Los Angeles Times Book Award for Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems. In 1997, he won the National Book Award for Poetry for Effort at Speech.[4][5] Meredith also received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the Carl Sandburg Award, and the International Vaptsarov Prize in Poetry.

One of the most complete collections of Meredith's work, "The William Meredith Papers," is housed at Connecticut College, where he taught. The collection documents his life and work as of one of Connecticut College's most eminent faculty members and one of the nation's most respected poets. The collection contains letters, drafts, speeches, and papers relating to many organizations with which Meredith was associated, such as the Library of Congress, the Academy of American Poets, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Connecticut College, Princeton University, Yaddo, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, cultural and governmental agencies in Bulgaria, and the Estate of W. H. Auden.[citation needed]

Connecticut College acquired the papers in 1994. They are in the Special Collections department of the Charles E. Shain Library. One may consult the collection by arrangement with the Special Collections Librarian. The library also has a virtually complete collection of Meredith's published work, including many of the anthologies and issues of literary journals in which individual poems were published or reprinted. The book collection also includes presentation copies of Robert Frost's poetry that Frost gave Meredith, several with inscriptions and holograph poems.[citation needed]

A longtime admirer of W. B. Yeats, Meredith fulfilled his ambition to visit Yeats's spiritual homeplace of Sligo, Ireland, in 2006. While there he also attended the Yeats International Summer School, which attracts many academics and admirers of Yeats to Sligo every summer.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Meredith died in New London, Connecticut, near his home in Montville, where he lived with his partner of 36 years, the poet and fiction writer Richard Harteis.[6][7] A film about his life, Marathon, premiered on November 19, 2008, in Mystic, Connecticut.[8]



  • Love Letter from an Impossible Land (Yale University Press, 1944)
  • Ships and Other Figures (Princeton University Press, 1948)
  • The Open Sea and Other Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1957)
  • The Wreck of the Thresher and Other Poems (Knopf, 1964) —finalist for the National Book Award[9]
  • Winter Verse (privately printed, 1964)
  • Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems (Knopf, 1970)
  • Hazard the Painter (Knopf, 1975) ISBN 978-0-394-49634-4
  • The Cheer (Knopf, 1980)
  • Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (Knopf, 1987) ISBN 978-0-394-75191-7 —winner of the Pulitzer Prize[3]
  • Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems. Northwestern University Press. 1997. ISBN 978-0-8101-5070-6. William Meredith. —winner of the National Book Award[4]


  • Reasons for Poetry, and The Reason for Criticism (1982)[10]
  • Poems Are Hard to Read, University of Michigan Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0-472-09427-1

Translation and Anthology[edit]

  • Guillaume Apollinaire, Alcools: Poems, 1898-1913, Translator (Doubleday, 1964)
  • Poets of Bulgaria, Editor (Unicorn Press, 1985) ISBN 978-0-87775-190-8



  1. ^ "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1971–1980". Library of Congress. 2008. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved December 19, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c "Foundation Biography". William Meredith Foundation. Archived from the original on July 5, 2015. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "Poetry" Archived March 29, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "National Book Awards – 1997" Archived November 22, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. National Book Foundation. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
    (With 1997 award citation, essay by Scott Challener from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog, and "William Meredith, In Memoriam".)
  5. ^ "Pulitzer Prize-winning Connecticut poet dies". Newsday. May 31, 2007. Retrieved June 3, 2007. [dead link]
  6. ^ Elaine Stoll (May 31, 2007). "William M. Meredith, Noted Poet, Dies At 88". TheDay. Retrieved June 3, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Fox, Margalit (June 1, 2007). "William Meredith, 88, Poet Who Wed Depth to Form, Dies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 13, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2008.
  8. ^ "Movie honors life of award-winning poet," Norwich Bulletin, November 15, 2008
  9. ^ "National Book Awards – 1965" Archived November 19, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. National Book Foundation. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
  10. ^ William Meredith. "Reasons for poetry". Archived from the original on February 12, 2007. Retrieved June 3, 2007.

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