mvanduyn.jpgMona Jane Van Duyn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and America’s first female poet laureate, died on Dec. 2 of bone cancer. She was 83.
The Iowa native was only five years old when she began writing poetry. A voracious reader, Van Duyn haunted the local library and secretly penned poems in her notebooks because her father didn’t approve of such activities. Van Duyn graduated from Iowa State Teachers College in 1942, then received a master’s degree from the University of Iowa. The next year, she launched her academic career by teaching English at UI.
Van Duyn married Jarvis A. Thurston a few months after they met in a writing class in 1943. She spent several decades teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, where Thurston was the former chairman of the English department. Together they founded “Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature,” and edited the magazine for 30 years.
In 1959, Van Duyn published her first book of poetry “Valentines to the Wide World.” Eight other volumes followed, including “To See, To Take,” which won the National Book Award in 1971 and “Near Changes,” the collection that earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1991. Over the course of her four-decade writing career, Van Duyn also won the Bollingen Prize, the Carl Sandburg Prize of Cornell College, the Hart Crane Memorial Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the Shelley Memorial Prize of the Poetry Society of America. She was the sixth poet, and the first woman, named U.S. poet laureate in 1992.
Van Duyn battled depression throughout her life. The medication she took made it difficult to work, and she stopped writing eight years ago. Her final poetry collection, “Selected Poems,” was published in 2002.
Listen to Van Duyn Read “Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri”
Read Poems From “Selected Poems”