Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)

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Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) wrote 23 books of poetry, 18 prose books, and 17 plays. He studied law at Hotchkiss School, Yale, and Harvard Law School, writing poetry at the same time. He was a volunteer ambulance driver, then a captain of field artillery during WWI. After the war, he worked as a lawyer but found that he wanted to focus more on his poetry. Although he had the option of being a partner in his firm, he opted to quit law and moved with his family to France for four years, where he wrote four books of poetry. He then returned to America to go on the same journey that Cortez’s army took through Mexico as preparation to write his epic poem Conquistador (1932). MacLeish went on to serve as editor of Fortune Magazine, also writing two anti-fascist radio plays. His poetry reflected his passion for American democracy as well. He eventually accepted President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s invitation to become Librarian of Congress and served in that position for five years, building the Library’s series of poetry readings. During this time, he was also Director of the War Department’s Office of Facts and Figures as well as Assistant Director of the Office of War Information. MacLeish went on to be Assistant Secretary of State of Cultural Affairs, and after WWII, was the first American member of UNESCO’s governing body, chairing the first UNESCO conference in Paris. In 1949, he took the position of Harvard’s Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory for 13 years. He was then Simpson Lecturer at Amherst College. He kept writing, earning many awards. His epic poem Conquistador won the Pulitzer Prize, and his book Collected Poems (1952) also won the Pulitzer Prize along with the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize. His verse play J.B. (1958) which was based on the Biblical story of Job, won a Pulitzer for Drama, and his contributions to the screenplay of The Eleanor Roosevelt Story (1965) won an Academy Award. More info at

Written by Monica Root December 2013

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