Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

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Conrad Aiken (1889-1973) wrote 33 books of poetry, 10 novels, five books of essays, two children’s books, and a play. When he was a child, his father killed his mother and then tried to commit suicide, so Aiken was raised by his great-great aunt. This event greatly influenced his development and writing. While in college, he befriended Ezra Pound and worked as a contributing editor to the magazine Dial. He avoided serving in WWI by saying that he was part of an “essential industry” as a poet. He spent a lot of time traveling between England and North America. Much of Aiken’s poetry focuses on psychoanalysis and psychological development, which is not surprising considering his childhood trauma and his interest in the writings of Freud and Edgar Allen Poe. His book Selected Poems (1929) won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize, and Collected Poems (1953) won the National Book Award. Aiken served as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1950-1952. He also won the Bollingen Prize, the Gold Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Medal for Literature. He edited Emily Dickinson’s Selected Poems (1924), helping establish Dickinson’s posthumous reputation. A few more of his poetry books include And in the Human Heart (1940), Sheepfold Hill: Fifteen Poems (1958), and The Morning Song of Lord Zero (1963).

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Written by Word Works intern Monica Root October 2013

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