Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
William “Billy” Collins was born on March 22, 1941, in New York City, the son of William Collins, an electrician, and Katherine Collins, a nurse. He attended parochial schools and received a B.A. from College of the Holy Cross in 1963 and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside, in 1971. His primary area of study was the Romantic poets. His career has been mainly academic; in 1971, he began teaching at Lehman College of the City University of New York, where he became distinguished professor of English. He has also served as writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College. He married and settled in Westchester County with his wife, Diane, an architect. He jokes that he is in competition with her, planning for his poems to outlast the buildings she designs.
Despite the domestic setting of much of his poetry, Collins’s writing reveals little of his private life. In 1999, however, his career received considerable publicity when the University of Pittsburgh Press refused to allow Random House to reprint some of Collins’s earlier poems, ostensibly because the university press still found them profitable. The conflict was covered in The New York Times and the online magazine Salon, leading Collins to say that he would like to forget about the mechanics of publishing and “get back to writing poems.” As writing, originally a sidelight to his academic career, has become increasingly important to Collins, he has developed a...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Billy Collins was born the only child of William S. and Katherine M. Collins. Collins’s father was an electrician, and his mother was a nurse. Each of his parents was forty at the time of Collins’s birth. Collins grew up in Jackson Heights, a community in Queens, New York City. When he was in junior high school, his father became an insurance broker on Wall Street and, enjoying success in business, eventually moved his family to Westchester County.
Collins recalled his own precocious behavior at the age of four or five. When company arrived at his family’s home, he sat in a chair and pretended to read an encyclopedia, presuming that the guests were impressed. He also recalled his first effort to record an impression in writing: At age ten, he was in the family car as his parents drove along the East River, and Collins, seeing a sailboat, asked his mother for writing materials. At church he was an altar boy, and he cites his memorization of Latin phrases for the Mass as an influence on his later writing. He memorized the music of the sounds without knowing their meaning. Collins also remembered that his father brought home copies of Poetry from the office, and this reading material strengthened the young writer’s interest in poems.
Collins received a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross in 1963. At the University of California, Riverside, he studied Romantic poetry, completing his Ph.D. in 1971. He had become assistant...
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IntroductionBilly Collins has been called arguably “the most popular poet in America,” not only for his accessible and often humorous work in print but also for his appearances on National Public Radio (on both Prairie Home Companion and Fresh Air in 1997), during which he read and talked about his work with engaging charm. Collins has received poetry fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has received the Bess Hokin Award, the Oscar Blumenthal Award, the Frederick Bock Prize, and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine; he has been named Literary Lion by the New York Public Library, and Questions About Angels won the National Poetry Series competition for 1991. In 2001, Collins was named U.S. poet laureate. -- Billy Collins Criticism
Nine Horses (Magill’s Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Sailing Alone Around the Room (Magill’s Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In the early 1990s, Billy Collins became a major figure in the public imagination and, in the last ten years, has become arguably one of the most popular living poets in the United States, signing a sixfigure book contract with Random House and being named as the 11th U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001. William Collins was born in New York City on March 22, 1941, to William Collins, an electrician, and Katherine Collins, a nurse. He was educated at College of the Holy Cross, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1963 and at the University of California, where he received his doctorate in English in 1971. That same year, Collins accepted a position as assistant professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York, and his first collection, Pokerface, was released in 1977 by Kenmore, a very small press.
It was not until 1991, when Collins’s third collection of poems, Questions about Angels, was selected as a winner of the National Poetry Series that the poet began to develop a national reputation. Collins’s smooth and charismatic reading style proved a perfect fit for National Public Radio, where he frequently read his poems on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio program. In poems such as “The Afterlife” and “Questions about Angels,” Collins exploits traditionally serious subject matter like death and religion for a chuckle. However, his humorous approach to poetry is not popular with everyone....
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