Francis Russell O’Hara was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 27, 1926. He grew up in central Massachusetts in Grafton, a suburb of Worcester. He attended local Catholic schools and graduated from St. John’s High School in Worcester in 1944. After graduation he enlisted in the Navy and served as a sonar operator on a destroyer until his discharge in 1946. During his World War II service he did not see combat, although he was in the Pacific theater.
After military service, O’Hara entered Harvard University as an undergraduate, majoring first in music and later in English. He graduated from Harvard in 1950. While at Harvard, O’Hara was already writing poetry, and he was one of the founders of the Poet’s Theatre in Cambridge. His play Try! Try! was produced at the Poets’ Theatre in 1951. During the Harvard years, he met John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, who were to become lifelong friends and subjects of a number of his poems. In 1950, O’Hara entered Michigan University to do graduate work in English, and in 1951 he was awarded the prestigious Avery Hopwood Major Award in Poetry. After a year at Michigan, he moved to New York City, which was to become his home until his death in 1966.
O’Hara was deeply involved in the New York art world during these years; he worked as an editor of Art News and as a special assistant and later as an associate curator of the Museum of Modern Art. Painting is very often the subject of his poems, and his technique has often been compared to that of modern painting. O’Hara was a friend of many...
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