Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Kenneth Duva Burke puzzles anyone hoping to classify him within a narrow genre of American letters. His long career covers a range of subjects: social philosophy, music, poetry, literary criticism, fiction, and economics. Yet his most important contributions have been to the study of rhetoric. Burke saw rhetoric as an integral part of everyday life and demonstrated his theories by drawing upon numerous bits of culture gleaned from a lifetime of inquiry and self-education. His work contains a breadth of ideas that makes him one of the most fascinating figures in twentieth century philosophy.
Burke was born in Pittsburgh on May 5, 1897, to working-class parents, and he shared his childhood with his lifelong friend Malcolm Cowley. He attended Peabody High School in Pittsburgh. A semester at Ohio State University preceded a year at Columbia University, after which Burke left academe and pursued his ambition to write. In New York, Burke joined a group of young American writers based in bohemian Greenwich Village, including Cowley, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Hart Crane, Allen Tate, and E. E. Cummings. In 1919, he married Lillian Batterham, and soon he was supporting a family of three daughters through assorted writing and editing assignments.
In 1921, Burke joined the staff of The Dial, a literary magazine, where he worked as editor, music critic, and contributor. In 1924, he published his first book, a collection of short stories entitled...
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