Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Louis Simpson’s life is especially important because of its relation to his poetic development. He was born Louis Aston Marantz Simpson in Kingston, Jamaica, on March 27, 1923. His father was a lawyer of Scottish descent, his mother a Jewish immigrant from southern Russia. His parents had met when Rosalind de Marantz went to Kingston from New York City to appear in a film. A brother had been born first, then Louis. Following the breakup of the marriage in 1930, Rosalind went to Toronto. Louis was sent with his brother to Munro College, a private school about eighty miles from Kingston. Louis was to remain at Munro College until he was seventeen years old. His father remarried, and another child was born. When Louis was near graduation, his father died, leaving most of his estate to his new family. Louis and his brother were made to leave their parental home immediately. On his own, Louis returned to school, where he excelled in literary studies and developed two goals: to be a writer and to leave Jamaica. At sixteen, he was already writing and publishing poetry and prose. This principle would guide him in writing about all the “real wars” he was to wage back in the United States.
In New York, Simpson entered Columbia University, where he studied under Mark Van Doren. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Texas. Military life turned him into a dog soldier with little respect for officers. The Army also enabled him to see Texas, Louisiana,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Louis Aston Marantz Simpson was born in Jamaica, where his father was a lawyer. His parents were divorced when he was young, and his father remarried. When Simpson traveled to New York to attend Columbia University, he learned for the first time that his mother was Jewish—“and therefore, according to Jewish law, so was I.” He served in the army during World War II. When the war ended, he returned to Columbia to complete his studies. After working in publishing, he returned to Columbia to earn a doctorate and began an academic career that led him first to the University of California at Berkeley and then to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he taught from 1967 to 1993.
Simpson’s early poems were metrical and rhymed. His style underwent two major changes, the first (in At the End of the Open Road, which won the Pulitzer Prize) a breaking away from elegant metrics into hard-edged, imagistic free verse, the second (begun in Searching for the Ox) a delving into narrative, in spare lines stripped of most artifice. Yet his interest in storytelling was there from the beginning, in poems such as “Carentan O Carentan,” which recounts a bloody ambush in ironic ballad stanzas, contrasting the pastoral beauty of a “shady lane” with the “watchers in leopard suits” who “aimed between the belt and boot/ And let...
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As the son of a mother of Russian ancestry and a celebrated writer himself, Louis Simpson is well qualified to write about the popular Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Simpson was born in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, in 1923, to Aston Simpson, a lawyer, and Rosalind Marantz Simpson, a World War I émigré and actress. His father was successful, and the Simpsons led a privileged life, with a large house, and maids, cooks, chauffeurs, and assorted other servants. In Simpson’s own words they lived as “well-to-do colonials.” His mother’s storytelling was an early influence on Simpson’s writing. She told stories about growing up in Poland and she told fairytales. Simpson’s childhood desire, in fact, was not to be a poet but to write stories.
Educated at Munro College, referred to by islanders as the “Eton of Jamaica,” the young Simpson read English literature and English history, and cultivated the taste of an Englishman. But he was not English; he was Jamaican. In his book of autobiographical essays The King My Father’s Wreck, Simpson said that many Jamaicans had an inferiority complex because of this discrepancy. Simpson’s eight years at Munro (from the age of nine to seventeen) were difficult. The poet has written that some of the teachers were sadists and that bullying, both by teachers and other students, was the norm. Aston Simpson and Rosalind divorced when Simpson was a teenager, and when his father died, Simpson discovered...
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Louis Aston Marantz Simpson was born in 1923 in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, to Aston Simpson, a lawyer, and Rosalind Marantz Simpson, an Eastern European emigré and beauty queen. The Simpsons lived in the suburbs of Kingston and were quite well off. Simpson describes his family during that time as “well-to-do colonials” and solid members of the upper middle class. Rosalind Simpson was a major influence on her son’s literary development, keeping the young Louis entertained with fairy tales and tales of her life in Poland. When he turned nine years old, Simpson enrolled in Munro College, an elite preparatory school. He began to write poems and stories in earnest in his early adolescence and even won an essay competition when he was fourteen. His article on the coronation of George VI was printed in the Daily Gleaner, a Kingston newspaper.
After graduating from Munro, Simpson left Jamaica for America, where his mother had moved after his parents had divorced. Simpson studied literature at Columbia University in New York City but interrupted his studies in 1943 to join the United States Army. He returned to Columbia after the war and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1948. A few years later he received a master’s degree in English from Columbia and his doctorate degree in comparative literature from Columbia in 1959.
Simpson’s career as a poet and critic was helped by his teaching career, as the latter provided...
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