Mona Van Duyn (pronounced “van dine”) was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on May 9, 1921. She has said that neither of her parents was interested in poetry. She recalls that she read constantly as a child, particularly fairy tales, in spite of the fact that her father would take books out of her hands to urge her to play outdoors. At school, she saw poetry used as a punishment for badly behaved students who had to stay after school to memorize it. Still, she developed an early love for poems. Although her father did not want her to attend college, she was allowed to go (on a scholarship she had won) after carrying out a long campaign of nerves to persuade him.
It was only in college, at Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), that Van Duyn received encouragement to write. One of her English teachers, Burt Boothe, took her writing seriously, encouraged her to publish, and focused her reading. She received a B.A. in 1942 and an M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1943. In 1943, she married Jarvis A. Thurston, a professor of English.
Van Duyn held several teaching positions from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, notably at the University of Iowa, the University of Louisville, and Washington University in St. Louis. With her husband, Van Duyn founded and edited Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature between 1947 and 1967. She gave up teaching in 1967, saying that teaching took too much of the same energies she needed for writing; she subsequently confined her teaching to summer writing courses. She also gave many poetry readings.
Van Duyn’s first book of poems, Valentines to the Wide World, was published in 1959. Her second was A Time of Bees (1964), followed by To See, to Take (1970), Bedtime Stories (1972), Merciful...
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