William Meredith’s place in the New England literary tradition and twentieth century American poetry is secure. Early in his career, his poetry was highly imitative and academic. He eschewed experimentation, and he maintained a reticence and control that constricted his development and caused some to dismiss his understated, formal style as not engaging. Starting with the appearance of his Ships and Other Figures in 1948, however, Meredith moved consistently toward a less academic style and a more immediate voice. Since that time, his importance to American poetry has steadily increased.
Meredith’s superlative accomplishments have been widely praised by his peers. He was the recipient of many honors, including the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award (1943), the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award (1944) and the Oscar Blumenthal Prize (1953) from Poetry magazine, two Rockefeller Foundation grants (1948, 1968), a National Institute for the Arts and Letters grant in literature (1958), the Borestone Mountain Poetry Award (1964) for “The Wreck of the Thresher,” the Russell Loines Award (1966), the Van Wyck Brooks Award (1971) for Earth Walk, a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1972), the International Vaptsarov Prize for literature (1979), the Carl Sandburg Award from the International Platform Association (1979), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1987) and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry (1988) for Partial Accounts, and an Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1990).
Meredith was National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Ford Foundation Fellow, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Princeton University. Effort of Speech won the National Book Award in Poetry in 1997. Connecticut College recognized his contribution to its institution in two ways: In 1988, he received an honorary doctoral degree, and in 1996, he won the Connecticut College Medal and the William Meredith Endowed Professorship was created. In 1998, he received another honorary doctoral degree, this time from the American University in Bulgaria. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1968-2007) and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1963-1987). In addition, Meredith served as consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980. In 1994 and 1995, Meredith’s poems were recorded for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.