Study Guide

William Stafford

William Stafford Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111225125-Stafford.jpgWilliam Stafford Published by Salem Press, Inc.

William Edgar Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914, the eldest of three children of Earl Ingersoll and Ruby Mayer Stafford. Though his family was relatively poor and had to move from town to town for his father to find work, Stafford’s childhood seems to have been a happy one. His parents were enthusiastic readers and talkers, providing young William with a wealth of shared stories, poems, songs, gossip, and, especially in the case of his mother, a receptive listener to his own stories.

During their frequent moves during the Depression of the 1930’s, Stafford took on odd jobs to help support the family: delivering papers, raising vegetables and selling them door to door, harvesting sugar beets, and working as an electrician’s mate in an oil refinery. Even so, Stafford found time to roam the countryside, fishing and hunting with his father or camping alone. He developed a love of nature that was to sustain him in the years ahead.

After graduating from high school, he attended junior colleges briefly before enrolling at the University of Kansas, where he devoted himself more seriously to writing. While at the university, his lifelong political convictions also began to take shape. Stafford joined a protest against segregation of the student cafeteria, defying campus rules by sitting with black students. It was at this time that Stafford took a further step that was to change the course of his life forever: He declared himself a pacifist opposed to U.S. involvement in World War II.

When the United States entered the war, Stafford applied for conscientious objector status and served four years in alternative service camps in Arkansas, Illinois, and California. Because the war was popular,...

(The entire section is 719 words.)

William Stafford Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In a preface to An Oregon Message, Stafford said of his poetry that he must allow himself to be “willingly fallible” to deserve a place in the realm where “miracles happen.” Whether his poems deal with home, memory, wilderness, fear of war, ordinary daily events, or the creative process itself, this quality of trust in the imagination and his ability to make, or let, miracles happen make Stafford so consistently engaging. Stafford’s poems may not be perfect, but they do offer many surprises and provide a vivid picture of one man’s quest to learn “how to live.”

William Stafford Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

On January 17, 1914, William Edgar Stafford was born to Earl Ingersoll Stafford and Ruby Mayher Stafford in Hutchinson, Kansas. With his younger brother and sister, Stafford grew up in a series of small Kansas towns—Wichita, Liberal, Garden City, and El Dorado—as his father moved the family from place to place in search of work. Earl and Ruby Stafford were nonconformists who held strong moral and spiritual beliefs. They instilled in their children a deep sense of individuality, justice, and tolerance. From long hours with his father in the midwestern countryside, Stafford developed his love of nature. He credits his mother and the gossipy stories she loved to tell with helping him perceive the intricacies of language. Although certainly not scholars, both parents loved books, and the whole family raided the local library each week, vying for their favorites.

As an adolescent during the Depression, Stafford was already helping to support his family: raising vegetables, working as an electrician’s helper, and delivering newspapers (at one time their only source of income). After high school, Stafford attended junior college and then enrolled in the University of Kansas, waiting on tables to pay his way. During his undergraduate years, Stafford began his habit of writing daily and began to translate his social and political beliefs into action. He participated in a demonstration against segregation in the university cafeteria and, when World War II broke out, registered as a conscientious objector.

Stafford spent the war incarcerated in conscientious objector camps in Arkansas, California, and Illinois, working on soil-conservation projects and...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

William Stafford Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111225125-Stafford.jpgWilliam Stafford Published by Salem Press, Inc.

William Stafford was one of the most prolific and best-loved of American poets in an age when it is often said that hardly anyone reads poetry, that more people write it than read it, and that there are no “major” American poets. After receiving his B.A. at the University of Kansas in 1937, Stafford acted as a conscientious objector during World War II in Arkansas, Illinois, and California, then returned to Kansas to complete his master’s degree in 1946. Down in My Heart, the memoir of his experiences as a conscientious objector, includes a half dozen of his earliest published poems. He taught at Lewis and Clark College near Portland, Oregon, for two years before attending the University of Iowa, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1954. After brief teaching stints elsewhere, he returned to Lewis and Clark, where he taught from 1956 until his retirement in 1980. His specialty was Romantic poetry; although he taught short-term workshops in poetry writing elsewhere, he did not teach creative writing at Lewis and Clark.

In “Mountain Conscription,” a poem included in Down in My Heart, Stafford portrays himself standing “suddenly alone” in “small shoes upon the sand,” hearing “the end of things,” and “not knowing what to say.” The ambiguous “they” tell him that nostalgia is “a feeling men have” and that he “will know it, later,” all of his life. Although no admirer of Stafford’s poems would likely cite that poem as one of his best, it captures much of his vision and of the image he portrays of himself. Critics, scholars, and fellow poets described Stafford as quietistic, tentative, passive, Indian-like, Quaker-like,...

(The entire section is 687 words.)

William Stafford Biography (Poetry for Students)

William Stafford was born on January 17, 1914 in Hutchinson, Kansas, where he lived until his midteens. Hit hard by the Depression,...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

William Stafford Biography (Poetry for Students)

William Stafford was born in 1914 in Hutchinson, Kansas. His parents instilled in him moral values and a decidedly nonconformist, independent...

(The entire section is 492 words.)