Who was Audrey Wurdemann, and what did she contribute to American literature?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Audrey Wurdemann (1911-1960) was the great-great-granddaughter of Romantic period poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She was a poet herself, thus she showed her heritage. Wurdemann had the distinction of winning the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The youngest poet ever to win the Poetry Pulitzer, she was twenty-four when she won for her poetry collection Bright Ambush.

Presently, Wurdemann is somewhat of an obscure poet, perhaps because she completed such a small body of work, with all her poetry written within an eleven year period beginning in 1927 and ending in 1938. She did write two novels in 1945 and 1951 with her poet husband Joseph Auslander. The Internet offers no access to her works and little information about her life.

    The House of Silk (1927)
    Bright Ambush (1934, winner of the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)
    The Seven Sins (1935)
    Splendour in the Grass (1936)
    Testament of Love (1938)

    My Uncle Jan (1945) with Joseph Auslander
    The Islanders (1951) with Joseph Auslander

Born in 1911 in Seattle, Washington, Wurdemann attended the University of Washington, from which she graduated with honors. Her first collection of poetry The House of Silk was published in 1927, when she was sixteen, with the help of California poet George Sterling who was recognized in the north of the state as a significant figure in the Bohemian poetry movement and who helped establish the artists' colony in Carmel, California.

In 1931, after graduating, Wurdemann traveled for a year in Asia, then in 1932 married Auslander. She won the Pulitzer three years later. In 1937, Joseph Auslander was appointed the first Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, so the couple moved from their home in New York to Washington, D.C. Thereafter, in 1945 and 1951, Wurdemann and Auslander collaborated on two novels, the second of which marked the end of Wurdemann's literary career: My Uncle Jan, The Islanders.

The simplest statement of Wurdermann's contribution to American literature is that she contributed Pulitzer Prize winning poetry that is still guarded and read today and that reflects the nature of the culture that surrounded her since the Pulitzer committee often considers cultural understanding and contribution during its deliberation and selection process.

[Wurdemann's collections Bright Ambush and Splendour in the Grass are available for purchase on Amazon and through Google Books, but no previews of her work are available.]

The Pulitzer Prizes: 1935 Winners