Carl Dennis was born in St. Louis to a mother who was a nurse and a father who started a hugely successful chemical company specializing in elastomers and adhesives. Dennis’s parents encouraged their three sons to learn a musical instrument. Dennis’s older brother Robert would become an avant-garde choral composer known primarily for his musical contributions to the 1969 experimental musical Oh! Calcutta! However, rather than pursue music, before he turned six, Dennis began writing, some poetry but mostly fairy tales in which the fabulous, even magical elements provided him escape from the constraints of suburban life.
Restless, curious, and certain only of his love of literature, Dennis found the college experience disappointing. He was searching, he would later say, for the Platonic ideal of gifted students and wise teachers engaged in lively discussion of literature in order to gain life lessons from centuries of great writings. Dennis first attended Oberlin College, then the University of Chicago, before completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota in 1961. In 1966, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, and immediately accepted a teaching position in nineteenth century American literature at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He would remain in Buffalo for his entire career, enjoying a variety of academic promotions until he retired in 2001 to become the university’s...
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