John Ciardi Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born in 1916 in the Italian neighborhood of South Boston, John Anthony Ciardi was the fourth child and only son of Italian immigrants Concetta DeBenedictis and Carminantonio Ciardi. When he was only three years old, his father died in an automobile accident. In 1921, his mother moved the family to the Boston suburb of Medford, where Ciardi attended public school. After finishing high school in 1933, he worked a year to earn money before entering the pre-law program at Bates College in Maine, where his academic career was not very successful. In 1935, he transferred to Tufts College in Boston, where he abandoned his pre-law studies for literature and took his B.A. degree magna cum laude in 1938. In that same year, he entered University of Michigan graduate school on a tuition scholarship.

Ciardi’s main interest in the Michigan program was its Hopwood Awards in poetry, and he was determined to compete for both the money and the prestige. He won first prize, a stipend of $1,200, and saw his first book of poetry, Homeward to America, published in 1940; his career as a poet was launched. His master of arts degree was granted in 1939, and in 1940, he began his teaching career, a vocation he pursued, with only the interruption of service in World War II, until 1961. His first position was in Missouri as instructor in English at the University of Kansas City.

In 1942, Ciardi enlisted in the United States Army Air Force and was discharged in 1945 as a technical sergeant after duty as an aerial gunner on a B-29 bomber in the air offensive against Japan. In both 1943 and 1944, while still in the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Anthony Ciardi (CHAHR-dee) was an accomplished and prolific poet who wrote for both adults and children, but he gained his greatest recognition as an editor, translator, and critic. He and his three sisters were born in Boston, Massachusetts; his parents, Carminantonio and Concetta Ciardi, had been born near Naples, Italy. Ciardi was only three years old when his father was killed in an automobile crash. Echoes of his upbringing in a traditional Catholic-Italian family, the clashes of the old ways and the new, and his longing for a father he never knew are found throughout his work.

After graduating from public high school in 1933, Ciardi spent a year working to earn money for college. He then enrolled at Bates College in Maine but failed most of his courses and left after one year. When he tried again at Tufts University, he encountered the professor John Holmes, who inspired and encouraged him as a student and as a poet. Ciardi graduated magna cum laude in 1938, and that fall he began graduate study at the University of Michigan. He chose that university in part because of the Avery Hopwood Awards; Ciardi hoped to win the award for poetry, as much for the money as for the recognition, and he won the award in 1939. A year later he published his first volume of poetry, Homeward to America, a well-received collection of lyric poems exploring the immigrant son’s search for self-identity.

Ciardi accepted a position as English instructor at the University of Kansas City. Over the next twenty years, with only a period during which he served in the Air Force during World War II, he taught English literature and creative writing at the University of Kansas City, Harvard University, and Rutgers University. He also taught at, and for many years directed, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Other Skies, a collection of poems about...

(The entire section is 771 words.)