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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