Born in Muskegon, Michigan, John Frederick Nims attended a private high school in Chicago and spent two years at De Paul University before transferring to Notre Dame to take his bachelor of arts degree, with a double major in English and Latin, in 1937. After taking his master of arts degree from Notre Dame in 1939, he taught there until 1958, with periodic excursions abroad to teach at the University of Toronto (1945-1946), at Bocconi University in Milan (1952-1953), and at the University of Florence (1953-1954). While at Notre Dame, he pursued postgraduate work at the University of Chicago, in 1945 earning his Ph.D. in comparative literature, with an emphasis on the history and theory of Greek, Latin, French, and English tragedy; his special interest was the English stage of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period, Nims began his long association with the distinguished magazine Poetry, serving from 1946 to 1950 as associate editor. He later was visiting editor of that publication in 1960-1961 and editor from 1978 to 1984.
After leaving Notre Dame, Nims taught at the University of Madrid (1958-1960), at Harvard University (1964, 1968-1969, and the summer of 1974), at the University of Illinois at Urbana (1961-1965), at the University of Florida at Gainesville (1973-1977), at Williams College (1975), at the College of Charleston (1981), and the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (1965-1973, 1977-1985). He served as an instructor at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (1958-1971) and at the Bread Loaf School of English (1965-1969).
Nims died suddenly in 1999 and was survived by his wife, Bonnie Larkin, a son, and two daughters. A few weeks before, he had sent his editors revisions for a new edition of his acclaimed introduction to poetry, Western Wind.
John Frederick Nims will be remembered primarily for his stint as editor of the influential Poetry magazine, the longest-running uninterrupted poetry magazine in the world. In addition, Nims established himself as at least a partial proponent of the formalist school of poetry, together with such poets as Dana Gioia and John Hollander. Nims taught in the graduate program of the University of Illinois, Chicago, for many years, but he was also visiting professor at the universities of Milan, Florida, and South Carolina, Williams College, and Harvard University. His teaching was related to his editing and writing, and he taught graduate students the elements of poetry in translation. Nims was one of the chief American translators of poetry; quite versatile, he translated works from Greek, German, French, Italian, and other languages.
Though a recipient of the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize in 1942 and a nominee for a National Book Award in 1960, Nims was recognized for his contributions to the world of poetry late in his career, mostly after his retirement from teaching, after his editing of The Harper Anthology of Poetry, and after his departure from Poetry. On several occasions, the urbane and witty poet noted the ironies of his career, and most of The Kiss is meant to be ironic.
The Nims family can be traced at least as far back as seventeenth century Massachusetts; in the eighteenth century, five of the six children of Godfrey Nims were slaughtered by French-led Indians from Canada. The sole survivor was taken to Canada. Nims himself was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and attended a private school in Chicago. He went to De Paul University for two years and then to Notre Dame, graduating with degrees in English and Latin in 1937. Nims completed his graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1945, earning a Ph.D. in comparative literature.
Nims was an adept teacher of poetry and leader of workshops, often noting the problems with entire schools of contemporary poetry. He was also a hardy successor to Henry Rago at the helm of Poetry (Nims started there in 1945), often...
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