Although few talented poets with her longevity have left such a small body of work, Léonie Adams enjoyed quite a distinguished career as poet and teacher. After graduating magna cum laude from Barnard College and publishing her first book of poetry, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928.
In 1948-1949, she served as consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress. The National Institute of Arts and Letters gave her its Academy Award in 1949, and in 1951, she was elected a member of the organization. After publishing Poems in 1954, she received the Shelley Memorial Award. In conjunction with Louise Bogan, Adams received the Bollingen Prize in poetry the next year. Also in 1955, Adams was appointed as a Fulbright lecturer in France. The National Commission on Arts gave her a sabbatical grant in 1966. Adams received the Brandeis University Poetry Medal in 1969 and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1974.
Miller, Brett C. Flawed Light: American Women Poets and Alcohol. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Miller studies how drinking and alcoholism affected prominent American women poets, and how their struggles were reflected in their poetry. Contains an informative chapter on Adams.
Tate, Allen. “Distinguished Minor Poetry.” The Nation 122 (March 3, 1926): 237-238. Tate, poet and critic (and later good friend of Adams), traces sources and influences in a discussion of Those Not Elect. Tate states that Adams’s poetry draws heavily on the work of such British Renaissance poets as John Webster and George Herbert.
Tuthill, Stacy Johnson, ed. Laurels: Eight Woman Poets. Catonsville, Md.: SCOP, 1998. This work, which showcases the artistic achievements of the major women poets associated with the Library of Congress in the second half of the twentieth century, includes a chapter on Adams, who held the Chair of Poetry at the library in 1948-1949.
Untermeyer, Louis. “Three Younger Poets.” English Journal 21 (December, 1932): 796-797. Opposing Yvor Winters’s dismissal of Adams as excessively obscure, Untermeyer argues that what seems to be obscure in her poetry is actually originality, and he goes on to argue that her insight actually functions to provide clarity.
Wehr, Wesley. The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000. Vignettes of Adams and others, drawn from the author’s journals.
Winters, Yvor. Review of High Falcon, and Other Poems. Hound and Horn 3 (April-June, 1930): 458-461. Less than enthusiastic about the possibility of there being genuine meaning behind the obscurity of Adams’s poetry, Winters grudgingly proposes a suspension of disbelief, which he stipulates “in most cases can be no more than extremely temporary.” Unmoved, finally, Winters designates Adams’s poems as “momentary luxuries.”