Louis Simpson Simpson, Louis (Vol. 149)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Louis Simpson 1923-2012

(Full name Louis Aston Marantz Simpson) American poet, critic, essayist, autobiographer, memoirist, novelist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Simpson's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 7, 9, and 32.

One of the most distinguished American poets of the postwar era, Simpson is noted for his memorable examinations of his World War II combat experience, the disintegration of the American Dream, and the lives of ordinary middle-class Americans. An accomplished stylist whose early verse revealed his skill with traditional forms, Simpson began to experiment with free verse and conversational diction during the late 1950s to express the concerns and feelings of alienation common in mid- to late-twentieth-century American life. Though Simpson's style has evolved over time, his insistence on the role of the poet as a detached observer has remained constant. This aesthetic position has guided Simpson's discursive, often narrative approach and distanced him from the confessionalism of many poets who came of age during the 1960s. Simpson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for At the End of the Open Road (1963) which along with The Arrivistes (1949) and The Best Hour of the Night (1983), are considered to be among the most definitive poetic works of his generation.

Biographical Information

Born in Jamaica, Simpson was raised near Kingston by his father Aston, a lawyer of Scotch heritage, and his mother Rosalind de Marantz, of Polish Jewish ancestry. His parents later separated. At age seventeen, Simpson joined his mother in New York City and began attending Columbia University. His education was temporarily interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. As a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, Simpson saw combat overseas in the European campaign and participated in the Normandy D-Day invasion. By the end of World War II, he had earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and was naturalized as an American citizen. Simpson's military service provided him with exposure to European culture and instilled in him a deep and abiding respect for the United States. Returning to Columbia University after the war, he completed his B.S. degree in 1948. He would later earn an M.A. in 1950 and a Ph.D. in 1959. After completing his B.A., Simpson attended the Sorbonne in Paris before dropping out and finishing his first volume of poetry, The Arrivistes, which he self-published in 1949. During the same year, he returned to New York and married Jeanne Rogers, with whom he had a son. In the years between his graduate studies, Simpson worked as an editor for publisher Bobbs-Merrill and then as an instructor at Columbia University. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1954, and the next year he married Dorothy Roochvarg, with whom he had a son and a daughter. Upon completing his doctorate in 1959, Simpson taught at the University of California at Berkeley, where he produced a critical study of Scottish poet James Hogg, the poetry collection At the End of the Open Road, and his first volume of Selected Poems (1965). In 1967, he returned to New York as an English professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he remained until the 1990s. Simpson divorced a second time in 1979, and in 1985 married his third wife, Miriam Butensky Bachner. In addition to the 1964 Pulitzer prize, Simpson has received numerous honors, including the Prix de Rome in 1957, American Academy of Arts and Letters fellowship in 1957, the Edna St. Vincent Millay Memorial Award in 1960, Guggenheim fellowships in 1962 and 1970, a grant from the American Council for Learned Societies in 1963, Columbia University's Medal for Excellence in 1965, the American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature in 1976, the Jewish Book Council's Award for Poetry in 1981, and the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award in 1987.

Major Works

Simpson's poetry reflects his wartime experiences, his cynicism...

(The entire section is 65,562 words.)