Mona Van Duyn (pronounced “van dine”) was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on May 9, 1921. She has said that neither of her parents was interested in poetry. She recalls that she read constantly as a child, particularly fairy tales, in spite of the fact that her father would take books out of her hands to urge her to play outdoors. At school, she saw poetry used as a punishment for badly behaved students who had to stay after school to memorize it. Still, she developed an early love for poems. Although her father did not want her to attend college, she was allowed to go (on a scholarship she had won) after carrying out a long campaign of nerves to persuade him.
It was only in college, at Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), that Van Duyn received encouragement to write. One of her English teachers, Burt Boothe, took her writing seriously, encouraged her to publish, and focused her reading. She received a B.A. in 1942 and an M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1943. In 1943, she married Jarvis A. Thurston, a professor of English.
Van Duyn held several teaching positions from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, notably at the University of Iowa, the University of Louisville, and Washington University in St. Louis. With her husband, Van Duyn founded and edited Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature between 1947 and 1967. She gave up teaching in 1967, saying that teaching took too much of the same energies she needed for writing; she subsequently confined her teaching to summer writing courses. She also gave many poetry readings.
Van Duyn’s first book of poems, Valentines to the Wide World, was published in 1959. Her second was A Time of Bees (1964), followed by To See, to Take (1970), Bedtime Stories (1972), Merciful...
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Mona Van Duyn’s poems frequently assert the difficulty of experiencing love in a world where so much goes wrong. Nevertheless, she champions the value of the effort to love, and she implies that art is what helps people to understand love and the world’s beauty.
These concerns are linked to Van Duyn’s definition of poetry as necessarily involving art and beauty—patterned language, the poet’s voice—and the poet’s love for those who read the poems. Such affection is betokened by the poet’s desire to share meaningful experience with others.
Born in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1921, Mona Jane Van Duyn began her career by being class poet in the first grade in Eldora, Iowa, where her father ran a service station, a cigar store, and a soda fountain. She wrote poems throughout childhood and adolescence, then studied writing at Iowa State Teachers College (University of Northern Iowa) and the University of Iowa. She met her husband, Jarvis Thurston, later professor of English at Washington University, while they were students. They were married on August 31, 1943.
In 1947, Van Duyn and her husband founded and became coeditors of the magazine Perspective, a Quarterly of Literature, in whose pages they introduced such poets as W. S. Merwin and W. D. Snodgrass and other writers of stature. Van Duyn was instructor in English at the University of Iowa in 1945 and at the University of Louisville from 1946 to 1950. From 1950 to 1967, she was lecturer in English at Washington University, St. Louis, and later taught at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, at Bread Loaf, and at various other writers’ workshops throughout the United States. Her first collection, Valentines to the Wide World, came out in 1959 in a fine art edition from Cummington Press, illustrated with prints by Fred Becker. Her next collection, A Time of Bees, was published by the University of North Carolina in its paperback series in 1964. Her poems were collected in If It Be Not I and Selected Poems. Van Duyn and her husband lived in St. Louis, where they were the center of a literary community that included such poets and novelists as Donald Finkel, Constance Urdang, Nemerov, William H. Gass, and Stanley Elkin. Van Duyn died of bone cancer at her home in Missouri on December 2, 2004.
Mona Jane Van Duyn (van DIN), the first woman to be named poet laureate in the United States, was born in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1921. Neither of her parents was particularly literary, and her father used to urge her to stop reading (an activity Van Duyn learned to enjoy early in her life) and go outdoors to play. Van Duyn developed an early love of poetry despite its unsympathetic treatment by her parents and even by her teachers, who often used memorizing assignments as punishment for unruly students.
After her high school graduation, Van Duyn’s father tried to discourage her from going to college. She managed to leave home for Iowa State Teachers’ College (now the University of Northern Iowa) only after a long, intense campaign and only because she had won a scholarship. In college, Van Duyn’s writing finally received serious attention from one of her teachers; one of her English professors helped to direct her reading and urged her to begin trying to publish her work. She received her B.A. in 1942 and an M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1943, the same year that she married Jarvis Thurston, an English professor. During the next twenty-five years, Van Duyn held a variety of teaching posts at the University of Iowa, the University of Louisville, and Washington University. During the same period, she and her husband founded and edited Perspective, a literary journal.
Van Duyn’s first two books, Valentines to the Wide World and A Time of Bees, and the positive critical attention they received, led her to decide that teaching occupied too much of her energies. She ended her career as a full-time teacher in 1967, although she continued to conduct workshops and poetry readings.
After the publication of her second book, Van Duyn began to receive prizes...
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