The son of immigrants, Stanley Jasspon Kunitz was born July 29, 1905, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Kunitz’s father, Solomon, descended from Russian Sephardic Jews, committed suicide shortly before Stanley was born—an event that was to haunt the poet and that stands behind some of his most important and best-known poems. His mother, Yetta Helen, of Lithuanian descent, opened a dry-goods store to support herself, her son, and two older daughters and to repay accumulated debts. Reared principally by his sisters and a succession of nurses, Kunitz grew up with his father’s book collection, into which, as he put it, he would “passionately burrow.” Though his mother shortly remarried, his stepfather, of whom he was fond, died before Kunitz reached his teens.
Educated in Worcester public schools, Kunitz edited the high school magazine, played tennis, and graduated valedictorian of his class. Kunitz won a scholarship to Harvard, where he majored in English and began to write poetry, subsequently winning the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal for poetry in 1926. He graduated summa cum laude in the same year, and he took his M.A. degree from Harvard the following year. He worked briefly as a Sunday feature writer for the Worcester Telegram, where he had worked summers during college. He also completed a novel, which he later “heroically destroyed.”
In 1927, Kunitz joined the H. W. Wilson Company as an editor. With Wilson’s encouragement, he became editor of the Wilson Bulletin, a library publication (known now as the Wilson Library Bulletin). While at Wilson, he edited a series of reference books, including Authors Today and Yesterday: A Companion Volume to “Living Authors” (1933; with Howard Haycraft and Wilbur C. Hadden), British Authors of the Nineteenth Century (1936; with Haycraft), American Authors, 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature (1938; with Haycraft), and Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature (1942; with Haycraft).
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