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Conrad Aiken

1889-1973

American poet, short story writer, critic and novelist.

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Conrad Aiken

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
Conrad Potter Aiken
Born Conrad Potter Aiken
August 5, 1889
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Died August 17, 1973 (aged 84)
 
Occupation Poet, playwright, essayist, novelist,critic
 

Conrad Potter Aiken (5 August 1889 – 17 August 1973) was an American novelist and poet, whose work includes poetry, short stories, novels, and an autobiography.[1]

 Early years

According to his own writings, Aiken found the bodies of his parents. He was raised by his great-great-aunt in Massachusetts. Aiken was educated at private schools and atMiddlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, then at Harvard University where he edited the Advocate with T. S. Eliot who became a lifelong friend and associate.

Aiken's earliest poetry was written partly under the influence of a beloved teacher, the philosopher George Santayana. This relation shaped Aiken as a poet who was deeply musical in his approach and, at the same time, philosophical in seeking answers to his own problems and the problems of the modern world.

 Adult years

Aiken was deeply influenced by symbolism, especially in his earlier works. In 1930 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Selected Poems. Many of his writings had psychological themes. He wrote the widely anthologized short story Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1934). His collections of verse include Earth Triumphant (1911), The Charnel Rose(1918) and And In the Hanging Gardens (1933). His poem Music I Heard has been set to music by a number of composers, including Leonard Bernstein and Henry Cowell.

Aiken wrote or edited more than 50 books, the first of which was published in 1914, two years after his graduation from Harvard. His work includes novels, short stories (The Collected Short Stories appeared in 1961), criticism, autobiography, and, most important of all, poetry. He was awarded the National Medal for Literature, the Gold Medal for Poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and the National Book Award. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, taught briefly at Harvard, and served as Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress from 1950 to 1952. He was also largely responsible for establishing Emily Dickinson's reputation as a major American poet.

After 1960, when his work was rediscovered by readers and critics, a new view of Aiken emerged—one that emphasized his psychological problems, along with his continuing study of Sigmund Freud, Carl G. Jung, and other depth psychologists. Two of his five novels deal with depth psychology.

 Personal life

Conrad and his family with Jessie McDonald lived in England, where his third child was born, from 1921 to the beginning of World War II. In 1923 he acted as a witness at the marriage of his friend the poet W. H. Davies. In 1950, he became Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, more commonly known as Poet Laureate of the United States.

Bench at grave of Conrad Aiken inBonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.

Aiken returned to Savannah for the last 11 years of his life. Aiken's tomb, located inBonaventure Cemetery on the banks of the Wilmington River, was made famous by its mention in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the bestselling book by John Berendt. According to local legend, Aiken wished to have his tombstone fashioned in the shape of a bench as an invitation to visitors to stop and enjoy a martini at his grave. Its inscriptions read "Give my love to the world," and "Cosmos Mariner—Destination Unknown."

He was married three times: first to Jessie McDonald (1912-1929); second to Clarissa Lorenz (1930) (author of a biography, Lorelei Two); and third to Mary Hoover (1937). He was the father, by Jessie McDonald, of the English writers Jane Aiken Hodge and Joan Aiken. Aiken had three younger siblings, Kempton, Robert and Elizabeth. They were adopted by a relative and took his last name. Kempton was known as K. P. A. Taylor (Kempton Potter Aiken Taylor) and Robert was known as Robert P. A. Taylor (Robert Potter Aiken Taylor). Kempton helped establish the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.

The best source for information on Aiken's life is his autobiographical novel Ushant (1952), one of his major works. In this book he speaks candidly about his various affairs and marriages, his attempted suicide and fear of insanity, and his friendships with T.S. Eliot(who appears in the book as The Tsetse), Ezra Pound (Rabbi Ben Ezra), and other accomplished men.

 Awards and recognitions

Named Poetry Consultant of the Library of Congress from 1950-1952, Conrad Aiken has earned numerous prestigious national writing awards, including a National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal and the National Medal for Literature. Honored by his native state in 1973 with the title of Poet Laureate, Aiken will always be remembered in his native state as the first Georgia-born author to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1930, for his Selected Poems.

Aiken was the first winner of the Poetry Society of America (PSA) Shelley Memorial Award in 1929.

In 2009, The Library of America selected Aiken’s 1931 story “Mr. Arcularis” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales.


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