From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Conrad Potter Aiken (5
August 1889 – 17 August 1973) was an American novelist and poet, whose work
includes poetry, short
and an autobiography.
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.
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
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
G. Jung, and other depth
psychologists. Two of his five novels deal with depth
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.
Aiken returned to Savannah for the last 11 years of his life. Aiken's tomb,
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.
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
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.