March 3

This Day in History

Literary

Mar 3, 1926:

James Merrill is born

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill is born in New York . Merrill was the son of financier Charles Merrill, who founded the brokerage Merrill-Lynch. Merrill served as an Army infantryman during World War II and graduated from Amherst College in 1947. He became one of the most highly regarded poets of his time.

Merrill's parents divorced in 1939. The divorce provided him with rich material for many poems, including "Broken Home." Much of his work was autobiographical and explored his family relationships, privileged upbringing, and homosexuality. His poems appeared in Poetry and the Kenyon Review, and his debut book, First Poems, was published in 1951. Thanks to a large trust fund, Merrill traveled widely and owned houses in Greece and Connecticut.

In 1966, Merrill won the National Book Award for Nights and Days. A decade later, he published Divine Comedies, which won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize. Divine Comedies was the first in a trilogy of ambitious, book-length poems, some of which were written with the assistance of a Ouija board. He published 12 books of poetry and also wrote plays and novels. A final collection of poems was published after he died of a heart attack in Tucson, Arizona, in 1995.

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