On this day in 1948, T.S. Eliot wins the Nobel Prize in literature, for his profound effect on the direction of modern poetry.
Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a long-established family. His grandfather had founded Washington University in St. Louis, his father was a businessman, and his mother was involved in local charities. Eliot took an undergraduate degree at Harvard, studied at the Sorbonne, returned to Harvard to learn Sanskrit, and then studied at Oxford. He became lifelong friends with fellow poet Ezra Pound and later moved permanently to England. In 1915, he married Vivian Haigh-Wood, but the marriage was unhappy, partly due to her mental instability. She died in an institution in 1947.
Eliot began working at Lloyd’s Bank in 1917, writing reviews and essays on the side. He founded a critical quarterly, Criterion, and quietly developed a new style of poetry. His first major work, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, was published in 1917 and hailed as the invention of a new kind of poetry. His long, fragmented images and use of blank verse influenced nearly all future poets, as did his masterpiece The Waste Land, published in Criterion and the American review Dial in 1922. While Eliot is best known for revolutionizing modern poetry, his literary criticism and plays were also successful.
Eliot lectured in the United States frequently in the 1930s and 40s, a time when his own worldview was undergoing rapid change as he converted to Christianity. In 1957, he married his assistant, Valerie Fletcher. He died in 1965.