John Berryman life and biography

John Berryman picture, image, poster

John Berryman biography

Date of birth : 1914-10-25
Date of death : 1972-01-07
Birthplace : McAlester, Oklahoma, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2011-05-30
Credited as : Poet, , Homage to Mistress Bradstreet

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John Berryman was an American poet and scholar, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and was considered a key figure in the Confessional school of poetry. His best-known work is The Dream Songs.

In 1950, he published a biography of the fiction writer Stephen Crane whom he greatly admired. This book was followed by his next significant book of poems, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956) which featured illustrations by Ben Shahn and was Berryman's first book to receive "national attention."

However, Berryman's great poetic breakthrough occured after he published 77 Dream Songs in 1964. The book won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and solidified Berryman's standing as one of the most important poets of the post-World War II generation that included Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Delmore Schwartz.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1967.

Berryman continued to work on the "dream song" poems and published a second, significantly longer, volume entitled His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, in 1969. This book won the National Book Award, and Berryman republished 77 Dreams Songs and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, as one book, titled The Dream Songs later that same year.

In 1970 he published Love & Fame which received quite a few negative reviews, along with some praise, most notably from Saul Bellow and John Bailey.

Delusions Etc., (1972), his last book, which focuses on Berryman's religious concerns and his own spiritual crisis, was published posthumously.

Berryman taught at the University of Iowa (in their famed Writer's Workshop), Harvard University, and the University of Minnesota (where he spent the majority of his career). Some of his illustrious students included W. D. Snodgrass,William Dickey. Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Robert Dana, Jane Cooper, Donald Finkel, and Henri Coulette. Berryman was notoriously tough on his students' work. For instance, the poet Robert Dana noted, "[Berryman's teaching style] was that kind of blow-torch approach that cut Berryman's class, in two weeks, from about 40 to thirteen."

Berryman was married three times. And according to the editors of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Berryman "lived turbulently." Throughout his life, Berryman suffered from alcoholism and depression, and on the morning of January 7, 1972, Berryman killed himself by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota into the Mississippi River.

Author of books:

Poems (1942, poetry)
The Dispossessed (1948, poetry)
Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956, poetry)
77 Dream Songs (1964, poetry)
Berryman's Sonnets (1967, poetry)
His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (1968, poetry)
The Dream Songs (1969, poetry)
Love & Fame (1970, poetry)
Recovery (1971, memoir)

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