|Born||Richard Purdy Wilbur|
March 1, 1921
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 14, 2017 (aged 96)|
Belmont, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Alma mater||Amherst College (1942)|
Harvard University (1947)
|Genre||Poetry, children's books, drama, French literature|
|Notable works||Things of This World|
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1957, 1989)|
Robert Frost Medal (1996)
|Spouse||Mary Charlotte Hayes Ward 1942–2007 (her death)|
|Children||Ellen D. Wilbur, born 1943,|
Christopher H. Wilbur, born 1948,
Nathan L. Wilbur, born 1951,
Aaron H. Wilbur, born 1958
Richard Purdy Wilbur (March 1, 1921 – October 14, 2017) was an American poet and literary translator. One of the foremost poets of his generation, Wilbur's work, composed primarily in traditional forms, was marked by its wit, charm, and gentlemanly elegance. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, in 1957 and 1989.
Wilbur was born in New York City on March 1, 1921, and grew up in North Caldwell, New Jersey. In 1938 he graduated from Montclair High School, where he worked on the school newspaper. At Amherst College, he also displayed his "ample literary gifts" as one of the "sharpest" reporters for the college newspaper, edited by upperclassman Robert Morgenthau. After graduation in 1942, he served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. He attended graduate school at Harvard University. Wilbur taught at Wellesley College, then Wesleyan University for two decades and at Smith College for another decade. At Wesleyan he was instrumental in founding the award-winning poetry series of the University Press. He received two Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry and taught at Amherst College as late as 2009, where he also served on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common.
When only eight years old, Wilbur published his first poem in John Martin's Magazine. His first book, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, appeared in 1947. Thereafter he published several volumes of poetry, including New and Collected Poems (Faber, 1989). Wilbur was also a translator, specializing in the 17th century French comedies of Molière and dramas of Jean Racine. His translation of Tartuffe has become the play's standard English version and has been presented on television twice (a 1978 production is available on DVD). Wilbur also published several children's books, including Opposites, More Opposites, and The Disappearing Alphabet. In 1959 he became the general editor of The Laurel Poetry Series (Dell Publishing).
Continuing the tradition of Robert Frost and W. H. Auden, Wilbur's poetry finds illumination in everyday experiences. Less well-known is Wilbur's foray into writing theatre lyrics. He provided lyrics to several songs in Leonard Bernstein's 1956 musical Candide, including the famous "Glitter and Be Gay" and "Make Our Garden Grow". He also produced several unpublished works, including "The Wing" and "To Beatrice".
His honors included the 1983 Drama Desk Special Award and the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of The Misanthrope, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award for Things of This World (1956), the Edna St Vincent Millay award, the Bollingen Prize, and the Chevalier, Ordre des Palmes Académiques. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959. In 1987 Wilbur became the second poet, after Robert Penn Warren, to be named U.S. Poet Laureate after the position's title was changed from Poetry Consultant. In 1988 he won the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry and in 1989 he won a second Pulitzer, for his New and Collected Poems. On October 14, 1994, he received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton. He also received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation in 1994. In 2003 Wilbur was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. In 2006 he won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 2010 he won the National Translation Award for the translation of The Theatre of Illusion by Pierre Corneille. In 2012 Yale University conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters on Wilbur.
Wilbur died on October 14, 2017, at a nursing home in Belmont, Massachusetts, from natural causes aged 96.
During his lifetime, Wilbur received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including:
The U.S. poet laureate in 1987-88, Wilbur was often cited as an heir to Robert Frost and other New England writers and was the rare versifier to enjoy a following beyond the poetry community. He was regarded — not always favorably — as a leading "formalist," a master of old-fashioned meter and language who resisted contemporary trends. Wilbur was also known for his translations, especially of Moliere, Racine and other French playwrights.