Discipline: Literature – poetry

Stephen Benet

Discipline: Literature – poetry
MacDowell fellowships: 1925
Stephen Vincent Benét (1898 –1943) was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist. He is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War John Brown's Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for the short stories "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) and "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937). In 2009, The Library of America selected his story "The King of the Cats" (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub. Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to James Walker Benét, a colonel in the United States Army. His grandfather and namesake led the Army Ordnance Corps from 1874 to 1891 as a brigadier general and served in the Civil War. His paternal uncle Laurence Vincent Benét was an ensign in the United States Navy during the Spanish–American War and later manufactured the French-Hotchkiss machine gun. At about age ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He graduated from Summerville Academy in Augusta, GA and from Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. He also edited and contributed light verse to the campus humor magazine The Yale Record. He published his first book at age 17 and was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis. He was also a part-time contributor to the early Time magazine. In 1920-21, Benét went to France on a Yale traveling fellowship, where he met Rosemary Carr; they were married in Chicago in November 1921. Carr was also a writer and poet, and they collaborated on some works. Benét helped solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition. He published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1931. Benét's fantasy short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) won an O. Henry Award. He furnished the material for Scratch, a one-act opera by Douglas Moore. The story was filmed in 1941 and shown originally under the title All That Money Can Buy. He also wrote the sequel "Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent", in which Daniel Webster encounters a Leviathan. Benét died of a heart attack in New York City on March 13, 1943 at age 44. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut, where he had owned the historic Amos Palmer House. John Brown's Body was staged on Broadway in 1953 in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, directed by Charles Laughton. The book was included in Life Magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–44.