Happy Ninetieth Birthday W. S. Merwin!

Photo by Mark Hanauer

The prolific and accomplished American poet and writer, William Stanley Merwin, turns ninety years young on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Since 1984 and by arrangement with the author, the formative materials for his nearly seventy books of poetry, prose, translations and plays–including notes, notebooks, drafts, typescripts, proofs, and correspondence–have been deposited in the collections of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Merwin Archive is a remarkably detailed impression of a profound literary career.

One of the most decorated writers of our time, Merwin has been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry for The Carrier of Ladders (1971) and The Shadow of Sirius (2009), and won the National Book Award for Poetry for Migration: New and Selected Poems (2005). In 2010-2011, he served as the Poet Laureate of the United States.

His other major prizes include the PEN Translation Prize for Selected Translations 1948-1968 (1968), the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America (1974), the Bollingen Prize for Poetry (1979), the first Tanning Prize in 1994 (now known as the Wallace Stevens Award), the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for Travels (1994), the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize by the Poetry Foundation (1998), the Gold Medal for Poetry by the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2003), the Lannan Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2004), and the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award in 2013.

Merwin’s first book of poetry, A Mask for Janus (1952), was chosen by W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. This year has seen the publication of a fiftieth-anniversary edition of his ground-breaking work The Lice, as well as a career-spanning volume, The Essential W.S. Merwin.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will mount back-to-back exhibitions of select items from his archive, beginning October 23 and closing November 17. The exhibitions will be chronological in scope, each two weeks in duration.

These exhibitions will run concurrent with the library’s fall celebration of the centenary of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, “Matter in the Margins, Gwendolyn Brooks at 100.”

For a brief selection of images from the Merwin Archive, please visit the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Tumblr presence: http://illinoisrbml.tumblr.com/.

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