Sherman Alexie's visibility and reputation increased so rapidly in the 1990s that at times he seemed more a natural phenomenon, like a summer thunderstorm, than a mere writer. But an astonishingly inventive writer he is. The son of a Spokane father and a part-Coeur d'Alene mother, Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He was educated first at Gonzaga University in Spokane and then at Washington State University in Pullman; he now lives in Seattle.
Ana Castillo was born and grew up in Chicago of Aztec and Mexican ancestry. She was educated at Northern Illinois University and the University of Chicago, thereafter earning a Ph.D. at the University of Bremen. In both high school and college, Castillo was active in the Chicano movement and began writing political poems about ethnic experience. Known for both her novels and her poetry, she has often explored the politics of sexuality.
Louise Bogan was born in Livermore Falls, Maine. Her parents, of Irish descent, travelled across New England in search of work and endured a tempestuous marriage. One of Bogan's brothers was killed in the First World War, while another died of alcoholism in his early 30s. Bogan attended Boston University for a year. After a brief, failed marriage, she settled in New York's Greenwich Village, became part of its vital literary life, and began publishing her intense but highly formal poetry in little magazines.
Robert Bly was born in Madison, a town in rural Minnesota, where he has lived most of his life. He was educated at St Olaf's College and at Harvard, thereafter enrolling in the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. From 1944 to 1946, Bly served in the Navy. In addition to his poetry, he has done a number of translations, including poetry by Neruda, Vallejo, and Rilke, and edited a continuing journal renamed after each decade——The Fifties, The Sixties, etc. He organized antiwar poetry readings during the Vietnam War.
Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, Arna Bontemps grew up in California and was educated at Pacific Union College. His father was a bricklayer and his mother a teacher. After college he moved to Harlem to teach at the Seventh Day Adventist academy, arriving at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry began to win awards, but the Adventists reassigned him to Oakwood Junior College in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1931. Although he was in conflict with conservative school officials, the experience of the South helped inspire some of his best work.
Born in New York City, Gregory Corso had a volatile life and career. His childhood was spent in a series of foster homes and sometimes on the street. To survive, he took up petty theft and ended up in prison from 1947-1950. On release, he worked as a manual laborer, an employee of the San Francisco Examiner, and a merchant seaman. In the mid-1950s, he became linked with the Beat writers and achieved some fame through his energetic poetry readings. He traveled widely in Europe and Mexico, often writing his irreverent, histrionic poems on the wing.
Born in a farmhouse near Whiteville, North Carolina, the son of a tobacco farmer, Archie Randolph Ammons served on a Navy destroyer escort in World War II. He studied biology and chemistry at Wake Forest College in his home state and went on to literary studies at Berkeley. In 1964, after working for almost a decade as an executive at a glassmaking firm, he took a teaching job at Cornell University.
Paul Blackburn was born in St. Albans, Vermont. His parents separated when he was three, and he grew up with his mother's parents until his mother took him to New York's Greenwich Village at age fourteen. After a stint in the Army, he enrolled at New York University but then transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where he started a correspondence with Ezra Pound, then incarcerated at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, who encouraged his poetry writing. In New York, Blackburn pursued an interest in Provençal troubadour poets, translating them into English.
Born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Jayne Cortez grew up in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles, but spent most of her adult life in the New York City area. Her first books combine politics, music, and surrealism, but the musical and performative elements increased during her marriage to jazz musician Ornette Coleman and after her directorship (1964-1970) of the Watts Repertory Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Her band, "The Firespitters," accompanied her performances and powerful poetry recordings, which sometimes made use of an almost mesmerizing chanting style.
John Beecher was born in New York, the great-great-nephew of Abolitionists Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher; it was a heritage his life would honor. He grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where his father was a U.S. Steel executive, but Beecher entered the industry at the bottom. From age 16, he worked twelve-hour shifts on the open hearth furnaces. Educated at Cornell, Alabama, Harvard, and North Carolina, Beecher worked eight years during the New Deal era as a field administrator of social programs devoted to sharecroppers and migrant workers. He then took up a teaching career.