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Randall Jarrell Portrait

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Randall Jarrell was educated at Vanderbilt University and taught at a number of colleges and universities, meanwhile acquiring a reputation as a devastatingly witty reviewer of other people's poetry. After enlisting in the Army Air Force in 1942, he was assigned to an aviation facility in Tucson, Arizona, where he became a celestial training navigator. It may well have been his very distance from the World War II front that made him an attentive listener to B-29 crews, other returning soldiers, and home front family members, and led him to retell their stories so effectively. Influenced by W. H. Auden early on, the war inspired him to use a less intricate, more conversational idiom. Both then and later in his career, he sometimes adopted a woman's persona to tell a gendered narrative. Overall, it is the body of poetry he wrote about World War II, some of the most successful written by any American, that constitutes his most distinctive and important contribution to his country's literature. A 1954 novel, Pictures from an Institution, uses Sara Lawrence College as a model for its satire.