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William Stafford Portrait

Born in rural Kansas, William Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II and was active in pacifist organizations. After degrees from the University of Kansas, he went on to study at the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he also earned a Ph.D., and to teach at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, from 1956 to 1979, publishing his first book, West of Your City, in 1960. Stafford's writing process, as he explained it, was to rise early and work in the quiet before others awoke. One way to describe his poetry is to compare it with the pure quiet of the pre-dawn hours. Everything about his writing, from its careful parceling into stanzas to the clear steps that guide us from passage to passage, suggests there is a virtue to calm, thoughtful, understated observation. Many of his poems depict Midwestern towns and landscapes; others take up personal and family experiences, but he has also taken up public topics on occasion.