W. D. Snodgrass

After serving in the navy and then receiving a bachelor of arts, a master of arts, and a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa by 1953, William DeWitt Snodgrass became famous for his confessional-style verse.  In 1960 his collection Heart’s Needle garnered the Pulitzer Prize award for poetry and introduced a revolutionary style of verse—confessional—to fellow contemporaries.  Snodgrass, however, strongly disliked the association, as the term has religious connotations and he was not at all religious.  Married four times, Snodgrass had a daughter, Cynthia Jean, with his first wife and a son, Russell Bruce, with his second wife.  His separation from his daughter just after his first divorce inspired the Heart’s Needle collection.  By 1977, a new collection earned him National Recognition once again.  A series of dramatic monologues by the most hated Nazi leaders in Hitler’s regime, The Fueher Bunker:  A Cycle of Poems in Progress, published by BOA Editions, was initially misconstrued as were the intentions behind it, but regardless, it was still nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and was adapted for the stage, produced by Wynn Handman for the American Place Theater.  The controversy over this collection was finally smoothed out by the time of its completion when it was published once again by BOA in 1995.  At the turn of the century, Snodgrass combined his brilliance for writing with his gift for teaching, producing De/Compositions, published by Graywolf Press in 2001.  This unique teaching tool contains 101 classic and contemporary poems placed alongside poorly written doubles composed by Snodgrass for the sole purpose of distinguishing good poetry from bad.  Snodgrass’ later works The Death of Cock Robin and Midnight Carnival was produced in collaboration with the paintings of artist DeLoss McGraw.  He was known for his expression of deep, personal sentiment, love of nonsense, and riotous satire.  Altogether, Snodgrass has authored over thirty books of poetry, prose, and translations.


Snodgrass’ academic career began at Cornell and continued on at various colleges and universities—Rochester, Wayne State, Syracuse, and Old Dominion; however, he brought his teaching career to a close at the University of Delaware where he was Distinguished Professor Emeritus.  He retired from teaching in 1994 to focus primarily on his writing.   He moved to Erieville, NY, where his spent the rest of his life with his fourth wife, Kathleen Brown, whom he married in 1985.  Snodgrass passed away on January 13, 2009.