Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg was born January 6, 1878, in Galesburg, Illinois.  The son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg grew up poor and worked several odd jobs to help support his family in his early years.  He joined the 6th Illinois infantry in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, and attended Lombard College upon his return.  Though he never graduated, one of his professors, Philip Green Wright, saw enough potential in the young writer to help him publish his first poetry collection, Reckless Ecstasy (1904), a pamphlet printed on a hand press in the professor’s basement.  In 1908, Sandburg married Lillian Steichen and wrote for several Milwaukee-based newspapers.  From 1910–1912, the social-democrat served as secretary to socialist mayor Emil Seidel, but afterward moved to Chicago to continue pursuing a writing career.  He worked for the Chicago Daily News and his poetry was soon published in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Sandburg gained popularity with his plain-style free verse, and soon published several well-received collections, including Chicago (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920). 

In addition to his lifelong dedication to poetry, Sandburg was an avid historian, very much an admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  Wanting to write a biography, he immersed himself in the former president, and for nearly three decades, compiled six volumes worth of Lincoln’s life and influence.  The latter four chapters published together as Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), received a Pulitzer Prize.  In some ways similar to his favorite "president of the people," Sandburg became a poet of the masses, touring the country, performing poems and folk songs from his work, The American Songbag (1927), among others.  His collection Complete Poems, published in 1950, garnered the poet a second Pulitzer Prize.  Though very different from his academic contemporaries, Sandburg’s popularity as a poet lies in his common-man accessibility, developed through his easy diction and Midwestern slang, reminiscent of his own humble beginnings.  The poet died July 22, 1967, in Flat Rock, North Carolina.