Stephen Vincent Benét: Poet, short story writer, novelist (1898 - 1943) | Biography
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Stephen Vincent Benét
Poet, short story writer, novelist

Stephen Vincent Benét

Stephen Vincent Benét
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Poet, short story writer, novelist
Was Writer Screenwriter Poet Novelist
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature
Gender male
Birth 22 July 1898, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Death 13 March 1943, New York City, New York, U.S.A. (aged 44 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


Stephen Vincent Benét /bˈn/ (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist. Benét is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for two short stories, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) and "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937). In 2009, The Library of America selected Benét’s story "The King of the Cats" (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales, edited by Peter Straub.

Life and career

Early life

Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to James Walker Benét, a colonel in the United States Army, and his wife. His grandfather and namesake was a Minorcan descendant born in St. Augustine, Florida, who led the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, 1874–1891, with the rank of brigadier general; he was a graduate of the United States Military Academy and served in the American Civil War. The younger Benét's paternal uncle, Laurence Vincent Benét, a graduate of Yale, was an ensign in the United States Navy during the Spanish–American War and later manufactured the French-Hotchkiss machine gun.

At about age ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He graduated from The Albany Academy in Albany, New York and Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. He also edited and contributed light verse to campus humor magazine The Yale Record. Benét published his first book at age 17. He was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis. Benét was also a part-time contributor for the early Time magazine.

In 1920-1921 he went to France on a Yale traveling fellowship. There he met Rosemary Carr, whom he married in Chicago in November 1921. Carr was also a writer and poet, and they collaborated on some works.

Man of letters

Benét helped solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition. Benét published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1931.

Benét's fantasy short story about a devil, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1936) won an O. Henry Award. He furnished the material for Scratch, a one-act opera by Douglas Moore. The story was filmed in 1941 and shown originally under the title All That Money Can Buy. Benét also wrote a sequel, Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent, in which the man Daniel Webster encounters the Leviathan of biblical legend.

Young Benét lived in a home (commonly referred to as Benét House), in Augusta, Georgia. Part of Augusta College (now Augusta University), it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Benet House, now on the Summerville Campus of Augusta University, was originally part of the Augusta Arsenal. Benet's father, Col James Walker Benet, along with his wife and daughter, lived in this house while he was the commanding officer of the Augusta Arsenal from approximately August 1911 to February 1919. Stephen Vincent Benet would have visited his parents while they were resident. The local newspaper considered it newsworthy enough to congratulate Benet on winning the Maysfield Prize for best undergraduate poem while Benet attended Yale.(Augusta Chronicle 1/21/1917 p. 21) Benet House was the name assigned to the building when it became the property of Augusta College. Once the residence of the college president, it now serves as space for administrative offices. Benet House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

Death and legacy

Evergreen Cemetery, Stephen Vincent Benét

Benét died of a heart attack in New York City, on March 13, 1943, at the age of 44 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut, where he had owned the historic Amos Palmer House. On April 17, 1943, NBC broadcast a special tribute to the life and works of Benét, which included a performance by Helen Hayes. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Western Star, an unfinished narrative poem on the settling of the United States.

The title of Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century, is taken from the final phrase of Benét's poem "American Names". The full quotation, "I shall not be there/I shall rise and pass/Bury my heart at Wounded Knee," appears at the beginning of Brown's book. Benet's poem is not about the plight of Native Americans, and Benet would have been unlikely to approve of the author's approach. Wounded Knee, a village on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, was the location of the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. The event is known formally as the Wounded Knee Massacre, as more than 150 Sioux men, women, and children who were largely unarmed were killed that day.

He adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story "The Sobbin' Women". It was adapted as the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

His play John Brown's Body was staged on Broadway in 1953, in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, and directed by Charles Laughton. The book of the same name was included in Life Magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–1944.

Benét fathered three children: Thomas, Stephanie, and Rachel. His brother, William Rose Benét, was a poet, anthologist and critic who is largely remembered for his desk reference Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia (1948). His sister Laura Benét was also an author.

Selected works

  • Five Men and Pompey, a series of dramatic portraits, Poetry, 1915
  • The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun (Yale University Prize Poem), 1917
  • Young Adventure: A book of Poems, 1918
  • Heavens and Earth, 1920
  • The Beginnings of Wisdom: A Novel, 1921
  • Young People's Pride: A Novel, 1922
  • Jean Huguenot: A Novel, 1923
  • The Ballad of William Sycamore: A Poem, 1923
  • King David: A two-hundred-line ballad in six parts, 1923
  • Nerves, 1924 (A play, with John Farrar)
  • That Awful Mrs. Eaton, 1924 (A play, with John Farrar)
  • Tiger Joy: A Book of Poems, 1925
  • The Mountain Whippoorwill: How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler's Prize: A Poem., 1925
  • Spanish Bayonet, 1926
  • John Brown's Body, 1928
  • The Barefoot Saint: A Short Story, 1929
  • The Litter of Rose Leaves: A Short Story, 1930
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1930 (screenplay with Gerrit Lloyd)
  • Ballads and Poems, 1915–1930, 1931
  • A Book of Americans, 1933 (with Rosemary Carr Benét, his wife)
  • James Shore's Daughter: A Novel, 1934
  • The Burning City, 1936 (includes 'Litany for Dictatorships')
  • The Magic of Poetry and the Poet's Art, 1936
  • By the Waters of Babylon, 1937
  • The Headless Horseman: one-act play, 1937
  • Thirteen O'Clock, 1937
  • We Aren't Superstitious, 1937 (Essay on the Salem Witch Trials)
  • Johnny Pye and the Fool Killer: A Short Story, 1938
  • Tales Before Midnight: Collection of Short Stories, 1939
  • The Ballad of the Duke's Mercy, 1939
  • Elementals, 1940–41 (broadcast)
  • Freedom's Hard-Bought Thing, 1941 (broadcast)
  • Listen to the People, 1941
  • A Summons to the Free, 1941
  • Cheers for Miss Bishop, 1941 (screenplay with Adelaide Heilbron, Sheridan Gibney)
  • Selected Works, 1942 (2 vols.)
  • Short Stories, 1942
  • Nightmare at Noon: Short Poem, 1942 (in The Treasury Star Parade, ed. by William A. Bacher)
  • A Child is Born, 1942 (broadcast)
  • They Burned the Books, 1942
  • They Burned the Books, 1942 (broadcast)

These works were published posthumously:

  • Western Star, 1943 (unfinished)
  • Twenty Five Short Stories, 1943
  • America, 1944
  • O'Halloran's Luck and Other Short Stories, 1944
  • We Stand United, 1945 (radio scripts)
  • The Bishop's Beggar, 1946
  • The Last Circle, 1946
  • Selected Stories, 1947
  • From the Earth to the Moon, 1958
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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