Poet, fiction writer, playwright, lyricist, and librettist Kenward Elmslie was born on April 27, 1929, in New York, New York. His father, William, worked as a tutor for the Pulitzer family when he met Constance, the youngest daughter of Joseph Pulitzer, the famed newspaper publisher and founder of the Pulitzer Prizes. Elmslie was raised in Colorado Springs and Washington, D.C. He graduated from Harvard in 1950 with a BA in English.
Elmslie started his professional career in the performance arts, writing librettos for the Jack Beeson operas The Sweet Bye and Bye (1957) and Lizzie Borden (1965). During this period, he also published his first collection of poetry, Pavilions (Tibor de Nagy Editions), in 1961. As a lyricist, Elmslie wrote the book and lyrics for the Broadway musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel, The Grass Harp, which was staged in 1971. In the same decade, Elmslie served as editor for Z Press and its annual publication, Z magazine.
Elmslie, who was associated with the New York School of poets, released numerous volumes of poetry over subsequent decades, including Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems and Lyrics, 1960–1998 (Coffee House Press, 1998); Tropicalism (Z Press, 1975); and Motor Disturbance (The Frank O’Hara Foundation / Columbia University Press, 1971).
Kenward Elmslie died on June 29, 2022, at his home in Manhattan’s West Village.