William Rose Benét

1886 –

William Rose Bénet was a poet, editor, critic, anthologist, translator, and children’s book author. He was born on February 2, 1886, in Fort Hamilton, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, to Colonel James Walker Bénet and Frances Neill Rose. He was raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bénet was the elder brother of Stephen Vincent Bénet, best known for his epic poem “John Brown’s Body,” which won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Bénet’s younger sister, Laura, was also a poet. He was educated at Albany Academy, a military academy, with the intention of following his father’s career path. Instead of then enrolling at West Point, as he had originally intended, he attended Yale University, where he studied at the Sheffield Scientific School and graduated in 1907.

Bénet wrote, edited, and collaborated on more than thirty books between 1915 and 1950. He was best known for his column “The Phoenix Nest,” published in the Saturday Review of Literature from 1924 to 1950. His poetry collections include Wild Goslings (G. H. Duran Company, 1927); The First Person Singular (G. H. Duran Company, 1922.); Merchants from Cathay (Yale University Press, 1919); and The Great White Wall (Yale University Press, 1916). He won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1942 for his semi-autobiographical collection in verse The Dust Which Is God (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1941). He edited the four-volume reference book The Reader’s Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia of World Literature and the Arts (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1948); coedited Anthology of Famous English and American Poetry (Random House, 1944) with Conrad Aiken; and coedited The Oxford Anthology of American Literature (Oxford University Press, 1938) with Norman Holmes Pearson.

Bénet started his career as an office assistant after moving to New York City in 1911. He worked as an assistant editor from 1914 to 1918 then left his post to volunteer for service during the First World War. He cofounded the Saturday Review of Literature in 1924 with Henry Seidel Canby and the editor and publisher Amy Loveman. Bénet served as editor of the Review until his death. 

Bénet died in New York City on May 4, 1950.