William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914. He received a BA and an MA from the University of Kansas at Lawrence and, in 1954, a PhD from the University of Iowa. During the Second World War, Stafford was a conscientious objector and worked in the civilian public service camps—an experience he recorded in the prose memoir Down My Heart (1947). He married Dorothy Hope Frantz in 1944; they had four children.
In 1948, Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. Though he traveled and read his work widely, he taught at Lewis and Clark until his retirement in 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark (Harper & Row, 1962), was published when Stafford was forty-eight. It won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (a position currently known as the poet laureate).
Stafford’s poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost’s, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination. James Dickey, writing in his book Babel to Byzantium, notes that Stafford’s “natural mode of speech is a gentle, mystical, half-mocking and highly personal daydreaming about the western United States.” Among his best-known books are An Oregon Message (Perennial Library, 1987); Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation (University of Michigan Press, 1977); Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (Harper & Row, 1977); and The Rescued Year (Harper & Row, 1966).
William Stafford died at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on August 28, 1993.