William Stafford

1914 –

William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914. He received a BA and an MA from the University of Kansas 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 in My Heart (Brethren Publishing House, 1947). 

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 1979. 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 Stafford’s 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). His posthumous collection, The Way It Is (Graywolf Press), was released in 1999.

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 Stafford’s 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. From 1970 to 1971, he was the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a position currently known as U.S. poet laureate.

William Stafford died at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on August 28, 1993.