(Arthur) Yvor Winters was born in Chicago on October 17, 1900. While studying at the University of Chicago he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and decided to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the sake of his health. His early poems, published in 1921 and 1922, were all written at a tuberculosis sanitarium. He enrolled at the University of Colorado in 1925, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1926, he married the poet and novelist Janet Lewis. He spent two years teaching at the University of Idaho in Moscow before entering Stanford University as a graduate student, receiving his PhD in 1934. From 1928 until his death, he was a member of Stanford’s English department.
His books of poetry include The Early Poems of Yvor Winters, 1920–1928 (Swallow Press, 1966); Collected Poems (1952; revised edition, 1960), winner of the Bollingen Prize; Poems (Gyroscope Press, 1940); Before Disaster (Tryon Pamphlets, 1934); The Proof (Coward-McCann, Inc., 1930); and The Immobile Wind (M. Wheeler, 1921). In Defense of Reason (Swallow Press, 1947), Winters’s major critical work, is a collection of three earlier studies: The Anatomy of Nonsense (New Directions, 1943); Maule’s Curse (New Directions, 1938); and Primitivism and Decadence (Arrow Editions, 1937).
Winters was also a prolific and controversial critic who believed that a work of art should be “an act of moral judgement” and attacked such literary icons as T. S. Eliot and Henry James. The chair of the Stanford English department notoriously denounced Winters as a “disgrace to the department.”
Winters’s honors include a National Institute of Arts and Letters award as well as grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He died on January 25, 1968 in Palo Alto, California.