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Louis Aston Marantz Simpson

Louis Aston Marantz Simpson

American poet, critic, and educator Louis Aston Marantz Simpson (born 1923) was widely recognized for the elegance of his verse.

Louis Simpson was born on March 27, 1923, in Kingston, Jamaica, in the British West Indies, the son of Aston and Rosalind (Marantz) Simpson. In 1949 he married Jeanne Rogers, but was divorced in 1953. He married for the second time to Dorothy Roochvarg in 1955, but was divorced in 1979. The son of his first marriage is Matthew Simpson; the children of his second marriage are Anne Simpson and Anthony Simpson.

He came to the United States in 1940 and in World War II served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. He was promoted to sergeant; was awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster; was twice awarded the Purple Star; and, as a member of his unit, received a Presidential Citation. Educated after the war at Columbia University, New York City, he earned his B.S. degree in 1948, M.A. in 1950, and Ph.D. in 1959.

Upon completion of the M.A. degree in 1950. He served as editor with the Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Company in New York City until 1955. He served as instructor in English at Columbia University from 1955 to 1959; assistant and full professor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1959-1967; and as professor of English and comparative literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1967 to the 1990s.

In 1957 he received a fellowship in literature (Prix de Rome) at the American Academy in Rome; the Hudson Review fellowship in 1957; the Columbia University distinguished alumni award in 1960; the Columbia University medal of excellence in 1965; the Edna St. Vincent Millay Award in 1960; a Guggenheim fellowship in both 1962 and 1970; an American Council of Learned Societies grant in 1963; the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1964; the American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature in 1976; and the D.H.L. from Eastern Michigan University in 1977.

His publications include The Arrivistes: Poems, 1940-1949 (1949); Good News of Death and Other Poems (1955); editor, with Donald Halland Robert Pack, of New Poets of England and America (1957); a book of poems, A Dream of Governors (1959); the novel Riverside Drive (1962); James Hogg: A Critical Study (1962, 1977); another volume of poems, At the End of the Open Road (1963); Selected Poems (1965); Adventures of the Letter I (poems; 1972); North of Jamaica (autobiography; 1972, published in England as Air with Armed Men, 1972); Three on the Tower: The Lives and Works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams (1975); Searching for the Ox (poems; 1976); and A Revolution in Taste: Studies of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell (1978). He also contributed poems, plays, and articles to literary periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Listener, Hudson Review, Paris Review, and Critical Quarterly, and poems to Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes, editors, Five American Poets (1963).

Drawing subject matter from modern life and time, Simpson was a traditionalist in verse. Turning to modern suburban life in The Best Hour of the Night, he recognized the realities of modern living without embarrassment but with poetic transcendence. His Collected Poems draw from as wide and varied a human experience as his lifetime attests; the range and scope provide a panorama of the century.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Simpson continued major contributions to poetry and literature with: An Introduction to Poetry (1986); The Character of the Poet (1986); and In the Room We Share (1990). Two of his best works Ships Going into the Blue (1994) and The King My Father's Wreck (1995) were collections of autobiographical essays and memoirs. Ships Going into the Blue provides an account of the Poetry Center at Stoney Brook University that he founded and directed.

Further Reading

Additional information on Louis Simpson and his work can be found in C. B. Cox, "The Poetry of Louis Simpson," Critical Quarterly 8 (Spring 1966); John Brennin and Bill Read, Twentieth Century Poetry: American and British (1900-1970), (1970), and Ronald Moran, "Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain and the American Illusion," CP, 2 (Spring 1969). Hank Lazer provides an informative review of Simpson's life and works in On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, University of Michigan Press, 1988. □

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Simpson, Louis

Louis Simpson, 1923–2012, American poet, b. Kingston, Jamaica, grad. Columbia (B.S., 1948; Ph.D., 1959). He was an infantryman in World War II, and was a professor at the Univ. of California at Berkeley in the 1950s and 60s. From 1967 to the 1990s he taught at the State Univ. of New York, Stony Brook. Using experience—frequently drawn from his childhood in Jamaica in his earlier work and later reflecting ordinary daily American life—Simpson wrote finely crafted poems that are often witty, rueful, and grave. His volumes of poetry include The Arrivistes: Poems 1940–48 (1949), At the End of the Open Road (1963; Pulitzer Prize), North of Jamaica (1972), Searching for the Ox (1976), The Best Hour of the Night (1983), People Live Here: Selected Poems 1949–1983 (1984), and The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems, 1940–2001 (2003). He also wrote literary criticism, notably Three on the Tower (1975).

See his Selected Prose (1989); study by H. Lazer, ed. (1988).

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