Daughter of Daniel and Julia McGinley; married Charles L.Hayden, 1937
Beginning her career as a teacher in New Rochelle, New York, Phyllis McGinley wrote poetry in her spare time. Her success in publishing it in magazines enabled her to give up teaching. To keep going, she held various other positions, including poetry editor for Town and Country and copywriter for an advertising agency. According to an interview in Newsweek, she started writing in the style of Swinburne, but switched to light verse when she found out this was what the New Yorker wanted from her.
Faithful to the Eastern seaboard, although brought up in Colorado and Utah, she hymned New York to begin with and then, when she moved to Westchester County, the suburbs. In a volume of essays, The Province of the Heart (1959), she speaks out in favor of the Easterner and praises the village in which she lives for the way the neighbors love one another. A suburban housewife and mother was what she was and what she was happy to be.
Her first volume of verse, On the Contrary, was published in 1934. It contains mainly occasional verse—light comments on contemporary events. It was followed by One More Manhattan (1937), in which McGinley developed more of the tone we associate with her—light, astringent, and witty. There are times when McGinley comes close to Emily Dickinson, but she deliberately avoids total seriousness. A Pocketful of Wry (1940) contains a fair amount of political comment. In Husbands Are Difficult; or, The Book of Oliver Ames (1941), McGinley pokes fun at her husband, but her mockery is very mild and loving. In Stones from a Glass House (1946), she comments on the war but refuses to hate. The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley (1954) shows her improving and maturing, and won several awards.
McGinley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her volume of collected poetry, Times Three (1960), which was prefaced by W. H. Auden. The collection starts with the poems of the 1950s and works backward through the 1940s and 1930s. Some of the most charming poems are about saints and reformers, bearing testimony to her religious convictions as a Catholic but also to her moderation and warmhearted reasonableness. In a second volume of essays, Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964), McGinley writes of the trials and rewards of a wife and mother, a state which she accounted woman's most honorable profession.
A Wreath of Christmas Legends (1967) and Saint-Watching (1969) show her more deeply entrenched in the Catholic faith. In Saint-Watching, she deliberately brings out the human side of the saints, whom she treats as people endowed with a special form of genius; it is a delight to read and can be described without irony as heartwarming. McGinley also wrote a number of children's books, but these do not have the distinction of her writing for adults.
Staunchly traditional, McGinley believed in lifelong vows and in the special vocation of women to motherhood. She also believed in the reality of sin, but was sure it could be forgiven. For her, manners were morals. Her lightness of touch was always backed by an acute intelligence and the feeling that she had found her proper place. She was probably a happy woman.
Mary's Garden (1927). The Horse Who Lived Upstairs (1944). The Plain Princess (1945). All Around the Town (1948). A Name for Kitty (1948). The Most Wonderful Doll in the World (1950). Blunderbus (1951). The Horse Who Had His Picture in the Paper (1951). A Short Walk from the Station (1951). The Make-Believe Twins (1953). The Year Without a Santa Claus (1957). Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (1958). Lucy McLockett (1959). Sugar and Spice: The ABC of Being a Girl (1960). Mince Pie and Mistletoe (1961). The B Book (1962). Boys Are Awful (1962). A Girl and Her Room (1963). How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas (1963). Wonderful Time (1966). Wonders and Surprises (1968). Confessions of a Reluctant Optimist (1973).
CB (Nov. 1961). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). TCAS.
Commonweal (Dec. 1960). Newsweek (26 Sept. 1960). Saturday Review (10 Dec. 1960).
—BARBARA J. BUCKNALL