Howes, Barbara (1914–1996)

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Howes, Barbara (1914–1996)

American poet, editor, and author. Born on May 1, 1914, in New York City; died in Bennington, Vermont, on February 24, 1996; daughter of Osborne Howes and Mildred (Cox) Howes; Bennington College, B.A., 1937; married William Jay Smith (a poet) in 1947 (divorced 1965); children: two sons, Gregory and David.

Selected works:

The Undersea Farmer (1948); In the Cold Country: Poems (1954); Light and Dark: Poems (1959); (editor) 23 Modern Stories (1961); (editor) From the Green Antilles: Writings of the Caribbean (1966); Looking Up at Leaves (1966); (editor with G.J. Smith) The Sea-Green Horse: Short Stories for Young People (1970); The Blue Garden (1972); (editor) The Eye of the Heart: Stories from Latin America (1973); A Private Signal: Poems New and Selected (1977); The Road Commissioner and Other Stories (1988); Collected Poems, 1940–1990 (1998).

At the time of her death in February 1996, poet, author, and editor Barbara Howes was a friend to many in the literary community; she was also an impressive contributor. Referring to poetry as "a way of life, not just an avocation," Howes viewed it as a practice in which "one orders and deepens one's experience, and learns to understand what is happening in oneself and in others."

Barbara Howes was born in Bennington, Vermont, in 1914. She graduated from Bennington College in 1937, after which she briefly worked for the Farmers Union in Mississippi before moving to New York and beginning her literary career. From 1943 to 1947, she was an editor of the literary quarterly Chimera, which introduced Americans to writers from abroad. In 1947, she married poet William Jay Smith and moved with him to Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. The couple had two sons and lived in Italy, France, and Haiti before divorcing in 1965. Howes then moved to a farm in Pownal, Vermont, where she resided for the remainder of her life.

In addition to writing poetry, Howes edited two highly regarded anthologies of Latin American writers, and also published several collections of short stories, including one for children, The Sea-Green Horse. She drew her inspiration from everyday life. "As it turns out, I seem to write about things I see," she wrote, "my children, my friends, my attachment, our animals, the view from any window, in no special order or arrangement." In her essay in Poets on Poetry, Howes expressed her distrust of "the snarling little ego," and her aversion to writers who "give in to violence and spite." Unlike many contemporary poets, her work is restrained and traditional in form. According to Alberta Turner , in American Women Writers, Howes' most recurring theme is "that unrestricted emotion blinds and imprisons if allowed to dominate either life or art."

Barbara Howes was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship and two nominations for the National Book Award, one of which was announced just a year before her death for her Collected Poems, 1940–1990.


Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers: From Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Meek, Jocelyn. "Obituaries," in The Boston Globe. February 26, 1996.


Barbara Howes' papers are housed at the Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Howes, Barbara (1914–1996)

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