Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happy birthday, Archibald MacLeish

It is the birthday of writer Archibald MacLeish (1892), who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, for his collection Conquistador (1933), and for his collection Collected Poems 1917-1952 (1953) and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1959 for his free-verse play J.B., a modern version of the biblical story of Job. JB also won a Tony Award for best play. MacLeish was greatly influenced by poets Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, and is considered a traditional modernist. His best-known poem is Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry). It includes a line that states the modernist poetic philosophy: "A poem should not mean/but be." As a young man, MacLeish left the law firm he worked for and went to Paris in 1923, joining literary and artistic expatriates such as John Dos Passos, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, John O'Hara, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway. President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him Librarian of Congress in 1939. He reorganized the library, making it more efficient and enabling it to meet the needs of the nation. He expanded the library's budget and helped focus its mission to collect materials expressing the life an achievements of the people of the United States. During the 1940s and 1950s, he was the target of such anti-Communists as Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. To detractors he said, "No one would be more shocked to learn I am a Communist than the Communists themselves."

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