Wallace Stevens - A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive - A Biography by Alison Johnson
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Writing a biography of Wallace Stevens poses a formidable challenge. Stevens’s reticence and avoidance of public attention are legendary. When asked to supply a biographical sketch to accompany the publication of some of his poems, he simply wrote: “I am a lawyer and live in Hartford. But such facts are neither gay nor instructive.” He declined interviews with Life and The New Yorker and, upon winning the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1950, gave a one-word response to a reporter’s request for a comment: “Hurrah.” Such elusiveness makes Alison Johnson’s biography of him all the more impressive.

Johnson has scoured numerous sources—school records, journals and letters (both published and unpublished), firsthand accounts by others, scholarly criticism, as well as Stevens’s own poetry and prose—to fashion an engaging and comprehensive portrait of Stevens as a family man, as a businessman, and as a poet. Unusual for a biography, Johnson includes a number of Stevens’s well-known poems (to the delight of the reader) and a number of poems that Stevens suppressed. These latter poems she probes for what they reveal about Stevens’s private life, especially about his strained marriage.

Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive will reward both the well-seasoned aficionado and the novice. Those familiar with Stevens’s life will enjoy the fine synthesis that Johnson presents as well as be challenged by some of her provocative analyses. Those unfamiliar with Stevens’s life now have a compact and lively narrative of one of the most significant, yet mysterious, poets of the twentieth century.

Past editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal and
editor of The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens and Wallace Stevens: Selected Poems