Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters (August 23, 1868 – March 5, 1950) was an American attorney, poet, biographer, and dramatist. He is the author of Spoon River Anthology, The New Star Chamber and Other Essays, Songs and Satires, The Great Valley, The Serpent in the Wilderness, An Obscure Tale, The Spleen, Mark Twain: A Portrait, Lincoln: The Man, and Illinois Poems. In all, Masters published twelve plays, twenty-one books of poetry, six novels and six biographies, including those of Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Vachel Lindsay, and Walt Whitman.

Edgar Lee Masters
Masters as a young man
Masters as a young man
BornAugust 23, 1868
Garnett, Kansas, U.S.[1]
DiedMarch 5, 1950 (aged 81)
Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.[1]
OccupationPoet, biographer, lawyer
Notable awardsRobert Frost Medal (1942)

Life and career

Born in Garnett, Kansas, to attorney Hardin Wallace Masters and Emma J. Dexter,[2] his father had briefly moved to set up a law practice, then soon moved back to his paternal grandparents' farm near Petersburg in Menard County, Illinois. In 1880 they moved to Lewistown, Illinois, where he attended high school and had his first publication in the Chicago Daily News. The culture around Lewistown, in addition to the town's cemetery at Oak Hill and the nearby Spoon River, were the inspirations for many of his works, most notably Spoon River Anthology, his most famous and acclaimed work.[3]

He attended Knox Academy in 1889–90, a now defunct preparatory program run by Knox College, but was forced to leave due to his family's inability to finance his education.[1]

After working in his father's law office, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and moved to Chicago, where he established a law partnership in 1893 with the law firm of Kickham Scanlan. He married twice. In 1898 he married Helen M. Jenkins, the daughter of Robert Edwin Jenkins, a lawyer in Chicago, and had three children. During his law partnership with Clarence Darrow from 1903 to 1908, Masters defended the poor. In 1911 he started his own law firm, despite three years of unrest (1908–11) caused by extramarital affairs and an argument with Darrow.

Two of his children followed him with literary careers. His daughter Marcia pursued poetry, while his son Hilary Masters became a novelist. Hilary and his half-brother Hardin wrote a memoir of their father.[4]

Masters died at a nursing home on March 5, 1950, in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, age 81.[5] He is buried in Oakland cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois. His epitaph includes his poem, "To-morrow is My Birthday" from Toward the Gulf (1918):

Good friends, let's to the fields…
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think I'll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep-
Let's walk, and hear the lark.

Family history

Edgar's father was Hardin Wallace Masters, whose father was Squire Davis Masters, whose father was Thomas Masters, whose father was Hillery Masters, the son of Robert Masters (born c. 1715, Prince George's County, Maryland, the son of William W. Masters and wife Mary Veatch Masters). Edgar Lee Masters wrote in his autobiography, Across Spoon River (1936), that his ancestor Hillery Masters was the son of "Knotteley" Masters, but family genealogies show that Hillery and Notley Masters were, in fact, brothers.[6][7]


Masters first published his early poems and essays under the pseudonym Dexter Wallace (after his mother's maiden name and his father's middle name) until the year 1903, when he joined the law firm of Clarence Darrow. Masters began developing as a notable American poet in 1914, when he began a series of poems (this time under the pseudonym Webster Ford) about his childhood experiences in Western Illinois, which appeared in Reedy's Mirror, a St. Louis publication.

In 1915 the series was bound into a volume and re-titled Spoon River Anthology. Years later, he wrote a memorable and invaluable account of the book's background and genesis, his working methods and influences, as well as its reception by the critics, favorable and hostile, in an autobiographical article notable for its human warmth and general interest.[8]

Although he never matched the success of his Spoon River Anthology, he did publish several other volumes of poems including Book of Verses in 1898, Songs and Sonnets in 1910, The Great Valley in 1916, Song and Satires in 1916, The Open Sea in 1921, The New Spoon River in 1924, Lee in 1926, Jack Kelso in 1928, Lichee Nuts in 1930, Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma in 1930, Godbey, sequel to Jack Kelso in 1931, The Serpent in the Wilderness in 1933, Richmond in 1934, Invisible Landscapes in 1935, The Golden Fleece of California in 1936, Poems of People in 1936, The New World in 1937, More People in 1939, Illinois Poems in 1941, and Along the Illinois in 1942.

Notable works




  • The New Star Chamber and Other Essays (1904)
  • The Blood of the Prophets (1905) (play)
  • Althea (1907) (play)
  • The Trifler (1908) (play)
  • Mitch Miller (novel) (1920)
  • Skeeters Kirby (novel) (1923)
  • The Nuptial Flight (novel) (1923)
  • Kit O'Brien (novel) (1927)
  • The Fate of the Jury: An Epilogue to Domesday Book (1929)
  • Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma: Three Plays (1930)
  • The Tale of Chicago (1933)
  • The Tide of Time (novel) (1937)
  • The Sangamon (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1942, 1988)

Awards and honors

Usstamp-edgar lee masters
Undated postal stamp

Masters was awarded the Mark Twain Silver Medal in 1936, the Poetry Society of America medal in 1941, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1942, and the Shelly Memorial Award in 1944. In 2014, he was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "Edgar Lee Masters profile, ibid". Poets.org. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  2. ^ Profile, illinois.edu. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  3. ^ Profile, bartleby.com. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  4. ^ "Jack Masters profile". Jackmasters.net. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  5. ^ Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: p. 206; ISBN 0-19-503186-5
  6. ^ The Masters Family, findagrave.com. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  7. ^ Charles Burgess, "The Maryland-Carolina Ancestry of Edgar Lee Masters", The Great Lakes Review, vol. 8, No. 2 (Fall 1982-Spring 1983), pp. 51–80.
  8. ^ Edgar Lee Masters, "The Genesis of Spoon River", American Mercury, v. 28, no. 109 (January 1933), pp. 38–55.Masters on the Genesis of Spoon River, unz.org. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  9. ^ "Edgar Lee Masters (1869–1950) Papers, ca. 1927". Findingaids.library.northwestern.edu. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  10. ^ Chicago Literary Hall of Fame website. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

External links

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Elegies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a song cycle with music by Janet Hood and lyrics and additional text by Bill Russell. The work features songs and monologues inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. Each of the monologues is written from the perspective of characters who've died from AIDS and the songs represent the feelings of friends and family members dealing with the loss.

The piece was developed in the late 1980s and was originally titled "The Quilt." It was produced first at the Ohio Theatre in Soho in NYC in 1989, where the new title was adopted, and then again Off-off-Broadway in Manhattan's East Village in February 1990. In 1992, it was produced at the King's Head Theatre in London, where it played for several months. In June 1993, the production was transferred to the Criterion Theatre in London's West End, where it played until July of the same year. The London cast included Miquel Brown, Kim Criswell, Kwame Kwei-Armah, James Dreyfus, Simon Fanshawe and legendary drag queen Regina Fong.

In addition to the New York and London productions of the piece, there have been professional productions in Australia, Germany and Israel, among other countries.

Fernanda Pivano

Fernanda Pivano (18 July 1917 – 18 August 2009) was an Italian writer, journalist, translator and critic.

Gertrude Harris Boatwright Claytor

Gertrude Harris Boatwright Claytor (October 1, 1888 – August 21, 1973) was an American poet.

Born in Staunton, Virginia, she later moved with her family to Roanoke, Virginia, where she was privately educated. In 1908 she married William Graham Claytor (1886–1971), an engineer at the Roanoke Railway and Electric Company (later known as Appalachian Electric Power Company). Their five sons included William Graham Claytor Jr. (1912–1994), who was secretary of the navy from 1977 to 1979, deputy secretary of defense, acting secretary of transportation, and president of Southern Railway and of Amtrak, and Robert Buckner Claytor, president of the Norfolk and Western Railway Company and chief executive officer of the Norfolk Southern Corporation.

Late in the 1920s Claytor began publishing poetry in such periodicals as the Carolina Quarterly, Florida Magazine of Verse, Georgia Review, New York Times, Prairie Schooner, and Saturday Review of Literature. She also published two collections, Sunday in Virginia and Other Poems (1951) and Mirage at Midnight and Other Poems (1960).

A close friend of Edgar Lee Masters, author of Spoon River Anthology (1915), Claytor presented her collection of signed first editions, letters, manuscript poems, and other materials that Masters had given her to Princeton University.For a number of years the Poetry Society of America offered a Gertrude B. Claytor Prize.

Grace Spaulding John

Grace Spaulding John, (1890 – 1972), American painter, author and lecturer born in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her early years were spent in Vermont, and around the age of thirteen she moved with her family to Texas.

She studied at the St Louis School of Fine Art, at the National Academy of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the Art Students League, variously with Charles Webster Hawthorne, Daniel Garber, Fred Weber and with Emil Bisttram in Taos.“A fine portrait painter, she executed over a hundred and twenty-five portraits, all done from life, among them Thomas Mann, Edgar Lee Masters, and Oveta Culp Hobby dressed in her uniform as first commander of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps which is now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.. During her career, she had twenty-seven one-man shows.”John is the author of the books “Memo: Verses with Drawings by the Author”, “The Living Line: Drawings and Verses.” (1962), “The Knotless Thread” (1970), “One-Plus One_Plus One (1972) and is the illustrator of “Azalea Commemorating Its Twentieth Annual Azalea Trail Houston” (1955).

Grace Spaulding John's papers can be found at the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Hilary Masters

Hilary Masters (February 3, 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri – June 14, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) was an American novelist, the son of poet Edgar Lee Masters, and Ellen Frances Coyne Masters. He attended Davidson College from 1944–1946, then served in the U.S. Navy from 1946 to 1947 as a naval correspondent. He completed his BA at Brown University in 1952.Masters began his writing career after graduation in New York City with Bennett & Pleasant, press agents for concert and dance artists. Next he worked independently as a theatrical press agent for Off Broadway and summer theaters from 1953 to 1956. He then moved into journalism with the Hyde Park Record, in Hyde Park, New York from 1956 to 1959. In the 1960s he was a Democratic candidate for New York's 100th Assembly District. He also worked as a freelance photographer for Image Bank and exhibits.

He taught writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Drake University, Clark University, Ohio University, and the University of Denver. From 1983 until his death 32 years later he served as Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.Masters married Polly Jo McCulloch in 1955 (divorced, 1986); they had three children. In 1994 he married the writer Kathleen George. Masters resided in Pittsburgh's Mexican War Streets and died at home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Lewistown, Illinois

Lewistown is a city in Fulton County, Illinois, United States. It was named by its founder, Ossian M. Ross, after his oldest son, Lewis W. Ross. The population was 2,384 at the 2010 census, down from 2,522 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Fulton County. Located in central Illinois, it is southwest of Peoria. It is the source of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, who lived there. Native American burial mounds are nearby at Dickson Mounds off Illinois Route 97.

Mary Alice Young

Mary Alice Young (previously Angela Forrest) is a fictional character from the ABC television series Desperate Housewives. The character was created by television producer and screenwriter Marc Cherry and is portrayed by Brenda Strong, who also serves as the narrator of the series from beyond the grave; the character's suicide in the pilot episode served as the catalyst of the series. The narration provided by Mary Alice is essential to the tale of Wisteria Lane, as the series revolves around her sharing the secrets of her friends and neighbors. Her narration technique is akin in style to Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915).Mary Alice is considered the most mysterious of the housewives as only parts of her story are known. A loving, doting wife and mother who was generous to her family and neighbours, she was the last person any of them expected to commit suicide. In death, Mary Alice sees things she would not have seen when she was alive: her friends' vulnerabilities, lies, and secrets. She does not judge them so much as love them more because of their foibles, pitying them for the ways they manipulate and hurt those they care about most.

Although deceased since the pilot episode, Mary Alice continued to have a leading storyline throughout the first and second seasons of the series, with the story being led by her husband Paul Young (Mark Moses) and son Zach (Cody Kasch). Thereafter, Strong continued to make sporadic appearances as Mary Alice in flashbacks, dreams and as a ghost to other characters

while narrating almost every episode of the series. Strong was the subject of acclaim for both her portrayal and narration as the character, with some critics describing her voice as one of the most recognizable on television at the end of the series. She was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for her narration as Mary Alice and received two Screen Actors Guild Awards as a cast member of Desperate Housewives.

Non al denaro non all'amore né al cielo

Non al denaro non all'amore né al cielo (Neither to money, nor to love, nor to Heaven) is an album released by Fabrizio De André. It was issued in 1971 by Produttori Associati and reissued several times by Ricordi and BMG. It is a concept album based on the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. The co-author of the music is composer Nicola Piovani, who later won an Academy Award for his soundtrack for Roberto Benigni's Life is beautiful. The title itself is a quotation from the first poem in the Spoon River Anthology, The Hill:

Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,

Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?

Oak Hill Cemetery (Lewistown, Illinois)

Oak Hill Cemetery is located in the city of Lewistown, Fulton County, in west central Illinois. It lies along Illinois Route 97 and 100 in the 1000 block of North Main Street. The south part of the cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Premio Fernanda Pivano

The Fernanda Pivano Award for American Literature is an Italian literary award for American authors. It is named in honor of Fernanda Pivano.

The Fernanda Pivano Award represents the work of spreading American literature that Pivano undertook in Italy. The beginning of her literary journey dates back to 1943, with the publication of the first translation of the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.

Since 2009, the Award took over the specific objective of promoting the works of American writers in Italy.

Reedy's Mirror

Reedy's Mirror was a literary journal in St. Louis, Missouri in the fin de siècle era. It billed itself "The Mid-West Weekly."Contributors included Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Ezra Pound, Vachel Lindsay, Harris Merton Lyon, Sara Teasdale, Albert Bloch and Theodore Dreiser.Edgar Lee Masters first published parts of his Spoon River Anthology over the course of 1914.

Sheldon Dick

Sheldon Dick (1906–1950) was an American publisher, literary agent, photographer, and filmmaker. He was a member of a wealthy and well-connected industrialist family, and was able to support himself while funding a series of literary and artistic endeavors. He published a book by poet Edgar Lee Masters, and made a documentary about mining that has been of interest to scholars. Dick is best known for the photographs he took on behalf of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, and for the violent circumstances of his death.

Spoon River

The Spoon River is a 147-mile-long (237 km) tributary of the Illinois River in west-central Illinois in the United States. The river drains largely agricultural prairie country between Peoria and Galesburg. The river is noted for giving its name to the fictional Illinois town in the 1916 poetry work Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, who was from Lewistown, which is near the river.

The river rises in two short forks, the West Fork near Kewanee in southern Henry County, and the East Fork in Neponset Township in southwest Bureau County. The East and West forks join in northern Stark County, approximately 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Kewanee, and the combined stream meanders south and southwest through rural Stark, Knox and Fulton counties. The lower portion of the river passes through a scenic region of hills in Fulton County, and passes approximately 5 miles (8 km) southwest of Lewistown. The river joins the Illinois from the west opposite Havana, approximately 40 miles (64 km) downstream and southwest of Peoria.

The Rock Island Trail passes over the Spoon River 1.75 miles (2.82 km) northwest of Wyoming, Illinois.

Spoon River Anthology

Spoon River Anthology (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of short free verse poems that collectively narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional small town named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters' home town of Lewistown, Illinois. The aim of the poems is to demystify rural and small town American life. The collection includes 212 separate characters, in all providing 244 accounts of their lives, losses, and manner of death. Many of the poems contain cross-references that create an unabashed tapestry of the community. The poems were originally published in the St. Louis, Missouri literary journal Reedy's Mirror.

Spoon River Poetry Review

Spoon River Poetry Review is a literary journal of poetry based in Illinois, USA. It was first published 1976 as Spoon River Quarterly through the Spoon River Press at Western Illinois University. After two years, both the press and the journal moved from Macomb, Illinois, to Peoria. The journal's name was not based on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, but was coined for an actual river in central Illinois which is believed to be named after the local freshwater mussel shells that the region’s early Native Americans and colonists used as spoons. Renamed Spoon River Poetry Review (SRPR) in 1993, the periodical is one of America’s oldest continuously published literary journals.

Its original editor was its founder David Pichaske, who moved to Minnesota in 1987 along with the related Spoon River Poetry Press, since when, the journal has been edited by Lucia Getsi at Illinois State University, by Bruce Guernsey at Eastern Illinois University, and then by Kirstin Hotelling Zona, at Illinois State. The journal publishes poems written in English or in English translation, and each issue features a poet who has an Illinois connection, as well as other poems from across the globe.

Thomas Thackeray Swinburne

Thomas Thackeray Swinburne (April 21, 1865 – December 17, 1926) was an American poet from Rochester, New York. He has been called "Rochester's poet laureate" He wrote a number of books of verse which he printed himself; one of these—By the Genesee: Rhymes and Verses—contains a version of the poem which, set to music by Herve D. Wilkins, has become the alma mater of the University of Rochester – The Genesee.Swinburne attended the University of Rochester as a member of the class of 1892, but never graduated. He was a member of Theta Delta Chi fraternity.One critic compared Swinburne and Rochester in Song and Verse to Edgar Lee Masters and his Spoon River Anthology.In 1926, distraught over the death of his sister Rose, to whom he had dedicated By the Genesee and Rochester in Song and Verse, he committed suicide by jumping from a bridge into the Genesee River.The University of Rochester and the Rochester community honored Swinburne with a memorial, Swinburne Rock, placed "beside the Genesee" near the University's Interfaith Chapel. The memorial, proposed in 1927 and dedicated in 1933, is a 26 ton glacial boulder holding a bronze plaque with verses from The Genesee sculpted by Alphonse A. Kolb.

Way and Williams Publishers

Way and Williams, Publishers was officially established in 1895 by , a former railroad executive, and Chauncey L. Williams, a former advertiser. The firm was preceded by W. Irving Way and Company, a small publishing-bookselling company begun by Way in 1892. The new firm designated itself "Way and Williams, Publishers, Importers, and Booksellers."

Way and Williams joined fifty-three other publishing firms in Chicago, but were determined to be unique. They shared a vision of producing finely printed books in limited editions. Although the firm lasted only three years, from 1895 to 1898, and produced only sixty-six books, many of its titles are visually impressive and represent the work of some of the major artists and book designers of the period. There was a heavy emphasis on British imports among the earlier titles, but gradually the emphasis shifted to American writers; and many prominent authors saw their books come to life with a Way and Williams imprint.

The firm published both well-known and relatively obscure authors, many of them from the Chicago literary scene. Among the better-known writers represented by the firm were Kate Chopin, Charles Fletcher Lummis, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Allen White, Octave Thanet (Alice French), Edgar Lee Masters, and L. Frank Baum; and their works were often shown to advantage by the artistic input of Bruce Rogers, Maxfield Parrish, Will Bradley, and Frank Hazenplug, among others.

In December 1896, Chauncey Williams became the sole owner of the firm, although the name of Way and Williams remained. Irving Way subsequently reestablished his old firm, W. Irving Way, Publisher and Seller of Books. The firm closed in 1898.

William Marion Reedy

William Marion Reedy (1862–1920) was a St. Louis-based editor best known for his promotion of the poets Sara Teasdale, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg to the audience of his newspaper, Reedy's Mirror. Politically, Reedy was a liberal Democrat and advocated Georgist economics.Reedy was born in 1862. He spent his childhood in Kerry Patch and later attended St. Louis University. He began his career as a writer’s assistant at the Missouri Republican. He then worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat before starting his acclaimed tenure at the Mirror in 1893. He became owner of the Mirror, where he published the work of up-and-coming poets like Sandburg, Teasdale and Masters. Reedy had an eye for talented new writers, often publishing writers before they gained widespread recognition. He published Edgar Lee Masters' poetry in 1914, work that later formed the Spoon River Anthology. The poet and editor, Orrick Johns, wrote in Time of Our Lives that "Reedy was the only figure to give St. Louis a literary character in the eyes of the rest of the country between 1900 and 1920.Reedy died unexpectedly in 1920.

William Taylor Davidson

William Taylor Davidson (February 8, 1837 – January 3, 1915) was the owner and editor of the Fulton Democrat newspaper from 1858 to 1915. He was a staunch supporter of Stephen A. Douglas and a strong advocate for the views of the Peace Democrats or Copperheads during the American Civil War.

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