Born in Providence, Rhode Island on February 1, 1927 to Irish immigrant parents, Galway Kinnell said that his readings as a youth of Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson inspired him to embrace poetry. Galway, a self-described introvert, was drawn to both by the musical appeal of their poetry and the idea that they led solitary lives. The allure of the language spoke to what he describes as the “homogeneous feel of his hometown, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.” Kinnell studied at Princeton University, graduating in 1948. He received his master of arts degree from the University of Rochester, after which he traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East, and went to Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. During the 1960s, the American Civil Rights Movement caught his attention. Upon returning to this country he joined the Congress of Racial Equality and worked on voter registration and workplace integration in Hammond, Louisiana. This effort got him arrested. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, voting to withhold federal tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. Kinnell draws upon both his involvement the civil rights movement and his experiences protesting against the Vietnam War in his lengthy poem The Book of N’ight’mares. After teaching at several universities in America and abroad, Kinnell found an academic home at New York University where he became the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing. He also gained election as a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets and the designation of poet laureate of Vermont (1989- 1993) where he maintained a summer home. While much of Kinnells work seems to deal with social issues, it is by no means confined to one subject. Some critics have pointed to the spiritual dimensions of his poetry as well as the nature imagery present throughout his work. In addition to his 12 books of poetry and his translations of poems, Kinnell published one novel (Black Light, 1966) and one childrens book. The highlight of Galways career came with the publication of his Selected Poems in 1982. That volume won both the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and the National Book Award. Those honors were followed by the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, known as a “Genius Grant” given to those who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” As Tom Chandler, an English professor at Bryant University and a former Rhode Island poet laureate, observed in 2001: “Kinnell has never forgotten his Rhode Island roots, and often returns for the awarding of the Galway Kinnell Prize, sponsored by the Pawtucket Arts Council.” Pawtucket also remembered Kinnell by electing him to its Hall of Fame. Today we do likewise. Kinnell died from leukemia on October 28, 2014 at his retirement home in Shef^eld, Vermont at the age of 87. Eulogies praised him as one of the great American poets of the 20th century.
Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame
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