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Edgar Lee Masters Biography

(?1868–1950), A Book of Verse, Maximilian, Spoon River Anthology, The New Spoon River

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Harriet Martineau Biography to John McTaggart (John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart) Biography

American poet, novelist, and biographer, born in Garnett, Kansas; he grew up in a remote part of Illinois, conceiving the dislike for rural American culture which informs much of his poetry. From 1891 to 1920 he was a partner in a successful Chicago legal practice, after which he devoted himself to writing. He published eleven books, which include A Book of Verse (1898) and the blank-verse drama Maximilian (1902), before the appearance of his most celebrated work, Spoon River Anthology, in 1915. The collection consists of 214 short dramatic poems in free verse spoken by deceased inhabitants of Spoon River, an imaginary small town in Illinois. The malevolence, greed, and violence revealed in the poems stood in direct contrast to the conventions of piety dominating early twentieth-century literature of rural America. An underlying moral seriousness and compassion for victims of misfortune lent conviction to the poetry's indictments of pettiness and corruption. The less successful The New Spoon River (1924) transferred his critique of American society to the degeneration of urban values. Among his many subsequent volumes of poetry are The Fate of the Jury (1929), The New World (1936), and Poems of the People (1937). He produced several novels based on memories of his youth, which include Mitch Miller (1920) and Skeeters Kirby (1923). His iconoclastic Lincoln, the Man (1930) was followed by biographies of Vachel Lindsay (1935), Walt Whitman (1937), and Mark Twain (1938). Across Spoon River (1936) is his autobiography.

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