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Léonie Adams

Léonie Adams
Born Léonie Fuller
(1899-12-09)9 December 1899
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died 27 June 1988(1988-06-27) (aged 88)
New Milford, Connecticut, USA
Occupation Poet
Nationality United States
Alma mater Barnard College

Léonie Fuller Adams (9 December 1899 – 27 June 1988)[1] was an American poet. She was appointed the seventh Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1948.[2]


Adams was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in an unusually strict environment. She was not allowed on the subway until she was eighteen, and even then her father accompanied her.[3] She studied at Barnard College where she was a contemporary and friend of roommate Margaret Mead. While still an undergraduate, she showed remarkable skill as a poet, and at this time her poems began to be published.[4] In 1924, she became the editor of The Measure.

Her first volume of poetry, titled Those Not Elect, was in 1925.

In the spring of 1928, she had a brief affair with Edmund Wilson. Léonie apologized to Wilson for having "moped and quarreled" on the day she left for France.[5] While in London, Leonie met H.D., who introduced her to several figures in the London literary scene; in Paris she was invited to tea by Gertrude Stein. At the beginning of 1929, when Wilson wrote to her that he was thinking of marrying another woman, Leonie wrote back that she had had a pregnancy and hinted that she had had a miscarriage, mentioning the need for a visit to a London doctor in October.[6] Guilt over the pregnancy — both Wilson, and a former student, Judith Farr, reported that Léonie had a gift for making others feel guilty — combined with his heavy drinking, and indecision in other elements of his personal life led Wilson to a nervous collapse. Louise Bogan later revealed to him that Léonie's pregnancy had been imaginary,[7] and this caused a temporary rift between Bogan and Adams.

In 1929 appeared her volume High Falcon. During the 1930s, she lived in the Ramapo Mountains near Hillburn, New York, and commuted to New York City to lecture on Victorian poetry at New York University.[8] In 1930, she met writer and fellow New York University teacher William Troy. The two married in 1933. That same year she published This Measure. In 1935 she and her husband joined the faculty of Bennington College.

She taught English at various other colleges and universities including Douglass College (then known as the New Jersey College for Women), the University of Washington, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Columbia University, and Sarah Lawrence College. The poets for whom Adams acted as a mentor included Louise Glück.[9] Fantasy writer, poet and editor Lin Carter attended her Poetry Workshop while studying at Columbia University.[10] Marcella Comès Winslow painted a portrait of Adams in 1947.[11] In 1950, she received an honorary doctorate from the New Jersey College for Women.

Adams' Poems: A Selection won the 1954 Bollingen Prize. In a review of the book, Louise Bogan wrote: "Poems such as "Companions of the Morass," "For Harvest," "Grapes Making," and "The Runner with the Lots" spring from and are indications of a poetic endowment as deep as it is rare."[12]

In 1955, in a brief autobiography written for a biographical dictionary of modern literature, Adams threw a little light on her religious and political views: "My father... made me a childhood agnostic — I am now a Roman Catholic.... I am a very liberal democrat."[13]

In 1988, she died at the age of 88 in New Milford, Connecticut.

Poetic style

Superficially, Léonie Adams' style did not change greatly over her lifetime, but there was an initial shy wonder at the world that eventually became an intense and almost devotional lyricism. Her rich descriptions demonstrate great delicacy of perception and an exalted spirit. She bears comparison with Henry Vaughan and 17th century metaphysical poetry, especially in her near-religious ecstasy. In a recent critical commentary for the WOM-PO (Discussion of Women's Poetry) website, poet Annie Finch provides a more postmodern reading of Adams as "a lush, sensual poet who directed her sensuality not towards other people but primarily towards the materials of poetry, towards syntax and symbol, diction and word-sound, in short, towards the language itself," and goes on to say that "Adams' poetry teases the balance between the incantatory and representational powers of poetic language. She uses the sounds of language as counterweights to her poems' ostensible meanings, complicating the act of reading and calling into question a reader's emotional responses."[14]

Prizes and awards

  • 1954: the Bollingen Prize for Poems: A Selection (1954)
  • 1974: Academy Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets
  • the Shelley Memorial Award
  • fellowship from The Guggenheim Foundation
  • grants from The National Council of the Arts and The National Institute of Arts and Letters,

Poetry collections

  • Those Not Elect, Robert M. McBride & Co, 1925; Reprint Services Corp, 1992, ISBN 978-0-7812-6913-1
  • High Falcon and Other Poems, John Day, New York, 1929.
  • Midsummer, Ward Ritchie, 1929
  • This Measure, A. A. Knopf, 1933
  • Poems: A selection, Funk & Wagnalls, 1954

Edited and translated

  • The Lyrics of Francois Villon, Limited Editions Club, New York, 1933.

Children's Books

  • "A casque for Amadis," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1928.
  • "The tale of Tenjin : or how a much-abused man became a saint," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1928.



  1. ^ "Adams, Leonie". Who Was Who in America, with World Notables, v. 10: 1989-1993. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who. 1993. p. 3.  
  2. ^ "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1953-1960". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  3. ^ Untermeyer, Louis (editor), A Treasury of Great Poems, p. 512.
  4. ^ Lutkehaus, Nancy C., "Margaret Mead and the 'Rustling-of-the-Wind-in-the-Palm-Tress School' of Autographic Writing", in Ruth Behar, Deborah A Gordon (editors), Women Writing Culture (University of California Press, 1996), p. 189.
  5. ^ Dabney, Lewis M. (1929), "A Turning Point," in Lewis M. Danbey (editor), Edmund Wilson: Centennial Reflections (Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 111. ISBN 0-691-01671-2
  6. ^ Dabney, op. cit. p. 112; see also Colin Walters, "Edmund Wilson, One Hundred Years On," in The Washington Times, 16 November 1997, p. 6.
  7. ^ Dabney, op. cit. p. 119.
  8. ^ Kunitz, Stanley, entry from Dilly Tante (editor), Living Authors: A Book of Biographies (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1935), p. 1.
  9. ^ Glück, Louise, "The Education of the Poet," p. 144; in Eve Shelnutt (editor), The Confidence Woman: 26 Women Writers at Work (Marietta GA: Longstreet Press, 1991), pp. 133-148.
  10. ^ Contributor note on Lin Carter in August Derleth, ed. Fire, Sleet and Candlelight: New Poems of the Macabre. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1961, p. 228
  11. ^ "Léonie Adams". CAP Search Results.  
  12. ^ Bogan, Louise, Selected Criticism: Prose, Poetry, New York: Noonday Press, 1955), p. 380.
  13. ^ "Adams, Léonie" in Stanley Kunitz, Vineta Colby (editors), Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, First Supplement (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1955), p. 4.
  14. ^ Finch, Annie, "Commentary on Leonie Adams," Foremothers Corner, WOM-PO (Discussion of Women's Poetry) website

External links

  • Léonie Adams and William Troy Papers at Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
  • Brief Note at Library of Congress site
  • Academy of American Poets entry
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