Biography of Stephen Vincent Benet

Stephen Vincent Benét (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist. He is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body (1928), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and for the short stories "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) and "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937). In 2009, Library of America selected his story "The King of the Cats" (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub.

Life and career

Early life

Benét was born on July 22, 1898 in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania to James Walker Benét, a colonel in the United States Army. His grandfather and namesake led the Army Ordnance Corps from 1874 to 1891 as a brigadier general and served in the Civil War. His paternal uncle Laurence Vincent Benét was an ensign in the United States Navy during the Spanish–American War and later manufactured the French Hotchkiss machine gun.Around the age of ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He graduated from Summerville Academy in Augusta, Georgia and from Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. He also edited and contributed light verse to the campus humor magazine The Yale Record. His first book was published when he was aged 17 and he was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis. He was also a part-time contributor to Time magazine in its early years.In 1920-21, Benét went to France on a Yale traveling fellowship, where he met Rosemary Carr; the couple married in Chicago in November 1921. Carr was also a writer and poet, and they collaborated on some works. In 1926, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship award and while living in Paris, wrote John Brown's Body.

Man of letters

They came here, they toiled here, they suffered many pains, they lived here, they died here, they left singing names.

Benét helped solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition. He published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker. He was elected a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1929, and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1931.

Benét won the O. Henry Award on three occasions, for his short stories An End to Dreams in 1932, The Devil and Daniel Webster in 1937, and Freedom's a Hard-Bought Thing in 1940.

His fantasy short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" inspired several unauthorized dramatizations by other writers after its initial publication which prompted Benet to adapt his own work for the stage. Benet approached composer Douglas Moore to create an opera of the work with Benet serving as librettist in 1937. The Devil and Daniel Webster: An Opera in One Act (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1939) premiered on Broadway in 1939. That work was created from 1937 through 1939, and its libretto served as the basis for a 1938 play adaptation of the work by Benet (The Devil and Daniel Webster: A Play in One Act, New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1938). The play in turn was used as the source for a screenplay adaptation co-penned by Benet which was originally released as All That Money Can Buy (1941).Benét also wrote the sequel "Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent", in which Daniel Webster encounters Leviathan.

Death and legacy

Benét died of a heart attack in New York City on March 13, 1943 at age 44. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut, where he had owned the historic Amos Palmer House. On April 17, 1943, NBC broadcast a special tribute to his life and works which included a performance by Helen Hayes. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Western Star, an unfinished narrative poem on the settling of the United States.

Benét adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story "The Sobbin' Women". That story was adapted as the musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), then as a stage musical (1978) and then TV series (1982). His play John Brown's Body was staged on Broadway in 1953 in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, directed by Charles Laughton. The book was included in Life magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–44.Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee takes its title from the final phrase of Benét's poem "American Names". The full quotation appears at the beginning of Brown's book:

Selected works

Five Men and Pompey, a series of dramatic portraits, Poetry, 1915

The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun (Yale University Prize Poem), 1917

Young Adventure: A book of Poems, 1918

Heavens and Earth, 1920

The Beginnings of Wisdom: A Novel, 1921

Young People's Pride: A Novel, 1922

Jean Huguenot: A Novel, 1923

The Ballad of William Sycamore: A Poem, 1923

King David: A two-hundred-line ballad in six parts, 1923

Nerves, 1924 (A play, with John Farrar)

That Awful Mrs. Eaton, 1924 (A play, with John Farrar)

Tiger Joy: A Book of Poems, 1925

The Mountain Whippoorwill: How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler's Prize: A Poem., 1925

The Bat, 1926 (ghostwritten novelization of the play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood)

Spanish Bayonet, 1926

John Brown's Body, 1928

The Barefoot Saint: A Short Story, 1929

The Litter of Rose Leaves: A Short Story, 1930

Abraham Lincoln, 1930 (screenplay with Gerrit Lloyd)

Ballads and Poems, 1915–1930, 1931

A Book of Americans, 1933 (with Rosemary Carr Benét, his wife)

James Shore's Daughter: A Novel, 1934

The Burning City, 1936 (includes 'Litany for Dictatorships')

The Magic of Poetry and the Poet's Art, 1936

The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1936

By the Waters of Babylon, 1937

The Headless Horseman: one-act play, 1937

Thirteen O'Clock, 1937

We Aren't Superstitious, 1937 (Essay on the Salem Witch Trials)

Johnny Pye and the Fool Killer: A Short Story, 1938

Tales Before Midnight: Collection of Short Stories, 1939

The Ballad of the Duke's Mercy, 1939

The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1939 (opera libretto with Douglas Moore)

A Song of Three Soldiers, 1940

Elementals, 1940–41 (broadcast)

Freedom's Hard-Bought Thing, 1941 (broadcast)

Listen to the People, 1941

A Summons to the Free, 1941

Cheers for Miss Bishop, 1941 (screenplay with Adelaide Heilbron, Sheridan Gibney)

The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941 (screenplay with Dan Totheroh)

Selected Works, 1942 (2 vols.)

Short Stories, 1942

Nightmare at Noon: Short Poem, 1942 (in The Treasury Star Parade, ed. by William A. Bacher)

A Child is Born, 1942 (broadcast)

They Burned the Books, 1942

They Burned the Books, 1942 (broadcast)These works were published posthumously:

Western Star, 1943 (unfinished)

Twenty Five Short Stories, 1943

America, 1944

O'Halloran's Luck and Other Short Stories, 1944

We Stand United, 1945 (radio scripts)

The Bishop's Beggar, 1946

The Last Circle, 1946

Selected Stories, 1947

From the Earth to the Moon, 1958



Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 46–47.

Fenton, Charles A. (1978) [1958]. Stephen Vincent Benét: The Life and Times of an American Man of Letters, 1898–1943. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-20200-1.

External links

Works by Stephen Vincent Benét at Project Gutenberg

Works by Stephen Vincent Benét at Faded Page (Canada)

Works by Stephen Vincent Benét at Project Gutenberg Australia

Benet's Essay – We Aren't Superstitious

Works by or about Stephen Vincent Benét at Internet Archive

Works by Stephen Vincent Benét at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

Stephen Vincent Benét at Find a Grave

Borough of Fountain Hill Official Web Site

Works by Stephen Vincent Benét (public domain in Canada)

Stephen Vincent Benét at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database

Stephen Vincent Benét at Library of Congress Authorities, with 169 catalog records

Stephen Vincent Benét and Rosemary Benét Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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