E.E. Cummings can be regarded as one of the greatest American poets in the entire history of literature. He was known as an innovative writer who didn’t conform to the traditional styles and writing structures of his time. In this short biography, you will be able to take a closer look at his family background, early life, literary works, and last years.
Family Background and Early Life
E.E. Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 under the name of Edward Estlin Cummings. His place of birth was Cambridge, Massachusetts and his parents were Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. He came from a Unitarian family and developed a strong sense of spirituality which was also expressed in some of his works.
E.E. Cummings wanted to become a poet ever since he was a child, and his early love for language can be attributed to the influence of his mother. He began writing poems at the age of 8, and pursued his passion for writing by studying at Harvard (where his father taught sociology) in 1911. While attending the university, his early works were published in Harvard Monthly and Harvard Advocate, and he became active in the Harvard Poetry Society. He earned both his B.A and M.A by 1916, before he joined the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps during World War I.
He stayed in Paris for five weeks before formally being asked to serve in the ambulance corps. As a pacifist, he was arrested for suspected espionage and treason because of the letters that he wrote, which expressed his hatred for war. He was imprisoned for 3 and a half months at camp Dépôt de Triage in Normandy, and was released in December 19, 1917, only after his father wrote a letter to former president, Woodrow Wilson.
E.E. Cummings wrote about his prison experiences in the novel, The Enormous Room, which was published in 1922. This autobiographical novel became one of his most famous works, and has been admired in many parts of the world until now. After one year, he showcased his literary genius in another book entitled Tulips and Chimneys (1923), which was a collection of poems.
During the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote more poems and became popular for using unconventional styles of writing. He experimented with different uses of punctuations, capitalizations, spacings, and grammar, in general. One example of this unique style is depicted in the title of one of his poems called, “the hours rise up putting off stars and it is”. His lack of conformity to the traditional structural styles can be considered as an expression of his belief that creativity and freedom were already destroyed by the modern society.
Despite of being a non-conformist, he was also able to write literary works under traditional styles such as sonnets:
- Life is More True than Reason will Deceive
- What time is it? It is by Every Star
- The Trick of Finding What You Didn’t Lose
He also wrote the play entitled Him, which was performed by the Provincetown Players in 1928. In 1931, E.E. Cummings went to the Soviet Union and wrote about his experiences in the prose, Eimi (1933). Most of his literary work centered on topics such as nature and love, and were written with a sense of spirituality.
Throughout his career, E.E. Cummings was able to receive several awards because of his outstanding talent, such as:
- Dial Award (1925)
- Guggenheim Fellowship (1933)
- Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry (1944)
- Fellowship of Academy of American Poets (1950)
- Guggenheim Fellowship (1951)
- Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1958)
- Boston Arts Festival Award (1957)
- Two-year Ford Foundation grant of $15,000 (1959)
Due to his innovative style, he found a hard time looking for publishers, so his compositions were mostly self-published. It was only in the 1940s and 1950s that his writing style became more acceptable to the masses, and he became affiliated with the Academy of American Poets.
On September 3, 1962, E.E. Cummings died in North Conway, New Hampshire, due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Until now, his reputation as one of the leading American poets remains unscathed and compilations of his works such as E.E. Cummings: Compete Poetry, 1904-1962 and The Early Poems of E.E. Cummings are still in circulation.