Stephen Vincent Benét can be considered as one of the greatest American writers of the 1920s-1940s. He was a poet, a novelist, and a short story writer who won prestigious awards for some of his works. Through this short biography, you will be able to take a closer look into his personal life and contributions to the history of literature.
Stephen Vincent Benét was born from a military family on July 22, 1898 and his place of birth was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His parents were Colonel James Walker Benét, who was a commanding officer in California and Georgia, and Frances Neill (Rose) Benét, who also came from an army family. As a child, he grew up in a home where literature was appreciated, with a father that was an avid reader.
When Stephen Vincent Benét was 12 years old, he went to the Hitchcock Military Academy in California but didn’t like the school system. He was appalled by the brutality in school and wrote about it in one of his poems. When his father was assigned to an ordinance post in Augusta, Georgia, he moved with his family and finished his secondary education in Summerville Academy.
Stephen Vincent Benét displayed his talent in writing at a young age and wrote a lot of poems. When he was 13 years old, he received a prize from the St. Nicholas League for one of his poems. A year later, he received another prize for one of his ballads, which was also published in St. Nicholas Magazine.
Stephen Vincent Benét went on to sell his first poem in 1915. and published his first book of poems entitled Five Men and Pompey in the same year. His first book of poetry clearly portrayed the influence of William Morris and modern realism.
At the age of 17, he entered the Yale University where he became active in the school’s literary and humor magazines. While a student at Yale, Stephen Vincent Benét won literary prizes for his brilliant works and got his undergraduate degree in 1919. After a few months, he returned to the university to pursue higher education and got his master’s degree in 1920, by submitting his collection of poems called Heavens and Earth, as a substitute for his thesis.
Stephen Vincent Benét’s first autobiographical novel entitled The Beginning of Wisdom, which was published in 1921, displayed the influence of Francis Scott Fitzgerald. He traveled to Sorbonne, France in the same year to continue his studies and met Rosemary Carr, who was also a writer. The two fell in love, got married, and retuned to the United States in 1923.
Among Benét’s greatest novels written in the 1920s were:
- Young People’s Pride (1922)
- Jean Huguenot (1923)
- Spanish Bayonet (1926)
In 1926, Stephen Vincent Benét left the United States to live in France for four years. While in France, he wrote John Brown’s Body (1928), a long poem depicting the Civil War and its effects on Americans. This literary piece gained instant popularity and earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1929.
During his later life, he still continued writing literary pieces of different genres. It was in the 1930s when he published successful works such as:
- A Book of Americans (1933) – a collection of poems he wrote with his wife
- Burning City (1936) – a collection of 21 poems
- Thirteen O’Clock (1937) – a collection of short stories
- The Headless Horseman (1937) – a one-act play
Stephen Vincent Benét can be considered as a very successful writer of different forms of literature. Aside from the Pulitzer Prize that he won in 1929, he was also a recipient of various other awards and recognition such as the O. Henry Story Prize (1932, 1937, and 1940) and Roosevelt Medal (1933).
The award-winning American writer died of a heart attack on March 13, 1943, in New York City. Shortly after his death, he was awarded the 1944 Pulitzer Prize for his narrative verse entitled Western Star, which only added to his immortalized compositions.