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Mona Van Duyn: Biographical Note

Born in 1921 in Waterloo, Iowa, Mona Van Duyn grew up in the small town of Eldora, Iowa (pop. 3,200) where she read voraciously in the town library and wrote poems secretly in notebooks from her grade school years to her high school years. In a 1991 interview she recalled a typical punishment in small town Iowa grade school: "One was made to say after school and learn a poem."

Van Duyn earned a B.A. degree from Northern Iowa University in 1942, and an M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1943, the year she married Jarvis Thurston. Both she and Thurston studied in the Ph.D. program at Iowa. In 1946 she was hired as an instructor at the University of Louisville when her husband became an assistant professor there. Together they began Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature in 1947 and shifted that journal to Washington University in St. Louis when they moved there in 1950. Van Duyn was a lecturer in the University College adult education program until her retirement in 1990. In 1983, a year after she had published her fifth book of poems, she was named an adjunct Professor in the English Department and became the "Visiting Hurst Professor" in 1987, the year she was invited to be a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

To See, To Take was a collected poems that, in 1970, gathered together three previous books and some uncollected work, and won the National Book Award. In 1981 she became a fellow in the American Academy of Poets and then, in 1985, one of the twelve Chancellors who serve for life. A recent collect3ed poems, If It Be Not I (1992) included four volumes that had appeared since her first collected poems. It was published simultaneously with a new collection of poetry, Firefall.

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