Happy Birthday, Mona Van Duyn!


Mona Van Duyn, posing beside her portrait by Herb Weitman

Mona Van Duyn


May 9th marks the 1921 birthday of Mona Van Duyn, world renowned poet, academic, editor and founder of Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature and the Arts, and beloved patron of the arts. Van Duyn has won every major American award for poetry , including the National Book Award (1971) for To See, To Take, the Bollingen Prize (1971), the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1989), and the Pulitzer Prize (1991) for Near Changes. She was the first woman to be appointed as Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress, in 1992.

Van Duyn was an especially important figure to Washington University throughout her 54 years in St. Louis. She presided over a vibrant community of writers, many of whom are now incorporated in the Modern Literature Collection (MLC), including Howard Nemerov, William Gass, Stanley Elkin, and Donald Finkel. In 1964, she headed the original committee that compiled a list of potential acquisitions for the MLC. This original list reflected the work of forty-six writers, all but two of whom were then currently living. Today, the Collection’s list has grown to more than 175 authors, presses, and journals, with more than 125 of these represented by manuscript materials.

Van Duyn’s good humor, grace, and generosity toward her fellow artists are beautifully illustrated in her acceptance speech for the National Book Award…


Here is a video of Mona Van Duyn reading her classic poem “Toward a Definition of Marriage”, a work which extends themes of suburban domesticity to a novel, a circus, and–most aptly–a collection of old papers:

For more Mona Van Duyn materials, visit the MLC’s digital archive at http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/mlc50/mona-van-duyn.


About the author

Meghan Lamb currently lives with her husband in St. Louis, where she is a fiction MFA candidate with the Washington University Writing Program and a Graduate Assistant with the Modern Literature Collection. She is the author of Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace) and Sacramento (Solar Luxuriance).