Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)

Posted on September 22, 2015

Randall Jarrell, 1957
Randall Jarrell, 1957

Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to Owen and Anna Campbell Jarrell. He spent his early childhood years in California and in Nashville, and attended Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville as a teenager. In the fall of 1932, Jarrell enrolled at Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, Jarrell wrote for and eventually became editor of the Vanderbilt Masquerader, the campus humor magazine. He earned his bachelor’s degree after only three years by taking summer classes at George Peabody College (now Vanderbilt Peabody College).

Jarrell returned to Vanderbilt for graduate school and supplemented his income by grading papers for two of John Crowe Ransom’s classes. Jarrell befriended Peter Hillsman Taylor and Robert Lowell while at Vanderbilt; both Taylor and Lowell would become acclaimed writers. Jarrell would follow Ransom to Kenyon College in 1938, then take a teaching position at the University of Texas the next year.

While Jarrell published his first poems in the May 1934 edition of The American Review. His first book of poetry, Blood for a Stranger, was not published until 1942. His second book of poetry, Little Friend, Little Friend, was published by Dial in 1945. At that time, Jarrell was serving a brief stint with the Army Air Corps. In 1946, he left the Army and accepted an invitation from The Nation editor Margaret Marshall to temporarily serve as literary editor in her place.

Jarrell relocated to New York to serve as editor of The Nation. During that time, he also taught at Sarah Lawrence College. After his year with The Nation was over, Jarrell accepted a teaching position at the Woman’s College (now UNCG), where Peter Hillsman Taylor was already teaching. Jarrell would remain a member of the Woman’s College’s faculty until his death.

Jarrell received of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946, and published his fourth book of poetry, The Seven-League Crutches, in 1951. Jarrell took leave from Woman’s College and taught at Princeton University in 1951. In 1952, Jarrell would lecture at Indiana University and the University of Illinois before returning to North Carolina.

In the fall of 1953, Jarrell focused on writing criticism. He published his only novel, Pictures from an Institution, in 1954. In 1956, Jarrell began a two-year position as Poetry Consultant for the Library of Congress. During his tenure with the Library of Congress, Jarrell wrote four new poems and produce a few translations of works by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

In 1958, Jarrell returned to Woman’s College to resume teaching. After returning, he published Woman at the Washington Zoo, which received the National Book Award for poetry in 1961. In 1962, Jarrell was awarded the University of North Carolina’s Oliver Max Gardner Award. Jarrell also began writing children’s books in the early 1960s, publishing The Bat-Poet in 1963 and The Animal Family in 1965. These children’s works were illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Jarrell published his last book of poetry, The Lost World, in 1965. On October 14 of that year, Jarrell was struck by a motor vehicle on a dark road in Chapel Hill and died instantly. He is buried in Guilford College, North Carolina. One of his children’s books, Fly By Night, was published posthumously in 1976.

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